Taste of the great outdoors: No foodie's garden is complete without a wood-fired pizza oven

Gwyneth Paltrow and Jamie Oliver both have one; Guy Ritchie can't stop talking about his. Rob Sharp discovers what makes them so hot

You grab a cloth to pull open a salmon-coloured ceramic door, and are greeted with the smoky smell of toasted dough and sizzling cheese. Leaning down, you pull out a baking tray holding succulent pork loins, leave it to rest to one side, and turn to remove two pizzas with crisp bases and molten toppings from the sexy new appliance you have purchased for your garden.

Wood-fired pizza ovens are not just physically sizzling hot – they are also more popular than ever. Andrew Manciocchi, the co-founder of Orchard Ovens, the UK distributor of Valoriani, one of the most prestigious pizza oven brands in the world – says in 2008 his orders were up 300 per cent on the previous year. So far in 2009, he claims, sales are even higher. Manciocchi's success has been sparked by his ovens' massive appeal to those in the public eye. Jamie Oliver used one of his ovens in his television series Jamie at Home, which, when it was screened last February on Channel 4, attracted 2.5 million viewers. Gwyneth Paltrow has even taken a break from her notoriously strict macrobiotic diet to buy some of this bespoke culinary kit. "We have a wood burning pizza oven in our [London] garden," she told the celebrity magazine People last September. "I'm using the oven a lot – you can cook anything in there, it's amazing." What's more, when Guy Ritchie was interviewed by an American celebrity reporter in January about his divorce from Madonna, the director chose to talk mainly about his favourite wood-fired garden appliance (no prizes for guessing which one). So what is the appeal?

"They are a great alternative to barbecuing," says Theo Randall, head chef of Theo Randall at London's InterContinental Park Lane in Mayfair. "They possess this incredible residual heat. You can use them for everything from roasting shoulders of lamb to making bread and vegetables, and they look nice in the garden, too." The ovens can be used to rustle up smoke-finished dishes of everything from roast pork, fish, stews, bread, bread and butter pudding or rhubarb crumble.

However, despite the ovens' association with the rich and famous, they will not break the bank. You can opt for a variety of sizes, some kinder on the wallet. These range from those just big enough to rustle up a 12-inch pizza (which might cost a few hundred pounds) to the larger one-metre models beloved of the Hollywood elite (these can set you back up to £3,000). Operating them is simple – you just light a fire inside using conventional firelighters, let the interior heat up, then extinguish the fire and wipe away the embers. Insert your food directly on to the stone base and cook to taste. Randall – who creates bespoke pizzas for Pizza Express – says the ovens are perfect for conjouring up a crisp-based pizza. "It is the way pizzas are supposed to be made," he says. The hot stone base can also be used to sear meat to give it a beautifully moisture-rich finish.

Variations of the modern day wood-fired pizza oven have been used for hundreds of years in different countries. Its cousin, the masonry oven, has been used in the Persian Gulf for centuries to cook khubz (flatbread). In India, they are called tandoors. Valoriani has been making its ovens in the hills of Tuscany since 1890. The company has its own mine, and has made 250,000 pre-fabricated wood-burning ovens since the 1940s.

Manciocchi says he started selling the ovens in Britain in 2003 because he could not buy a wood-burning oven in the UK, and had been trying for several years, until he happened upon Valoriani's operation in Reggello while on holiday. When he secured the exclusive contract to supply their goods in Britain he approached his local bank manager and took out a loan. He says his bank manager was one of his first customers.

"It's a lovely old wood oven," says Oliver, talking on jamieoliver.com. "I've done a lot of cooking in it. I think it's got fashionable because it's outside, it's sociable, food tastes better in it. I love cooking in it. It's the old fashioned way. I think if you master the personality of looking after coal or wood in one of these naturally you become more sensitive to cooking. You don't just turn it on, you are connected to it more. There's something Medieval about it. Mine was a couple of grand of work after the initial kit, but I've seen them have all sorts of finishes, built into the sides of sheds. You can get an oven for a boat or install it into your kitchen."

"The thing is, wood-fired ovens are Jamie's thing," explains Manciocchi. "I got approached a couple of years ago by a local celebrity chef, Paul Heathcote [head chef of the Longridge restaurant in Preston] and he said he wanted to use our name. It was a deal we couldn't afford and I jokingly said I needed to do a deal with Jamie Oliver to make it worth it. Three weeks later I got a call from Jamie's people. I couldn't believe it. He had been put in touch with me through my Italian contacts, and they were being loyal to me."

Pizza ovens are going to become more readily available as they become more fashionable. "You can now get small ones of various sizes that come off the shelf," continues Randall. "You just plonk them on to a sturdy table and can buy them for around £300. They last for ever. I have seen smaller ones for less than that, though they have got to be reasonable to size to put anything inside." A variety of books on building a cheaper kit oven are available online, though Manciocchi is predictably scathing about their effectiveness. Either way, a pizza oven is set to be the must-have accessory for your garden over the coming year. "I said to my business partner Matt Draper in December that we need a bit of a kick-start with the recession coming on," concludes Manciocchi, who supplied both Oliver and Paltrow's ovens. "But since then the market has just grown and grown. I think now, after the initial boost from the celebrity factor, it's the factor of, well, if my friend has got one then I want one."

Perfect pizza: How to use your oven

* Centuries old, even early civilisations realised the fantastic appeal of taking food from the field to the fire, and it's this simplicity and the sensational taste results that account for the popularity of outdoor ovens today.

* A traditional wood-burning pizza oven is made out of clay and refractory concrete bricks, a heat-resistant mix that can withstand high levels of heat.

* A wood burning-oven will generally take around an hour to an hour and a half to heat up.

* A fire is lit inside with the chimney and door open, allowing the gasses from the wood and the smoke to exit. When the fire is lit, the interior of the oven retains the heat and the oven should be allowed to get white hot. Then the fire is allowed to die down.

* The heat is spread around the oven by radiation, and all the fire's heat that has been absorbed by the oven walls, slowly spreads out around the oven.

* The oven will have a slightly higher temperatures in the ceiling than the floor, due to convection current.

* Once the embers are swept to one side, the door and chimney should be closed. At this point, the oven is perfect for cooking foods that need a very high temperature, as it's around 800°F or 425°C. This is the optimum time to put in thin-based pizzas and they'll cook in around 90 seconds, leaving you with the traditional crispy base.

* When the temperature has dropped to around 450°F or 230°C, this is the time to put in big roasts or joints of meat. It's perfect for slow-cooking meat so that it falls off the bone and it gives it an incredible smoky flavour.

* How long the oven stays hot depends on how insulated the walls are. As an average, walls that are 4in thick should be able to cook at a high heat for about six hours.

* Once the oven drops in heat, it's great for slow-drying fruits, vegetables and herbs.

* And the best bit? There's no cleaning needed. Any grease left in the oven simply burns off in the heat.

Laura Martin

Voices
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
News
The University of California study monitored the reaction of 36 dogs
sciencePets' range of emotions revealed
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
Arts and Entertainment
The nomination of 'The Wake' by Paul Kingsnorth has caused a stir
books
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
film
News
Snoop Dogg pictured at The Hollywood Reporter Nominees' Night in February, 2013
people... says Snoop Dogg
News
i100
Life and Style
food + drinkZebra meat is exotic and lean - but does it taste good?
Arts and Entertainment
Residents of Derby Road in Southampton oppose filming of Channel 4 documentary Immigration Street in their community
tv
Voices
voicesSiobhan Norton on why she eventually changed her mind
News
i100
Extras
indybest
Sport
Scottish singer Susan Boyle will perform at the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony in Glasgow
commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules
filmReview: The Rock is a muscular Davy Crockett in this preposterous film, says Geoffrey Macnab
Life and Style
tech
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    C++ Software Engineer - Hounslow, West London - C++ - to £60K +

    £40000 - £60000 per annum + Pension, Healthcare : Deerfoot IT Resources Limite...

    VB.NET and C# developer (VB.NET,C#,ASP.NET)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET a...

    Visitor Experience volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary role: Old Royal Naval College: To assist the Visitor Experien...

    Telesales Manager. Paddington, London

    £45-£55k OTE £75k : Charter Selection: Major London International Fashion and ...

    Day In a Page

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

    A land of the outright bizarre
    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
    Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

    The worst kept secret in cinema

    A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
    Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
    Why do we have blood types?

    Are you my type?

    All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
    Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

    Honesty box hotels

    Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

    Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

    The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
    Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

    The 'scroungers’ fight back

    The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
    Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

    Fireballs in space

    Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
    A Bible for billionaires

    A Bible for billionaires

    Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
    Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

    Paranoid parenting is on the rise

    And our children are suffering because of it
    For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

    Magna Carta Island goes on sale

    Yours for a cool £4m
    Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn