Orchard Ovens Reveal How to Build a Pizza Oven

Orchard Ovens’ owner, Andrew Manciocchi, had been having his voice heard during May 2004, in the run-up to the June Euros.  In a new podcast, he explains how footie fans can build their own pizza oven, self-assembling a wood-fired pizza oven that will give them gourmet pizza at home, all tournament long.

Talking to host Jane Hunt, on the Poodling Around podcast at https://bit.ly/3WJqIB2, Anglo-Italian Andrew explains how, whether supporting England, Scotland or Italy (or another country altogether), British homeowners could do nothing better than be outdoors, cooking with friends, using a wood-fired oven.

A wood-fired pizza oven is not the male domain of the barbecue, as he explains, which means the whole family can get involved and have fun with the outdoor cooking process.  He also highlights how a build-your-own pizza oven is not just a pigeon-holed ‘pizza oven’ but an oven for cooking absolutely anything.  Once you have deployed your DIY skills, however, if you do cook pizza in it, it will undoubtedly be the best pizza you have ever tasted, as you have rustled it – and the oven – up.

Buying the right DIY pizza oven kit

Andrew tells the podcast why the materials used in a self-built pizza oven are absolutely crucial. Whilst there are extreme examples, such as the story of the man who applied river clay around his wife’s exercise ball to create an oven, the truth is that even many of the kits available to buy – as well as ready-built wood-fired pizza ovens – are made from unsuitable or sub-standard materials.

In Orchard Ovens’ case, that is far from the case.  The DIY pizza oven kits on offer are formed in the traditional Italian way, from finest refractory clay.  They are also manufactured by a family that has been making first-class refractory clay products for over 140 years.  The Valoriani name stands for excellence, whether they are supplying a self-assembly pizza oven or a ready-made oven like the wood-fired and gas-fired Forninos.

Why a pizza oven is like a car

Andrew uses many car analogies in the podcast, suggesting that any old banger will get you from Land’s End to John O’Groats, but the journey is much more satisfying in a Rolls Royce.  In the same way, a tiny, pellet-driven pizza oven will do a job but a Valoriani oven will do it so much better.

A Valoriani oven kit will not only give you an oven in which you can create better dishes but also one that will retain heat.  That means less time reheating the oven after cooking with it. It also provides the possibility of cooking with residual heat, for a variety of slow-cooked dishes.

Preparing the base for your self-assembled pizza oven

When it comes to the DIY pizza oven kits and how to use them to construct your own pizza oven, Andrew explain it is all about technique.  Preparation is a major ingredient in success, with the oven requiring a suitable base, which will take the weight of what could be a 600-700 kilo oven, or more.  Here, the DIY-er needs some brickwork or blockwork skills, or will need to buy those in.  Alternatively, they could commission a metalwork structure to act as the base.

Given the credentials of the Valoriani oven, you are looking at something that’s going to last 18-20 years or more. For this reason, you do not want to make the mistake of preparing a base with a lifespan of two or three.  That would include a wooden worktop.

The base-building for a DIY pizza oven is something that many homeowners get wrong.  This is usually because they do not consider the actual measurements.  Often, they simply build a base that suits the internal dimension of the oven – the floor – forgetting that insulation and a dome needs to sit around that.  They may also want extra space for food preparation and resting tools.  An oven with an 80cm cooking floor needs a base measuring at least 110-120cm.

It is soul-destroying for homeowners to have to knock down a base they have built for their pizza oven, just because they overlooked this simple fact. 

Exploring the pizza oven kit components 

The DIY wood-fired oven pizza kit, as Andrew explains, comprises an oven floor, a cooking dome and a manifold.  The floor is a huge point of difference in a Valoriani pizza oven, as Valoriani is the only manufacturer in the world that makes its pizza oven floors in-house.  Much science goes into the manufacture of floors for different purposes – whether that is bread-baking, Neapolitan pizza making or general pizza baking and cooking.  Different formulas are applied to the floor’s creation, according to the end goal.

Contrast this with other manufacturers, who are buying in materials, often intended for other uses such as storage heaters, and the Valoriani DIY pizza oven kit immediately stands apart.

The kit itself is also carefully designed, with Valoriani having spent years perfecting how air flows in and out of the oven and how heat can best be retained.

Advice that helps get it right

It is important for DIY pizza oven kit buyers to correctly fit the floor together, ensure the parts of the dome are brought together correctly and accurately position the manifold as intended.  However, anyone with reasonable DIY skills should be able to achieve this and full instructions are provided.  Once an order is placed for a kit, Orchard Ovens is always there to hold the hand of the DIY-er.  A team member will even drop in and offer advice, if that is logistically possible.

The 1-metre internal oven is the most popular sold in kit form by Orchard Ovens, with this pizza oven being able to take five good-sized baking trays.  This oven, as Andrew explains, requires a base of at least 1.5 metres x 1.5 metres.

The woodfired ovens can be self-built close to the house, with no external heat to worry about, due to the quality of the materials used and their insulation properties.  Locating the oven near to the house overcomes the issue that some oven owners have encountered.  This involves having to fetch and carry things from the kitchen, when the oven is down at the end of the garden.  These owners have rued not taking Orchard Ovens’ initial advice on this point.

With full DEFRA environmental approval, the Valoriani DIY pizza oven kits should not create any concerns over neighbours asking for them to be dismantled.

Why rendered pizza oven domes are a mistake

Andrew highlights how a big mistake UK owners can make is to apply render to their pizza oven dome, having seen this style of oven in the Mediterranean.  He explains how they forget that the UK has far more rain and that, in this country, render is only used on walls, which it runs down and off.  When sitting on a pizza oven dome, render acts like a sponge, soaking up water, which then enters into the insulation and into the pizza oven itself.  In seeking to then dry this out, hairline cracks can appear in the oven.

Andrew’s advice is to only ever apply render to a pizza oven dome if it is under cover.  If not, then brickwork or some other form of covering, whether in timber or another material, is required.

Warnings over pizza oven insulation and ‘experts’

He also has a warning about insulation, having recently seen an example of insulation material being sold for pizza ovens, despite carrying a warning relating to it being carcinogenic.   He urges caution when it comes to the insulation material being bought and used within any DIY project. Using loft insulation is also a poor way of trying to generate a good performance from a pizza oven.

Another note of caution relates to trusting so-called advisers.  Andrew points out how much of the information available online is erroneous and potentially dangerous.  He also highlights how landscape gardeners and builders are talented in their own fields but unlikely to know how to handle a DIY pizza oven build project with complete efficacy.  He tells a story of how a landscape gardener insisted on building a client’s pizza oven on a granite base, only to find it had split within six weeks, requiring a complete restart on the project.

With Orchard Ovens and its 22-year experience to call upon, if you place an order for a Valoriani DIY pizza oven kit, homeowners should not go far wrong.  Advice will always be on hand.

Where to situate the fire in a pizza oven

Such advice will also extend to how to use the oven.  This includes tips on how to do what should be done – building the fire to the side and not at the back of the oven.  Andrew explains how various ‘experts’ wrongly advise clients to position the fire at the back of the oven.  He says TV chefs – many of them Valoriani customers – only do this, because it makes for better TV, if the cameras can film the fire in that position.  As he says, all of the chefs concerned know that’s not where the fire should go.

Which pizza oven to choose and the timescales

Andrew concludes by explaining that a DIY pizza oven project could be completed by the Orchard Ovens team in three days and that a DIY-er should be able to do it in a little more than that, if they get cracking.  He also highlights how a kit can be sent out on a 24-hour service, if in stock.

His main message to anyone buying a DIY pizza oven kit is that, if they were building their own car, they would not put the engine together themselves but buy a quality engine and then build the rest of the car around it.  As he says, it’s no different with a wood-fired oven.

Listen to the full podcast at https://bit.ly/3WJqIB2 z and, if you then want to place an order for a pizza oven kit from Valoriani, call 07743 847647 to discuss which of the available DIY kits suits you best.

Should you decide you want the Orchard Ovens team to build your oven for you, or have a complete bespoke design created for your wood-fired oven focused home and garden enhancement project, that is also the number to use.

Of course, not everyone has the skill to DIY it and build a wood-fired pizza oven, but do not despair, if you want a quick solution.  A Fornino ready-to-go pizza oven from Valoriani is always another option.