In a rush? Read a one-minute summary of my pizza oven story
My first job at a pizzeria, when I got to the US from Lebanon, soon gave rise to my passion and I strived to improve my pizza technique: different recipes… pizza stones… I tried it all.
Eventually, I learned the secret behind a delicious, crunchy pizza: a very high temperature oven (hotter than any home oven) to cook the pizza quickly without drying it out. However, all the ovens for sale were expensive, bulky, or used lots of energy.
One day, I watched a chef cook my burger under a basting cover and got the idea of an inexpensive oven that would use my grill as a powerful heat source and reproduce the conditions inside a brick oven (the ideal pizza oven).
A few prototypes later, and I was baking lovely, golden-brown pizzas in 2 to 4 minutes in my back yard! I had to share, so I finalized my design and ordered the first production batch of Mighty Pizza Ovens.
My original Kickstarter campaign in July 2013 unfortunately did not get enough exposure to reach its funding goal. However, this little setback did not stop me and I marketed and sold all the first run of MPOs on Amazon and eBay, gaining many happy customers and positive reviews along the way.
I’ve also been busy experimenting with my Mighty Pizza Oven and making improvements that I have incorporated into the design for the new Mighty Pizza Oven 2.
The Mighty Pizza Oven 2 will be launching soon on Kickstarter. It’s bigger, lighter and hotter than the original and can bake any kind of pizza and much more besides.
Find out more here [coming soon]!
My Full Pizza Story
I grew up in Lebanon eating flat pita. Back then, I didn’t know that pita was a distant relative of one of the most popular foods in the world. Also we had Manaeesh, a popular Lebanese food consisting of dough topped with thyme, cheese, or ground meat. Manaeesh is quite similar to a pizza and can be eaten sliced or folded, so it was little wonder that, when I immigrated to the US back in 1982, pizza became my favorite food. Eventually, making pizza would become my passion — a hobby I enjoyed as often as I could.
My first job in the US was with a major pizza chain. I made pizza during the evening rush, and stayed on after closing to clean the pans and mop the floors. But the highlight of the evening would be whenever I got to take home a pizza or two that customers didn’t want. Maybe it didn’t include the specific ingredient they had asked for… Well I wasn’t picky: I enjoyed eating it as I drove back home at 2 am.
I only spent a couple weeks at that job and never found out how they made the pizza dough, which was always prepared by an earlier shift. I became busy with school on weekdays and found a job at a movie theater during the weekend. At home, I made multiple failed attempts at following a pizza dough recipe I got from an old recipe book. I soon accepted the fact that the secrets of pizza would remain a mystery to me, and I resigned myself to that. This was before information became easily available on the internet.
Many, many years later…. a wedding gift set the ball rolling
I had just got married and one of our wedding gifts was a food processor with a dough blade accessory and a video on how to make pizza dough. The video really helped me see what to expect. I bought a ceramic pizza stone from a local store and, after a couple of tries, I had mastered the trick and was making better pizza than most of the major pizza chains out there (at least that’s how I felt back then).
Sharing the joy of pizza
My friends and family always enjoyed the pizzas I made from scratch, but it took lots of time preparing and baking. Over the years, I tried to cut down on preparation time by using better tools and techniques.
Gradually improving the process
I started out using a ceramic stone in my kitchen’s electric oven. However, it got extremely hot in the kitchen when I was making pizza for a group of people. The baking time was rather long at about 10 to 15 minutes per pizza, depending on the thickness of the pizzas and number of ingredients.
I tried speeding up the process by using a pizza stone on each rack, precooking the dough for few minutes, then placing the sauce and ingredients and cooking until done. Yet, even with this process, it would still take almost a couple of hours to bake 5 or 6 pizzas.
Baby bottles VS pizza making
My pizza experience eventually ground to a halt when my two daughters were born and the various joys of parenting began to take over any free time I had.
Then, last year, I realized my little babies had turned into two awesome assistant pizza chefs, so I dusted off the recipe book and got down to baking pizzas once again. My curiosity and the inner need to improve got me to look up more information on the internet. There were now so many websites and forums about making pizza out there that it was often hard to tell the good advice from the bad without actually trying it out. And so, my quest for the holy grail of pizzas continued with mixed results, until…
My turning point
I came across Jeff Varasano’s website and I was overwhelmed by all the information it included. The one thing from Jeff’s recipe page that stuck in my mind was the importance of baking pizzas at a very high temperature (much higher than my home oven could manage) in order to cook the dough and ingredients quickly without drying them out.
Jeff modified his oven to reach high heat, something I will never do or recommend for obvious safety reasons.
Let the search begin…
In search of higher baking temperatures, I found that wood-fired ovens are the best kind of oven for baking pizza because they bake in three ways simultaneously: by means of conductive heat, reflected heat and convective heat transfer. But a wood-fired oven wasn’t for me. I just wanted something practical that I could turn on and off easily – something movable, affordable, and that didn’t occupy too much of my back yard. I found a few oven designs that I liked from overseas suppliers, but they weren’t cost effective once I included price of shipping.
Getting laid-off was another turning point
A few years back, I lost the engineering job I had worked at for 13 years, so I found myself with plenty of time to experiment with fire bricks in my home oven and on my grill, to try and reproduce the cooking conditions and high temperatures of a brick oven. However, none of my DIY pizza ovens were really practical and my experiments stopped after my old employer rehired me a few months later.
Still, I kept on thinking of ways to build my ideal pizza oven – an oven that would be easy to operate, maintain and transport, and one that would simulate the heating and cooking characteristics of a brick oven: conductive heat, reflected heat and convective heat.
And then an idea was born
Last December 2011, an idea popped into my head as I was ordering a burger at a cafeteria. I watched the chef cover the meat patty with a basting cover and started thinking of building a pizza oven that combined the features of a basting cover and those of brick oven.
Do not disturb! Engineer at work
The first thing I needed was a heat source, and using my gas grill for the purpose was a no brainer. Plus it would give my underutilized grill a new purpose in life. The grill produces lots of heat, the main ingredient for a perfect pizza.
I used to use a ceramic stone when baking pizzas in my home oven. Pizza stones store heat and pass it on to the pizza, replicating the conductive properties of a brick oven. However, I couldn’t use my ceramic pizza stone directly on my grill because ceramic cannot tolerate sudden extreme changes in temperature and cracks when it comes in contact with fire. So I used an aluminum pizza pan as a separator, to protect the stone.
I replicated the heat that is reflected off the walls and top of a brick oven by using a round, deep cake pan as a cover. The problem was that it did not reflect enough heat, so I fixed this by adding another pizza stone above the pizza being cooked, to store and reflect more heat from on top.
My first prototype worked well, but there was still room for improvement, especially as regards the type of pizza stones I was using. The top stone wasn’t getting hot enough because it didn’t get any direct heat and I actually broke few stones by accidentally getting them exposed to direct flames.
Luckily at that time, Cordierite pizza stones became popular, affordable and easy to find in multiple sizes. Cordierite is a material that is even more durable than ceramic and that can withstand direct contact with the grill’s flames. Just what I needed! This allowed me to increase the upper stone size to store and refract more heat, and I could now place the bottom cordierite pizza stone right on the flames, using the grill’s heat more efficiently. My oven design became simpler and more effective.
Still, I wasn’t completely happy with the results; I needed even more heat, so I replaced the round cake pan with a square one and used a square top stone to capture and store as much heat as possible for baking top side of the pizza pie.
This was definitely an improvement, and yet there was one last thing missing: convective heat. Brick ovens have a vent and chimney system that draws hot moist air from outside and passes it over the pizzas, cooking them faster while preventing the topping ingredients from drying out. To reproduce this, I cut an opening in the pan to act as a chimney.
And oh boy, what a difference it made! Everything finally came together.
I was extremely happy to find that my homemade Mighty Pizza Oven prototype allowed me to bake better pizzas faster. It really took my pizza experience and skills to a whole new level. My pizzas now tasted so much better, even though I was still using a food processor recipe book and a rough measuring technique.
Now that I had all the right tools, baking delicious pies became as simple as preparing any other homemade meal!
My entrepreneurial spirit kicks in
I soon realized my prototype oven could really be useful to other pizza enthusiasts like me, who wanted to cook top quality pizza without spending huge amounts of money on a pizza oven. I was also excited at the thought of doing something I really enjoyed, and which could hopefully become a steady source of income to replace my engineering income that has not been steady in the last few years.
My next step:
Before I could even think of selling my oven, I needed to be sure of two things: first that my design was patentable, and second, that the Might Pizza Oven was commercially viable.
I hired a patent attorney who found a few potentially similar designs but concluded that my design had a number of original patentable features of its own. Great news! At the same time, I started estimating the cost of mass–producing my oven and managed to find a manufacturer willing to make me a professional prototype at a reasonable price. Things were slowly taking shape.
Introducing the Mighty Pizza Oven
A few months later, after I filed my patent application, I received my first prototype from the manufacturer; I was so excited and eager to try it out, but I still needed to see what people outside my family and friends thought of the Mighty Pizza Oven.
I considered the best place to do that would be on pizzamaking.com, a forum dedicated to the craft. I had visited the website as a guest many times before but never became a member. The forum has tons of information… as well as experienced members who I knew would be able to give me valuable feedback on my prototype. I signed up to introduce my Mighty Pizza Oven, wondering why I hadn’t joined the site earlier.
My pizza experience takes another leap
Being a guest on the forum and getting involved are totally different things. By actually forming part of the group and interacting with other members, I was inspired to do better and learn more. What I thought was good pizza was just ok pizza, and my pizza skills improved drastically. With my Mighty Pizza Oven, I already had a high temperature oven, the single, most essential tool for baking awesome pizza. The forum got me into improving my kneading technique and coming up with my own dough recipes, and it even helped me understand things like the importance of measuring ingredients by weight, rather than by volume, and the difference between Neapolitan and New York pizza.
I met some awesome people along the way
I’d never finish if I had to tell you about all the interesting and extremely passionate pizza enthusiasts I met at pizzamaking forum. To keep it short, I will just mention TXCraig1 who really stood out with his constructive comments to me and other members. It turned out Craig was a pizza connoisseur who had experimented with his own DIY grill pizza oven and eventually went on to acquire a wood fired oven, such is his passion for the craft.
After joining the forum, I started looking for someone to test the Mighty Pizza Oven prototype, and I was extremely delighted to find out that Craig lived in the same city and was kind enough to do me the favor of testing my pizza oven.
Craig kept his word and gave his beloved wood-fired oven the day off while he tested the Mighty Pizza Oven. Let me just tell you that he called it “the little oven that could.”
More experimentation and testing
After Craig’s test, I improved on the Mighty Pizza Oven design and experimented with ways to reach higher oven temperatures by using different techniques and/or additional accessories. I also worked to fine-tune my pizza recipes to make the most of the oven’s potential.
Now, I am just starting to look into using yeast culture or “starter” instead of dry yeast, which is sure to give even better results… This is the beauty of pizza making: there is always room for improvement and experimentation, something that is amazing when you think that pizza is such a simple food.
In Jan. 2013, I received my production prototype had great fun testing it. It works great and I can honestly say it is everything I ever wanted in a pizza oven. After making a few minor improvements, I placed my first production order and launched the Mighty Pizza Oven Kickstarter Campaign in July 2013. The Mighty Pizza Oven is currently patent pending.
The Kickstarter Campaign
As anyone who has ever launched a project on Kickstarter can tell you, the hardest part is getting enough exposure and traffic to your project in the few weeks the campaign lasts. While I got several pledges for the Mighty PizzaOven in the first few days, I unfortunately did not manage to build up enough momentum early on to take the Kickstarter campaign all the way to its funding goal.
This is just a minor hurdle and I am currently looking at other ways to market and sell the Mighty Pizza Oven.
And this is where we’re at
In the meantime I continue to enjoy my Mighty Pizza Oven, much to the delight of family and friends. I am able to bake pizza in 3 to 4 minutes per pizza on my grill, and the oven reaches New York pizza baking temperature in less than half an hour. When I am making pizza for my family, I usually make enough dough for three medium-sized pizzas. With my little girls helping every step of the way, it takes less than half an hour to assemble and bake all three lovely pies.
I am also working to design an optional gas burner base for the Mighty Pizza Oven that will make the Mighty Pizza Oven setup 100% portable, so it can be taken along on camping trips and to tailgate parties. This will greatly increase the appeal of the Mighty Pizza Oven and make it much more profitable.
I hope you will benefit from my experience and maybe even enjoy baking your own professional-quality pizza using my beloved Mighty Pizza Oven. Order yours today!.
You can also keep up with new developments, tips and tricks on mightypizzaoven.com/forum and facebook.com/mightypizzaoven. Like the Facebook page to show your support and to make sure you’re one of the first to find out when anything exciting happens.