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This is a work in progress about baking pizzas in gas-fired pizza ovens such as the ones supplied by ALDI. Currently this is mainly a list of extracts from my diary.

The ALDI oven appears to be a copy of other, more expensive ovens. Here ALDI on the left, and a $1000 “Gasmate” model on the right:


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The design is deeply flawed. In the configuration in which they're intended to be used, the pizza stone is heated strongly from below, and pizzas tend to be burnt on the underside and inadequately browned on the top:


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I'm still working on a solutionworkaround, but the clear way to go is place the stone higher in the oven. The other question is the temperature of the stone. I've bought an infrared thermometer, and by experimentation it seems that a stone temperature of 280° and an oven temperature of 320° gives good results if the pizza is placed on the top shelf.

The diary extracts

The following are blow-by-blow descriptions of how I experimented.

Sunday, 27 October 2013 Diary entry

Yet Another Pizza Oven

I've been working towards better pizzas for some time, and currently we're baking them in individual electric “ovens”. They have the disadvantage that they're not much space between the pan and the heating element:


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We've learnt to avoid that particular problem, but this week ALDI had a gas-fired pizza oven in their weekly specials, and we heard from Nele Kömle that she had bought one and was happy with the results. So off into town to buy one. It's a strange device, and it seems that even the people who made the packaging didn't really understand:


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We didn't need to use it today, and based on prior experience I had a horror of actually assembling it, so that will have to wait until tomorrow.

Sunday, 27 October 2013 Diary entry

ALDI Pizza oven

Got round to assembling the pizza oven today. It wasn't as difficult as I have become accustomed to with ALDI devices. But I'm left wondering what they were smoking when they designed it:


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My recollection, not helped by the extremely low signal-to-noise ratio on Google, is that a pizza oven is flat with a ceramic base, the (wood) fire to one side and the flue on the other. The hot gases from the fire go sideways to the flue, heating the ceramic base in the process. You put the pizza on the base, which cooks the pizza from below, and the hot gases cook it from above.

In this model, the ceramic base is square, and it's heated from below by the (surprisingly strong) gas burner. But how do the gases go over the top of the pizza? It seems that this is a recognized problem: the instructions, such as they are, don't tell you how warm to make the oven, nor how long to cook the pizza, only (original punctuation):

Because the pizza stone sits directly above the burner it can get extremely hot. If you are finding that your pizza bases are cooking too quickly or burning on the stone then the first step is to turn the gas setting to low.

If you are still cooking the pizza's too quickly we recommend starting to cook the pizza's on either of the two roasting racks first... We also recommend using pizza trays to cook with.

Doesn't that fill you with confidence? Using a pizza tray (whatever that is) is contrary to the idea of cooking it on a stone? How hot should the stone be? How hot the ambient temperature? What use is the thermometer at all, especially since, like the barbecue it's marked in obsolete temperature units with Celsius added as an afterthought:


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How do you set 200°? There are 5 markers between the marked temperatures of 177° and 204°, steps of 5.4° each, so the last mark before 204° is 198.6°. Why do people have to do this? The thing is made in China and sold in Australia, both metric countries. What does this have to do with the USA, just about the only country still using Fahrenheit?

In any case, we'll see what happens. So far it doesn't look very promising, especially as it can only do one pizza at a time.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013 Diary entry

The proof of the pizza

Of course we had to eat pizza this evening to try out our new pizza oven. The first issue is the way it's built: there are two shelves, neither adjustable in height, and the lower one is so low that you can't access the stone if it's present, so I removed it. And they've conveniently put an apparently useless shelf underneath just on top of the gas cylinder, which makes it really difficult to insert the cylinder or turn the tap on or off without kneeling down and scraping your knuckles:


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How hot? Went looking on the web and found the usual vaguenesses, but also the suggestion that pizza ovens run really hot, up to “800°” (i.e. 425°). Coincidentally that's the highest temperature that my oven shows, so probably it should be really hot.

But conventional ovens don't heat the stone from below, so I was careful and started baking when the thermometer showed 204°. A good thing, too. After an appropriate period of time, the pizza looked like this from above:


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That's clearly underdone. I took it out and put it on the top shelf, where it browned nicely from above. Here's half the first pizza, which browned above, and the second one, which didn't:


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But the first pizza was on the stone when it was hotter, and the underside showed:


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It was also uneven, probably reflecting the shape of the burner.

So: as I suspected, heating the stone directly in the flame is Just Plain Wrong. But maybe there's hope yet: the first pizza browned nicely placed further up, so maybe that's where the stone belongs. Clearly more experimentation is needed to work around the basic deficiencies of the device. It's a good thing I have two months to try.

Wednesday, 30 October 2013 Diary entry

More pizza oven stupidity

While at Pivot, took a look at their pizza ovens. There was quite a nice brick one for a wood fire, laid out as I had expected: fire one side of the pizza, flue on the other side. Price: about $3,600.

They also had a gas model, only $985:


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But the layout is identical to that of the ALDI oven:


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It looks prettier, but it has the same failings, it looks a little smaller at the top, and it costs four times as much. As far as I can tell, both the stone and the shelves are identical, and it even has the same knuckle-scraping shelf above the gas cylinder. What are people thinking?

Saturday, 2 November 2013 Diary entry

Pizza tandur

Our first experiments with the ALDI pizza oven showed that the thing is incorrectly designed, but also that it can reach temperatures significantly higher than the 250° of a typical household oven. Just the thing for tanduri chicken? Certainly worth trying.

It's not just the chicken that gets cooked in the tandur, of course: there's also the nan. In principle that's made the same way as a pizza, between the hot gases and the ceramic side of the tandur.

How to do that in the pizza oven? Like a pizza, you'd think. That has the added advantage that the cooking nan doesn't fall off to the bottom of the oven. But these things are hot, and there's a considerable danger of injury or scorching if you do it wrong. In the end I came to the conclusion to use two pizza stones (not the one supplied with the oven) and heat them on the upper shelves, then to use them alternately on the top shelf while grilling the meat on the middle shelf, with only a drip pan at the bottom:


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How did it work? Not an unmitigated success. The first surprise was how quickly the oven heated up without the bottom pan. Then getting the nan onto the stone proved less than successful:


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Apart from that, it was difficult keeping the oven warm once the drip pan was in place. A clear disadvantage of the metal construction is that the oven cools down as soon as you open the door, and it was difficult to keep the temperature above 250°. The nan didn't bake well, so I tried the others in the electric pizza ovens, first warming the tray on the stove:


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None of the results were much good:


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It's not clear how much the style of cooking had to do with that. The nan just didn't rise, and it doesn't look right. Probably time to review the nan recipe. On the positive side, the chicken didn't come out too badly, though I think it would benefit from higher temperatures. Clearly a lot of experimentation in the near future.

Friday, 15 November 2013 Diary entry

Pizza oven, try 2

Another attempt to cook pizzas with the pizza oven today. My infrared thermometer still hasn't arrived, so again I had to guess how hot the slab was. By the time the oven temperature reached 204° (it's too leet to show 200°), the slab was so hot that I couldn't leave the pizza on it long enough for the crust to brown. But at least I didn't burn them too much this time.

I find my opinion confirmed: putting the stone at the bottom of the oven and heating from underneath is Just Plain Wrong. Next time I'll put the round stones on the upper shelves and see how that goes.

On the positive side, found a better way to put the pizze in the oven, without buying a ridiculously expensive peel: put them on the underside of the metal pans for the electric pizza ovens with a bit of maize flour to help them slide.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013 Diary entry

New toy

A few weeks back I bought an infrared thermometer on eBay, and today it finally arrived. The main purpose is to measure the temperature of the pizza stone in the pizza oven, but of course that won't be for a while. In the meantime I played around with it a bit.

One thing's clear: it's not the kind that you can stick into your ear and measure blood temperature. I tried that and got a temperature of about 23°. But pointing it at hot and cold objects show that it works, at least in principle. The trouble is that it's a spot measurement, so the variation between -18° and -14° in the deep freezer, or 190° in the corners of the oven to 210° in the middle, could be correct. Heating a frying pan gave higher temperatures directly above the flame than in the corner. So it looks like it's something I'm going to have to learn to understand.

Friday, 22 November 2013 Diary entry

Good pizza despite the oven

Now I have my new infrared thermometer, it was time to try another pizza in the gas oven. My hypothesis was that the stone should be placed higher in the oven, where the oven itself is warmer, and the stone is not overheated by the flame at the bottom. But what's a good temperature? Went looking on the web and found surprisingly little. I found two pages, both of which confuse the issue by using the Fahrenheit temperature scale.

This page goes into great detail about the theoretical background, and suggests what I've already decided, that the pizza needs to be cooked higher in the oven. And it describes using an infrared thermometer to measure the stone temperature. It suggests that at the bottom of the oven, the stone will reach 360° (680°F) when the oven temperature is 290° (560°F), but it doesn't specify what temperature to aim for. It seems to be more a plan for an experiment than a report on the results. It's a blog, so it's reasonable to assume that he reported on the results elsewhere, but I didn't find them.

The other page is definitely a results page. It describes things in detail, actually showing photos of the infrared thermometer in action—something that not even I thought of doing: after all, it's just a reading. After 50 minutes, his stone was still only at 175°, and it took him 90 minutes to get it to 240°. Then he started baking, but only because his son wanted to eat. Once again no suggestion of what temperature he should be aiming for.

So: I heated the stones on the two upper shelves. It took about 30 minutes for the oven to heat to a little over 300° (I must really replace that horrible guesswork thermometer), by which time the upper stone was at 260° and the lower was at 240°. The temperature in the oven dropped to about 270° when I opened it and put the pizze in, but then went up to about 310° when I shut it—all this with the flame on full blast. After 10 minutes the upper pizza was through and nicely browned. On removing the pizze, the stone temperatures had dropped to about 170°. The lower pizza was through and almost not browned at all:


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So: where do we go from here? Both bases were excellent, crispy but not burnt. So I'd say that 250° is a reasonable temperature for the stone, and if I'm doing 2 pizze, I should move the lower one to the top shelf for another couple of minutes.

One thing's abundantly clear: the design of the oven is Just Plain Wrong. That's only ALDI's fault to the extent that the copied a much more expensive, but equally badly designed oven.


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