My BIG Summer project

It’s that time of year.  The time I reveal what my big Spring project is going to be!  Only now it’s summer, so it’s what my big Summer project is going to be!

Last year it was installing a new floor in the kitchen which led to a complete kitchen renovation, the year before it was ripping out the front yard to put in a vegetable garden and the year before that it was building a chicken coop.

It just occurred to me that all of these big projects recently have revolved in some way around my belly.  That bottomless pit of want.  I fancied up the kitchen, created a place to grow food and built a house so I could have birds squeeze out even more food.

And this year is no different.







I’m building a pizza oven!

I mentioned many, MANY months ago, maybe even years ago on Facebook that I was beginning to be obsessed with building a pizza oven.  Now, here’s something you should know about me.  Once I get something in my head it doesn’t leave my head until it’s completed. In other words if I think I should maybe build a pizza oven, I can’t eat, drink, sleep or belly dance until I have built that pizza oven.

Here’s another something you need to know about me.    I’m a liar.  I think I’ve mentioned that before actually.

Because this year’s big summer project?  Is already done.  I completed the pizza oven last summer.  As soon as the fella left I started building a pizza oven.  It gave me something to do and something quite physical.  It involves smashing, pounding and stomping so it’s really the perfect break up project.

Over the next 4 days I’m going to teach you how you can build your very own pizza oven using backyard clay, sand and straw.

Those are the 3 basics ingredients of Cob.  Which is what we’ll be using as our building material. You’ll notice I say “We”. That’s because I’m convinced there’s going to be at least one of you out there who will be compelled to build a pizza oven after reading this series of posts.

Cob has been used as a building material forever and it’s what those cute little cottages with thatched roofs in England are built out of. Cob with a layer of a lime plaster over top.

If you already know you’re seriously considering building a cob pizza oven I’m going to recommend you buy a book right now.  I bought the book, many people who have decided to build a pizza oven have bought the book and there is no greater reference manual for it.

Build Your Own Earth Oven by Kiko Denzer is the pizza/wood fired oven bible.  My copy is currently covered in clay, fingerprints and kisses.

The actual instructions on how to do this will start tomorrow, but in case you aren’t convinced you need a pizza oven, take a look at my oven.


It’s warm and cozy in the fall, fun and sparky in the spring, and filled with pizzas all year long. Even the winter. Yes. Winter. I’ve also filled mine with homemade bread, sausages, chicken, rhubarb crisp, roasted potatoes, asparagus and even rice pudding. Many of those things all at once.

Wood burning ovens like this lend themselves to succession cooking. First you put in the things that are cooked hot and fast like pizza, then in goes the roast, the bread and finish up with a pie. When everything is cooked you can put some wood in the warm oven and leave it overnight for some kiln dried wood. Other than complex equations there isn’t much a wood burning oven can’t do.

In tomorrow’s post I’ll give giving you the list of materials you need,  where I got mine for free, and how to build the initial “form” of your oven.

In case you don’t think it’s worth your time because you don’t really like pizza, keep this in  mind.  Last winter I trudged through the falling snow to where my wood fired oven was warm and crackling.  I threw in a couple of loaves of homemade sourdough bread.  Half an hour or so later, in the quiet that only a snow covered winter day can achieve, I scraped a wood breadboard over the rough surface of the fire bricks and pulled out two hot, crusty loaves of fresh bread.

Still not convinced?

The other night I started a fire in the oven and cooked my entire dinner. I threw in sausages, a whole chicken breast, asparagus, baby potatoes and a rhubarb crisp.

It all came out perfectly.

If THAT doesn’t convince you then I’m sorry to have wasted your time and I’ll let you get back to R2D2 and the rest of the robots.


  1. Becky says:

    My husband is in the process of building a pizza oven at our cottage. I believe he is making a traditional Quebec style oven but he does have the same book as you. Looking at yours gives me hope ours won’t look like hell.

  2. Bernard says:

    Wait a minute….You actually cook chickens in front of, You know, the CHICKENS!?

    There are secluded places for people like You.

    Love the Pizza Oven…mostly ’cause I love pizza AND fire.


  3. Rebecca says:

    I love you.

  4. Jebber Jay says:

    When Armegedon strikes, i’m going to find you and move in. You are almost completely self-sufficient. All you have left to do is grow grapes and make wine. :o)

  5. Leslie says:

    Very. Cool. Project! I saw one with glass jewels imbedded in the outside and it was stunning.

  6. sarajane says:

    Delurking to say: Yay! Yay! Yay! A pizza oven has been in the back of my mind for some time and now Karen’s going to show me how to build one! And then I can either pretend I’m Karen or Jamie Oliver.

  7. Kristin Ferguson says:

    Oh, yay! I’ve been hoping to see something like this! Your oven is beee-utiful! How have your pizzas been coming out? I would love to share a short video with you of a pizza being stretched, topped, and baked in my pizza oven in the space of three minutes. Let me know if you are interested. Tippie the chicken even makes a cameo appearance.

  8. Liz says:

    So I just bought what I’m calling “my 1970’s Barbie dream home”, and I think you should visit Edmonton and help me plan the kitchen and bathroom renos…and heck, we can slap a pizza oven together while we’re at it ;)

  9. Lynne says:

    I had the pleasure of using a wood fired oven when I was in Italy with the ex and a bunch of friends. It was one of the features of the villa we rented. We started out with pizza and graduated to trailer park chicken and a variety of other things. It was fantastic.

    I would absolutely love to have a pizza oven in my backyard – heaven knows I’ve got ample room. It’s not gonna happen any time soon, more’s the pity. Instead – I taught myself to do pizza on my barbecue this past weekend. Easy – and delish. It will have to do.

  10. Elizabeth says:

    I showed the photo of your feet enjoying the beautiful beehive oven to my friend visiting from Tucson, Arizona, saying ” you need one of these in your backyard!” She considered for a moment, then said,” I’d really rather have shade.”. Another world out there, I guess.

  11. kate-v says:

    Mostly I do not use my oven during the summer – but an outside oven could change all that-

  12. Dee says:

    My mouth is watering already. All those yummy things you can make in that oven – year round too!

  13. Melissa in North Carolina says:

    What can I say…you are really amazing. I’ll be pinning your directions.

  14. Cred says:

    Really looking forward to seeing your process for the oven. I’m really interested in earth building. My sister helped build a cob house at a 3 week cob building workshop in Oregon and my guy and I built a straw bale bunkhouse on our property. I’ve been trying to convince my sister that we should build a cob oven at her cottage. Your beautiful oven is further inspiration- will have to show her what you have made.

  15. Pat says:

    WOW! Simply amazing. I am NOT showing this to my husband because he wants a pizza oven but no place for it in our wee yard. I once knew a woman who constructed cobb buildings all over the world. She probably still does but have lost touch. Soooo, does this mean you are having a holiday summer with no big project????

  16. Me says:

    I’ve been toying with the idea of a cob oven for years, but our zoning regs won’t allow it. Did you have any difficulty getting approvals for your oven’s location? I see it’s close to a fence – your neighbor’s property line? Thanks.

    • Karen says:

      In my area we don’t need approval for this. Any cob oven that will involve a contained fire for the purpose of cooking is allowed. It is regulation distance from the fence. ~ karen!

      • Me says:

        LUCKY! :) NJ sucks. For so many reasons. We can’t even have freaking backyard chickens in my town! I’ll have to keep living vicariously through your blog.

  17. Patti says:

    My jaw is on the floor … I’m gobsmacked! Your description of fresh bread on a cold snowy day cooked outside sold me hard.

  18. Feral Turtle says:

    This is too cool. We are building a pizza oven too but it will be part of a rocket stove. I am excited to read your posts on this as we haven’t completely decided on what materials to use. Yours looks beautiful Karen! You did a fantastic job.

  19. Sandy says:

    I’m gonna invite myself over for dinner. I’ll bring the alcohol.

  20. Melissa Helm says:

    Book has been ordered–can’t wait to start. Until I read this post, I had no idea that I needed a pizza oven in my back yard. What would we do without you, Karen? :)

  21. christine says:

    Is that legal? Between the chickens and that thing you are going to be wearing orange in no time.

    • Karen says:

      Orange is the new black. ~ karen!

      • Kristi says:

        You must have fabulous neighbours!! All the eggs and free pizza wouldn’t give me a chance with one grumpy old fun-killing couple we have on our court. That’s it, I’m moving to re country! You are an inspiration!

  22. MelissaM says:

    A friend did one of these last fall (we got to help.) He spent all summer digging down about 4 feet to build the base, and then digging down to a clay layer to get his clay (that pit was rather deep as well.) I’m sure his neighbors thought he was up to no good at all.

    The pizzas he gets out of there are delicious! Way to go, Karen!

  23. ellen says:

    An enlarged and improved BBQ patio is in our plans for next summer. Maybe I need to add a pizza oven. This summer we are learning to make pizza in the Big Green Egg. A learning process for sure.

  24. Mandy says:

    THAT is spectacular!! :)

  25. Dagmar says:

    Wow and I got excited because my fella fixed a broken dresser drawer and the finally cut a fitted piece that fits above the window a/c unit. I guess I don’t dream big enough ;-) I swear, you -Karen Bertelsen, deserve your own show-but then that might feel like work, so maybe not. Okay just keep doing the AMAZEing and fantastic stuff you do. If nothing else, it is motivating to start with smaller projects, and work up to larger ones.

  26. Sandy says:

    Love it!!

  27. Rondina says:

    Can I say this is cute? That’s the word that comes to mind, although “useful” would better describe it. I’m wondering where you put it in the yard.

  28. Danni says:

    whoa Nellie…. I’m actually digging a clambake pit in the backyard this summer, this would be awesome too!
    There are not enough minutes in an hour, hours in a day, days in a year… (ok, you catch my drift,) to do all the things I already want to do, and now I’ll have to figure out where to place this on the list!
    I will read the posts and seriously consider!

  29. Su says:

    its cool. It’s awesome.

  30. Mary Kay says:

    We are going to spend the next several summers redoing our backyard – never considered a pizza oven…now I think I might be reworking some plans! Can’t wait to see how you did it!

  31. Tigersmom says:

    Impressive. As is the rest of your backyard which I had been meaning to mention is looking amazingly inviting from what has been shown in recent posts.

    I may be a bit behind on this as I am just beginning to not mind (and sometimes, I dare say, even enjoy) cooking. Baby steps.

  32. Jody says:

    Are you kidding? I thought the big Spring project was the introduction of the wee chicklets. You are amazing. I thought I was pushing my limits considering getting a pizza stone to use on our smoker.

  33. Diana says:


    you hit it! I `m thinking about an own oven since we have our own garden but we had to fix so many problems in our -by the way 300y old cob and straw house. The smell of fresh and crusty bread.. (excuse me for a second Ma`m, I have to swallow the upcoming water in my mouth) but i wanted primarily to build it from bricks. But cob is so much better!!! I will follow you!!!

  34. Denise says:

    I have been wanting an outdoor oven for years, maybe this will get us motivated :)

  35. Debbie says:

    I can belly dance. While my college friends were watching Mork and Mindy, I took a belly dancing class and loved it. I caught up on Mork and Mindy during summer reruns (a thing of the past).

    Love the pizza oven and your shoes. Waiting for your next steps and know there will be hearty laughter in them.

  36. Liesl Joubert says:


  37. Cathy says:

    Wow! My suburban life is so bloody boring…no chickens, no heated floor ( which I REALLY NEED) and no cute oven in my back yard. Good thing I have an adorable dog who thinks I hung the moon or I’d have to cash in my chips now.

  38. Michelle says:

    Well, I now have chickens, I might just need me a pizza oven too… :)

  39. Alice says:

    Oh yes! I have been waiting for this, even if I didn’t know it. I wanted to take a class a year or so ago but other things were more important in my life. That was the right thing to do then. Now, I am ready to bring home made pizza (and bread, etc.) into the lives of my friends. I’m ready for this. Thank you, Karen, I am ready now.

  40. Pati Gulat says:

    This looks like something that needs to go somewhere around my new 16×36 inground the Hubster Extraordinaire is building me…. ;) Might have to take this post rather seriously !

    • Helen C. Peplinski says:

      Hello, did you mean your hubby is building an in ground swimming pool? Can you pls tell me how?

      I will be forever thankful for such information!!


      • Pati Gulat says:

        Yes, Helen, he sure is ! We hired a young guy who does odd jobs to help him but we bought it online at . We bought the 16×36 rectangle (8 feet deep) along with the salt system and $800 of vermiculite (pool base that you mix with concrete) for 9,500. Of course that doesn’t include the wiring or the rental for the track hoe but all told it should cost us about 13,000 from start to finish. I am on Facebook if you wanna see pics; Pati Waggoner-Gulat

        • Karen says:

          That is ASTONISHING Pati. Why would you tell me this??? Why would you bring this to my (of all people) attention! Oh dear. ~ karen!

        • Pati Gulat says:

          LOLOL, Karen ! Well, Helen asked me…and the whole thing is AMAZING, so I felt I should let ya’ll in on it….Sorry, girlfriend ! ;)

  41. Dede says:

    I like your shoes.

  42. Deirdre Fowler says:

    Nothing says love like pizza! Love of your family, love of yourself, love of your family. MMmmmm

  43. yvonne says:

    Karen, my husband and I took a mini-class from Kiko and loved it. We have a question…do you cover the oven in the winter to protect it from the elements?

    • Karen says:

      Hi Yvonne – You’re so lucky! That would be a GREAT class to take. You can see why I would recommend his book to everyone. I finished my oven on August 29th last year, so there wasn’t enough time to do the lime plaster. So yes, I kept the oven covered up all winter with a tarp to prevent it from getting wet, unless I was going to use it. It wintered perfectly. I now have the lime plaster (3 coats) on the oven and don’t have to worry about it getting wet at all so no tarping is needed in the summer. I probably will tarp it in the winter to protect it a little more. I do the same thing with my ceramic smoker in the winter. I just use a large, heavy duty BBQ cover for the cob oven and it fits very well. ~ karen!

  44. Nancy Blue Moon says:

    That is so are so awesome..Wow..

  45. Laura Bee says:

    You did it! Not that there was ever any doubt. This is a project for our next home I think. Sourdough bread is a big incentive.

  46. sandra says:

    I’m intrigued and slightly jealous. Luckily I have two things going for me: I have the perfect corner off my side yard and I need a project. Hey make that three things… my father owned a top rated italian restaurant for many years. Voted best pizza year after year. I was the lucky recipient to his secret recipes. Would love to bake his awesome pies in a real pizza oven again. Oh I can taste it now.

    • Teresa Jennings Richardson says:

      Hummmm. Maybe Sandra will share her pizza recipes with you and you can share them with us.

      • Sandra says:

        Hi Teresa. If there was anyone that would do these incredible recipes justice I believe it would be Karen. However I was sworn to secrecy that included not sharing with anyone including my husband or sisters for fear they could get botched. I will share one little tidbit regarding a GREAT sauce … fresh herbs including fennel that has been roasted and ground … super delicious.

  47. Maria says:

    Holy smoke! I love it! I’m all fired up to build one, unfortunately I’m moving in to a condo :(. Do you all think it would be a selling point for the house I’m going to sell? Karen, you never cease to amaze. I’m waiting for you to get all fired up to do a toe kick step for under the kitchen cabinets, though it looks like you don’t need one to reach the 2nd shelf or above.

  48. peg says:

    lovely thing to behold!!!wish I had room and wasn’t a renter. I WANT ONE TOO!!

  49. Ella says:

    Whoa! Is there anything you can’t do? Seriously, I’ve always been impressed, but now am in awe. The thing is–your projects seem to always turn out amazingly!

  50. AnnW in the US says:

    Sneaky, but smart for you. I like this idea, and might even make one. If we keep having big storms we will have an endless supply of firewood.

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