A guy messaged me a while ago to inquire about making my dutch oven pizza. It’s was featured prominently on my last blog’s Facebook page and I count it as one of my highest achievements. Cooking it is complicated. It requires some forethought and planning. But, if you give it a try, I swear that you won’t be disappointed.
I first got interested in trying it when I was going through my bread baking phase. Toward the end, I had set out to make the process as primitive and as basic as possible, forsaking all modern conveniences, cooking it on a fire. I did some research on building a cob oven, but found the project a little overwhelming. It seemed a lot of work for something that might not turn out. I also wasn’t sure about building something permanent in my back yard. Seeing those drawbacks, I turned my attention to cooking it with a dutch oven.
While complicated, I swear that the results will be the best you’ve ever tasted. My crust, made with sourdough, achieved an absolutely perfect, bubbly, crispy chewy brown. It was akin to a fine french loaf, picked up at a decent bakery. It’s something like you’d get at a good brick oven pizzeria, only better since it’s homemade. I assure you, though managing the fire and the oven certainly take some doing, the results will be well worth it.
In general, the secret to a good pizza is high heat. In my home oven, I usually cook mine at 500F. Commercial pizza ovens are usually set to 600. While there’s no way to accurately gauge a campfire’s exact temperature, a hand held over it for no more than three Mississippis is a good test. You’ll want an armload of a hot, slow burning wood. Oak works well. You’ll also want your fire pit lined with rocks to retain heat. Notice in the picture how my pit is surrounded with simple a ring of rocks, flat rocks forming the floor. As a lot of heat is absorbed into the dirt walls, I plan on lining those come spring.
Using the oven itself can be tricky. I doubt they had pizza in mind when they designed it. You’ll first notice that the legs are only an inch or two long. This being the case, your pizza may sit too close to the coals and be prone to scorching. The fix for this is either to used fewer coals or to lift the oven a few more inches with a tripod. The top is the real issue. Filled itself with more coals, the idea is that your food will be heated as well from the top, effectively baking it. It works great for a loaf of bread or some biscuits, but since a pizza lays flat on the oven’s floor, the heat is a little too far away to properly do its job. The danger is that the top won’t quite be done, and I’ve admittedly never been able to brown my cheese and toppings as I’d like. Someone with some ingenuity could rig up something so the pizza sits in the oven’s center. I’ve never tried it. Lodge also makes a very short and wide dutch oven, seemingly more appropriate for the task. But, as a standard dutch oven is more versatile, I’ve just chosen to make due. I view any imperfections as a simple quirk of the process.
Before you cook, you’ll want to properly arrange the fire and your oven. You want it hot and even. Rather than lapping flames, your fire should burn down to embers. They give off a more even heat. You’ll also want your oven hot the moment you start cooking, so let it warm right next to the fire as it becomes ready. Once you get your coals, use a shovel to spread them in a thin later on the fire pit’s floor. Then place more on the oven’s lid. As that’s the weak point, you’ll want a lot. But remember that too many will smother and go out. Fire needs air. The idea is that you want a certain amount of heat from the bottom, and as much heat from the top as you can get.
And remember that actually cooking the pizza is a hands on process. It’s not something you can just put on the fire and leave. Ballpark, your pizza will take about ten minutes to cook. The challenge is that your coals will never burn evenly, creating some spots that are hotter than others. To manage that, you’ll want to turn both your dutch oven and your lid a quarter turn every three minutes or so. That way no one spot on the pizza is in one place for too long. Even then, a few black spots are unavoidable. I just figure it adds to the character.
And taking the pizza out definitely deserves some foresight and planning. Being extremely hot and without a lot of room, you can’t just lift it out. My process requires two people, some welding gloves, a spatula, and a pizza peel. With one person slowly and gently tipping the oven, another wiggle and finesse the spatula underneath. I always cook my pizza on parchment, making it slide just a little easier. Achieving that, it’s just a matter of quickly lifting the pizza and tugging it onto the peel. If someone finds an easier method, I’m happy to hear it. From here though, you’re ready to serve.
Talking about food and cooking is so much more pleasant than arguing about what ails the world. Considering himself an anarchist, JRR Tolkien once noted that the world would be a better place if more people valued food and song over hoarded gold. This is a meal that you’ll want to share with others. Have some beer available and play some Grateful Dead. Life is too beautiful to spend arguing and bossing others around. Good food and good people will solve all the world’s problems.