Cooking Issues

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How to modify an oven (or not)

June 4th, 2009 · 12 Comments · Oven

Posted by Dave Arnold

At home I have an old Garland 6 burner stove with salamander that I picked up at a restaurant auction for a couple hundred bucks in 2001. It never got hot enough to do pizza the way I wanted. In runaway mode it only got to 600°F or so. I knew that to make good pizza I’d need some stone in the oven, but that would only increase the thermal mass, make the oven take much, much longer to heat, and lower the final max temperature. Solution: Embed heaters in the stone with thermocouples to boost the heat of the oven. I bought some pizza stones, cooling racks, bendable immersion heaters, high temp wire, and thermocouples and built the rig you see here.

oven rig

I attached the whole thing to a Watlow four-channel temperature controller and added a solenoid valve so the controller could turn the gas off and on. Here is the idea: The gas-fired oven is controlled via a thermocouple in the oven cavity. The oven is fired from below so the floor of the oven is naturally hotter than the dome. That is good. The heater in the cement I hung from the roof of the oven is controlled by its own thermocouple, so is the floor. The problem is that my apartment has only 60 amps of 120 volt service so electricity is scarce. I can’t make coffee and use the air conditioner at the same time. I didn’t have the power to run both the ceiling and floor elements in the oven. It worked OK just using the ceiling. I was able to get the oven temperature as a whole up to 700°F,  with the floor up to750°F (because the floor absorbed so much heat from the bottom-fired oven) and the ceiling up to 750°F (because it had a heater in it). Problem was, after the first couple of pizzas, the floor would start to cool and not recover. Damn. Finally, I added an extension cord to a separate circuit in the bathroom to heat the bottom. Now I can do 893°F in the floor! I just can’t make pizza and use the bathroom at the same time. Not if I want privacy anyway.

oven control panel

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12 Comments so far ↓

  • chad

    You are insane. I want my engineering staff to read your blog as daily required reading.

  • Joe MacBu

    Hmm. Those fancy salamanders don’t get that hot huh? Maybe you need an el cheapo Magic Chef gas stove/oven with a broiler, like the one that came with my apartment. Quarry tiles placed 2-3″ under the gas get to 900F in 1.5 hours. On top, it’s 1050F. Pizza cooks in 1.5-2 minutes. It’s as simple as could be.

  • Hock

    Sweet baby cheeses. Order out already.

  • Perros

    Blimey!

    You shouldn’t leave this unattended to use the bathroom anyway!

    -Perros-

  • Patricio Wise

    That’s cool! I tried doing something similar to my cheap gas oven at home by modifying the gas flow system… I encountered not enough oxygen was going in to burn propperly and abandoned the idea… I was afraid it might just explode…

    I now use my ceramic cooker with lump charcoal and ceramic round stones and quarry bricks… I can get it to 1000+°F in about 1 hour and 18lbs of lump will last about 3 hours at that temp… At 2 mins per pizza you can make A LOT of pizzas haha….

    • Dave A

      Nice! I won’t go into what happened when I tried doing a charcoal experiment im my apartment on my wife’s birthday. Lets just say: it shouldn’t be possible for the grill itself to catch fire.

  • Heather in SF

    I love a guy who is handy in the kitchen. And that dedicated to a good pie. You’re like McGuyver who can cook. Party on dude!

  • Erik

    Great post. One question, however:

    but that would only increase the thermal mass, make the oven take much, much longer to heat, and lower the final max temperature.

    Why should the final max temperature be lower?

    • Dave A

      Erik-
      I guess I’ve never thought about it. I just know from experience (on 2 ovens), that if you overload an oven with masonry, the max final temp goes down (although the energy storage capacity goes way up). My guess is the oven has a certain amaount of heat leakage (otherwise a runaway oven would always melt itself down) and that when it is loaded with masonry the extra energy required to heat the masonry shifts the equilibrium between heat input and leakage towards slightly lower temps.

  • APIZZA ESCOT

    I use my near new gas range in self-clean mode to to achieve 850F (gets higher with nothing in it). Just cut the door latch (so it doesn’t lock) and shove foil into the door switch. I’ve got 12 bricks on the bottom rack and a custom stone a pottery friend made. Takes about an hour to heat well but I can make a nice Margarita pie in about 2min 10sec…

    Safety wise, it’s designed to get this hot unlike non-cleaning models. Warm on outside but only 85F or so.

    Oh and, shhhhhh!!! Don’t tell my landlord I screwed with his oven.

    • Dave A

      Nice Apizza Escot! You should tell Steingarten, he’s couldn’t figure out how to foil the safety latch. Iv’e never had a self cleaning oven. My oven gets blisteringly hot on the outside.