Building a Brick Oven for Successful Outdoor Entertaining

Cooking a pizza in a brick oven.

Cooking a pizza in a brick oven.

There is something very special about cooking outdoors in the summer months, especially if you have a built-in barbecue with an oven. It is also a great way to entertain, since everyone congregates around the barbecue and keeps the cook company.

There are various types of ovens that you can incorporate in a barbecue design, and some that may be built as freestanding units – for cooking pizzas for example. Here are some useful tips and some basic information to help anyone wanting to start building a brick oven in their own backyard.

Decide which type of outdoor oven to build

If you are going to be building a permanent structure for cooking on your patio, you must be sure it will meet your needs. Consider the size and style of different types of barbecues and ovens as well as the kind of food you want to cook. Generally the most popular types of food to cook outdoors include grilled meats and stews, as well as pizzas and homemade bread.

The most common built-in barbecue option is usually built with bricks or stone, and designed to accommodate a grid that slots over a fire box or raised fireproof surface. Cast concrete topped with clay pavers is a particularly successful option, since the bricks are fired to very high temperatures and won’t crack when a fire is made on them. Precast concrete slabs are totally unsuitable because they will not withstand the intense heat of a fire.

A rotisserie – or even a manually operated spit – may be incorporated in even the simplest barbecue design, increasing its versatility. However many people who opt for outdoor ovens do so because of the lovely smoky flavor it gives to food. In this case you will need to install a metal door which will also allow you to retain (and to some extent control) the heat.

Dutch baking ovens should also be built with bricks, but ideally with clay firebricks that withstand extremely high temperatures. What happens is that you build a fire inside, close the door, and allow the fire to burn for several hours. The radiated heat is retained by the inner firebrick walls, so that the inside cavity is hot enough for baking bread.

Pizza ovens are generally rounded structures with a relatively small opening in front. Ideally these should also be built with firebricks since a very high temperature is needed for cooking pizzas. Like the ovens made for cooking pizzas, those designed for baking have a domed roof, although the side walls are vertical.

How to build ovens and chimneys

The simplest way to build domed or curved structures like these is use a mold of some sort. What you do is to build the bricks over the mold, just as you would if building an arch. What some people do is to use polystyrene which they then burn when the mortar in the brickwork has set. The problem here is that polystyrene is a synthetic material that lets off toxic gases when it burns. Even though burning white wood once the polystyrene has burnt away will help remove odors, it’s undoubtedly a pollutant.

Another option is to use a sheet of easily-bendable hardboard to make simple formwork. This will give you a smooth, continuous surface over which you can lay your bricks. You can make the formwork sturdier by incorporating chipboard on each side, and then nailing the hardboard so that the edges meet. You can choose whether to remove the formwork before completing the structure or burning it when you light your first fire. It might be wasteful, but it’s more eco-friendly.

A vital element to consider when building a brick oven is the chimney. Generally the flue in an outdoor chimney should be slightly larger than that for an indoor fireplace. Just remember that a smooth surface will create a better up-draught than one that is rough. So if you are building the chimney from bricks, it is important to work neatly and to avoid excess mortar dribbling onto the inner skin. A foolproof solution is to use a readymade flue, for example one made from metal, and within the bricks and mortar.

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