F&W's Justin Chapple on how to transform everyday materials like bricks and terra cotta pots into wacky but awesome tools for cooking in the great outdoors. 

By Justin Chapple
Updated May 23, 2017
© Nicole Franzen

I'm not ashamed to admit it: I splurge on high-priced cooking tools. Seriously, it's not unusual for me to save up for weeks so I can drop a chunk of change on a new knife, gigantic skillet or high-powered blender. This is especially true for anything outdoorsy, because I much prefer to do my summer cooking in fresh air. Still, I draw the line at anything that requires an entire paycheck to cover the cost. For that reason, I haven't yet acquired what I wish for most—an outdoor pizza oven! Luckily, the World Wide Web is full of fresh ideas for transforming what I might already have at home, like bricks and terra cotta pots, into wacky but awesome tools for cooking in the great outdoors. Here's my 2016 to-do list of outdoor DIY projects.

Brick Pizza Oven
I believe the perfect pizza starts with high-quality dough, sauce (or no sauce) and superior toppings. But I've tested enough pizza recipes in the F&W Test Kitchen to know that even with the best ingredients, it can be tricky getting it right. I blame our home ovens. Sure, using a home oven can yield a tasty pie. But if you, like me, are after a superior pizza that's crispy on the bottom and evenly cooked on top, it’s a brick pizza oven that’ll do the trick.

Why? Home ovens rarely reach internal temperatures that exceed 450-to-500 degrees, whereas brick ovens can reach temperatures of 800 degrees or more. Pizza stones come in handy when trying to mimic the intense heat of a brick oven, but that primarily lends more heat on the bottom. I want wrap-around heat that attacks not only the crust but the toppings, too. The problem with brick pizza ovens is that they're expensive and take up valuable space. Inspired by many YouTube DIYers, including this guy Tom (see the below video), I got the idea to make a brick pizza oven right on top of my gas grill. By stacking bricks on my grill, I can create a chamber that reached pizza-worthy temperatures. Here's my plan:

1. Place a flame-proof pizza grilling stone on a gas grill, leaving enough space in the back to stack standard bricks.
2. Wrap 8 to 12 standard bricks with foil, then stack them two bricks high around the back, left and right sides of the stone.
3. Place another flame-proof pizza grilling stone on top of the bricks.
4. Light the grill. Close the grill over the bricks and stones, then let preheat for at least 30 minutes before using.

  • Terra Cotta Tandoor
  • Tandoor is a type of oven that’s used throughout the Middle East and beyond. They're often made of clay that's surrounded by an insulating material, like mud or small rocks. A small fire is built on the inside to heat the walls and air, which helps maintain the heat for a significant amount of time with little effort. This makes it superb for cooking foods (usually skewered) quickly and evenly. The best part is that the food takes on an incredible smoky flavor that can only be obtained from cooking with live fire. That can certainly be done without a tandoor, but I’m looking for my next adventure and am up for the challenge.
  • There are a number of methods for making a tandoor at home, but the most common technique I found is to make it with terra cotta flower pots. It seems absurd, I know, but the idea is quite simple: stack a smaller terra cotta pot inside a bigger one and fill the outside void with pebbles. I’m still drawing my plans, but in the meantime, visit SimpleNick’s blog to see how it’s done.

Filing Cabinet Smoker Box
I don’t know if transforming an old filing cabinet into a smoker intrigues me because it’s bizarre, or because I secretly wish it was my idea. Either way, there are quite a few people who are turning their old filing cabinets into smokers and I think it’s pretty neat (in a no-waste kind of way). I’m not sure if I’ll actually get to this project, but even still, it’s fun to watch. Watch how it’s done here.