Author Topic: Beginner's oven set up  (Read 1753 times)

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Offline Malanga

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Beginner's oven set up
« on: April 03, 2012, 04:10:25 PM »
I'm looking on recommendations for how to set up my oven without any hacking.  I have a gas oven with a bottom drawer broiler that supposedly goes up to 525.  My last stone was super thin and cracked after only 15 goes or so.  I've read a few threads here about hot rolled steel plates and I happen to live in area where I could probably pick one up relatively easily. 

So, how would set up my oven with the bottom drawer?  I'm not sure the broiler shuts off intermittently.  I have made a few pies in the drawer as well, and the broiler was on for the entire duration (~5 minutes at least which includes the few minutes of heat up).  Assuming I was using the main compartment, do I need both a stone and a steel sheet for optimal results?  What kind of sizes for the sheet and the stone should I be working with?  Any particular stones or materials that stand out above the rest?

Thank you so much for your time guys. 



scott123

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Re: Beginner's oven set up
« Reply #1 on: April 04, 2012, 12:49:35 AM »
Andrew, I've actually been thinking about this since you asked about hearth materials a couple days back.  A gas oven with a broiler below is, honestly, just about the worst configuration you can work with.

Up until now, for these kind of separate broiler configurations, I've been recommending two stone setups in the main oven compartment, using quarry tiles for a ceiling and then filling in the rest of the shelf with foil (to isolate the thermostat), and the results seem to have been pretty positive, but... now that I think about it, covering up an entire shelf with tiles and foil could block air flow and in a gas oven, that's not a good idea.

I've never seen a traditional NY style pizza done well with the skillet method. Heston Blumenthal and his assistant Chris Young, who, from what I understand pioneered the skillet method, have produced some atrocious looking pizzas.  Kenji's taken it a step further, but it's still not what it could be.  I believe John Wozniak (johnnydoubleu) uses a skillet technique (along with a separate gas oven broiling compartment), and if anyone can master the technique, it's him, but he leans towards non traditional pizza. I haven't tested this yet, but I believe that pizza needs heat from all sides in order to achieve the best possible oven spring.  The intensity of the heat might be up for debate, but I think that starting a pizza in a skillet (with no top heat) and then broiling is not ideal.  A typical cast iron skillet is 1/8", so you can't pre-heat it and then expect it to store enough heat to bake a fast pizza.  I guess if it was close to red hot, that might produce a fast bake on the bottom, but... it would be a lot of heat at the beginning, with much less heat at the end, and I'm not sure that could produce typical NY style undercrust browning.

I've known some folks that have pre-heated stones in the main compartment and moved them to the broiling compartment to bake the pizza.  This makes me incredibly nervous.

All that's left is putting the stone in the broiling compartment and using the broiler to pre-heat the stone.  I've talked about this before, but I feel that broiler pre-heats tend to be a bit superficial.  They give you a really hot surface, but the core temp of the hearth doesn't get as high as it should and pizza is baked with stored/core temp, not surface temp.  The other down side is that broiling compartments can be small, and, for NY, bigger is always better.  On the plus side, you don't need any gaps for air in the bottom of the broiling compartment, so you can size the stone to fill the shelf.

Assuming you could fully penetrate the hearth with heat with the broiler, I think it would take a long time- much longer than a bake pre-heat.  If you could position the hearth close enough to the broiler, perhaps you could trim that time (and maybe help with core temp), but you've got to fit a pizza in there. You know how some charcoal grills have a lever that raises and lowers the charcoal shelf?  I've always dreamed of being able to lever the hearth so that it's almost touching the broiler during the pre-heat, and then lowering the hearth for the bake.

Until such a contraption exists... I would see what you can do with a 1/2" thick steel plate and a broiler pre-heat.  Size the plate so that it fills the broiler shelf and raise it as high as you can while still fitting a pizza between the broiler and the plate.  Put the broiler on for an hour, watch it and see if the broiler cuts in and out, then take temps of the top of the plate AND the bottom the plate (with a $20 IR thermometer, if you don't have one).

What are the dimensions of your broiler compartment? Please tell me that you can fit at least a 14" square plate in there.  For NY style, 12" pizzas kind of suck.

You want a36 hot rolled (aka 'mild') steel plate.  Don't buy it online, but here's a reference:

http://www.onlinemetals.com/merchant.cfm?step=4&pid=9610&id=839&top_cat=849

Re; the scale. I don't think there are any particular brands that are more reliable than others, it's a matter of features- such as increments, total capacity and a pull out display.  Here are my most recent recommendations:

http://www.pizzamaking.com/forum/index.php/topic,8093.msg108415.html#msg108415

A pull out display or an elevated platform is really nice so you can read the scale with big bowls on it, but... I've lived for 15 years without them. If you're short on funds, just get the Walmart scale.  At the end of the day, it's WAY more important to have a digital scale and use it then to wait and find the 'perfect scale' or to take a while to save up for just the right one. Just make sure whatever scale you get goes up to at least 5 lb (and preferably 11) and does so in 1g increments.
« Last Edit: April 04, 2012, 12:52:04 AM by scott123 »

Offline Malanga

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Re: Beginner's oven set up
« Reply #2 on: April 04, 2012, 09:57:41 AM »
Thanks for that reply Scott!  I'll get back to you later on the broiler dimensions.  I think a 14 inch pie is definitely possible (but even still, 14 sounds a bit lame... LOL).  Working in that bottom drawer is a pain in the rump though (i.e. getting on my knees and then working with the angle up and over the drawer).  Is it possible to set up in the main compartment safely? 

So far the skillet-to-broiler method pies I've made come out more like a quasi-Neapolitan pie, and are definitely nothing like a NYC pie.  They are tasty, but I also know that it's far from ideal and not allowing me the opportunity to practice making a proper pie.

Thanks for the info on the scales and the plate as well.  I'm gonna have to go cheap and find a scale at Target or Walmart.  There is a steel company a few miles from here, so I'm sure there won't be too many issues finding a piece.  I'll give them a call.  I've read in one of your threads that it's best to make a cardboard template first.  I'll definitely jump on that.

I'd really like to set up in the main compartment, but it sounds like it may not be ideal.  Then again, the broiler isn't either.  Regardless, I have to make the best of out what I have for the time being. 

scott123

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Re: Beginner's oven set up
« Reply #3 on: April 04, 2012, 01:36:48 PM »
Andrew, re; the main compartment and safety.  It all depends on how you define 'safely.'  When you work with the main compartment, the only way of providing enough top heat is a pre-heated stone ceiling, and when you're deriving heat from a pre-heated ceiling, the only way to get proper top browning in respectable time frames is a very hot ceiling- well above the peak temp on the dial.  I would say between 700 and 750. 700 on a gas oven won't burn down the house. Oven insulation is rated much higher than 700 and, while I have heard about extreme mods melting plastic components on ovens, at 700, nothing is going to catch fire and spread to the rest of the room.

Any risk is not to you, but to your oven. High temps can be hard on ovens- even ovens with cleaning cycles. I recommend 50 deg. 'gentle' oven mods all the time without concern that the oven will get damaged, but 150 is kind of a big jump.  This being said, because of the placement of the hearth/ceiling, I don't think you're looking at a huge amount of risk. The floor probably reaches 700 during regular use anyway, and with the ceiling in place, you're only extending those high temps partially up the side of the oven.

We have to allow air flow to go from the stone ceiling to the ceiling of the oven, so the top of the oven will exceed the peak dial temp, but it won't be 700.  If I had to make a guess, with a quarry tile ceiling with gaps only big enough to allow proper air flow, the hearth will be 750 (in these kinds of scenarios, the hearth is always hotter because of the bottom heat source), the quarry tile ceiling will be 700 and the oven ceiling will be 600-650.  If your oven dial goes to 550, 650 doesn't make me all that nervous.

Because the ceiling area will hit 600, you will need to cover the probe with an insulating material to make sure the oven stays on. There's a bunch of methods for this, but I think the most promising is an insulating brick with a hole drilled in it for the probe.

When you insulate the probe, the oven will stay on and get hotter, so you need to be attentive. Depending on the BTUs from the burner, it might not get that hot, but you still don't want to walk away and do something else.

If you can handle a small amount of risk to the oven, I think this is the approach to take.

Bear in mind, if you do decide to work with the main compartment, it requires a far less conductive material for the hearth and the ceiling, so you don't want steel.  A steel hearth at 750 would incinerate pizza.  You want as little thermal conductivity as you can get. Quarry tiles are cheap and are usually pretty porous/poor conductors, so they work well in this scenario. Quarry tiles are you best bet for both the hearth and the ceiling, which works out well, since they are very inexpensive.

For this setup, for monitoring temps, you will have to get an IR thermometer.  This one goes to the temps you'll need:

http://www.dealextreme.com/p/1-2-lcd-digital-infrared-thermometer-yellow-black-110772

Offline Malanga

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Re: Beginner's oven set up
« Reply #4 on: April 04, 2012, 05:07:58 PM »
Thanks again Scott.  I'm renting so I don't want to run the risk of busting the oven, although I am leaning towards giving the insulation method a try.

I'm still unclear as to where the stones (are there more than one) will be set up?  How would my stove be configured from the oven floor up (with a bottom broiler)?  Is the "ceiling" that your talking about the top stone that will be placed above the stone that the pizza will cook on?  How far a part will these stones be?  How far from the floor?  From the ceiling?  In general at least. 

Thanks for all the help Scott!

scott123

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Re: Beginner's oven set up
« Reply #5 on: April 04, 2012, 05:27:45 PM »
Andrew, you're welcome.

I'm talking about two stones- two shelves of quarry tiles in the lower portion of the oven.

Bottom oven shelf- your hearth- quarry tiles

Next shelf above that (or maybe 2 up- ideally you want a small vertical space- 3-4")- your ceiling- quarry tiles.

The hearth tiles should be just big enough for your pizza (17" x 17"?), so there's good air flow reaching the tiles above- which, as I said, you want almost complete coverage on the shelf- just enough to let the air pass through for a proper exhaust. If you need to use foil to fill in spots, that's fine, but you want to maximize the quarry tile coverage on the ceiling.

This is all contingent on the insulated probe, though. This configuration, at 500-550 is a guaranteed fail- 12 minute pizza, at least. If you're feeling a bit squeamish, you might give 650 a try. Every degree you drop, you lose top browning ability from the ceiling tiles, taking you away from NY style temps and pushing you towards American style pies.

An idea that just occurred to me today to help bolster the top heat a tiny bit and keep the pizza baking slot a little hotter than the top of the oven is to place a layer of insulation on top of the quarry tiles.  Insulating firebrick could fit this purpose quite nicely. This way, you have some heat going through the vents in the ceiling, but very little conducting through the tiles.

Offline Malanga

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Re: Beginner's oven set up
« Reply #6 on: April 04, 2012, 07:00:22 PM »
Thank you for that clarification.  Time to do a bit of searching on quarry tiles and learning how to trick this oven out a bit as well.   

Offline Malanga

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Re: Beginner's oven set up
« Reply #7 on: April 06, 2012, 09:46:55 PM »
So, I am not going to mod the oven for this pizza venture.  As renters, it's probably not the best idea, nor do I want to take any chances in terms of safety (any risks beyond the usual that could occur from the intended (engineered) function of the oven is too much with a baby in the house IMO).  I guess my only options now are to try the broiler method with a stone or steel plate... or I have to give up on the idea of NY style pie for now and settle for the best I can pull off working with what I got.  

Any other ideas besides those already mentioned?


 

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