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Weber-JohnGL “Dragon” Pizza Oven Prototype

Thursday, May 10th, 2012

Posted by johngl

It was just over a year ago that I picked up and assembled my extra large Big Green Egg. One of the primary considerations in my decision was my plan to use it as a pizza oven. I’ve made a bunch of pizzas on the Egg, but it really isn’t a natural thing. There is just too much faith involved. I have to trust that the pizza isn’t burning because I can’t see inside. In addition, the very high heat involved in making pizza positively roasted the Egg’s felt seal and I wound up replacing it (no small feat) in less than two months.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the Egg…though not necessarily for pizza.

Strangely enough, just over two years ago, I picked up a 26.75″ Weber Kettle in a step to avoid spending the massive quantities of money on the Big Green Egg.

Fail.

I now introduce to you, the Weber-JohnGL 26.75″ “Dragon” Pizza Oven Prototype: DPO1.

Enter the "Dragon"

I “manufactured” that center insert in about two hours. And no, it’s not done yet. It’s a prototype.

This all came about when some friends and I started discussing grills while consuming wine, pork, and salmon. Someone asked me how many grills I had.

“Seven.”

After an appropriate pause, we began discussing the merits and shortcomings of the various units in my collection.

So, a couple of days ago, I wandered into McCoy’s Lumber in Manchaca, TX. Locals pronounce that as man-shack. Don’t ask me why. Anyway, I was in there looking for some trim. Uhhh…baseboard, not the other kind of trim. Specifically, I was looking for some baseboard that matched the baseboard in my house. I’d checked the usual suspects, Lowe’s & Home Depot, to no avail. McCoy’s didn’t have it either. However…

A Culvert Pipe Connector

they did have this thing — a 24″ culvert connector — that caught my attention from clear across the parking lot. I thought it was just a short section of culvert. To be honest, metal culvert pipe always seems to get my attention. It’s shiny, heavy, and has cool spirals — and I used to put in culverts a lot when I was building houses (about three lifetimes ago). These days I’m not a general contractor, but culvert pipe is still great for planters and table bases.

Culvert Connector Tabs

Hmmm. Could I use this to modify my Weber? It was a mere $40. I bit.

Okay, so, notice those big metal tabs welded to the side of this sucker? There are big bolts that fit through the holes that cinch it up tightly against the two ends of culvert pipe that this thing joins together. Yeah, well, I didn’t need those, so I cut them off.

I’d initially thought I was going to use this fitting on my 22.5″ Weber Kettle. That came to an end when I eyeballed the larger Weber. Turns out I didn’t have to adjust the size of this thing at all. Well, except for some decidedly minor persuasion that involved the use of a BFH. For the uninitiated,  BFH is construction slang for a big f’ing hammer. Persuading something using a BFH isn’t normally a subtle kind of activity. My good friend Alex occasionally is required to use his hands to persuade people off his boat. Pretty much the same kind of thing: Not subtle.

Drilling holes in the culvert connector

Tabs removed, I pulled apart the two ends and then butted them together. I clamped them using a pair of quick grips. The four holes you see there are to secure some heavy-duty metal strapping to keep things together. I used “grade 8″ bolts since these are going to be exposed to some hefty temperatures as well as the weather and I wanted the threads not to corrode away.

Culvert connector test fit

Properly bolted, I did a test fit. Here is where that minor persuasion comes into play and those flared ends proved to be quite handy for these adjustments. The diameter of the culvert connector was just a little large to fit into the base. I therefore used said BFH to repeatedly tappa-tappa the bottom flair inward until it fit just right.

Culvert connection bottom fit

I tapped until it fit snugly, remained stable, and wasn’t difficult to dislodge.

On the top, I used the same technique to force the upper lip outward

Upper edge fit

Isn’t that nice?

Now that the thing fit reasonably well, it was time to determine the size of the opening.

Marking the opening

I marked the opening using a Sharpie pen.

Test fitting the pizza peel

Luckily, my larger (and long handled) peel fit the opening quite nicely.

All that was left to do was drop in the four bolts that would hold up the grill grate and support the quarry tiles that I use as a pizza stone. I used 1″ bolts for these supports.

Time for fire. I had no idea if the substantial increase in volume, plus the gaping hole in the side, would make the high temps necessary for pizza unattainable.

Using a standard load of charcoal, I fired it up and let it go for a half hour or so.

Checking the temp

Here, I’m checking the air temp of what belches out of the Dragon. This long-probe thermometer pegged out at 550°F quite quickly.

Heading to 600

The top thermometer was quickly approaching it’s 600°F peg.

Checking temp

In this shot, I’m checking the temperature of the upper lip of the opening. The idea here is that with the top vent closed, the heat and smoke will be forced down over the pizza prior to exiting. The temp here is a good sign.

And finally, the temp of the tile itself

And here’s the temp of the quarry tile itself. This is just what I wanted and makes for seriously crispy crusts. Again, this was a standard load of charcoal. If I need more heat, increasing isn’t a problem.

The Weber-JohnGL "Dragon" Pizza Oven Prototype

So, while I failed at not buying the Big Green Egg, I will be getting some good use out of the Dragon. I’ll give it a coat of heat-resistant paint (1200°F) and figure out how best to close the front so I can use it as a high capacity (though lower temperature) smoker. Further, at about $65 all told (connector, high grade bolts, and paint), it’s a fairly inexpensive modification.

All it needs is a pizza!

UPDATE: See the first pizza!

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9 Responses to “Weber-JohnGL “Dragon” Pizza Oven Prototype”

  1. Abel says:

    Good looking Weber Mod! Just picked up a 22.5″ from Craig’s List to do the exact same thing. Been making pizza in the oven for 23 years now but the residential range will only get so hot and I think the smokiness will take my pizza to the next level. Thanks for the pictures. Is the normal grill position too close to the coals, is raising it up higher necessary or more for ease of extraction?
    Thanks

  2. JohnGL says:

    To the folks at DFW Mustangs: http://www.dfwmustangs.net/forums/showthread.php?t=29445

    I’ve made pizzas on both my BGE and the Weber, however, it requires one to lift the lid in order to see the pizza. This is both inconvenient and allows heat to escape. The “insert” solves both of these problems.

  3. The cool meter is also pegged! You’re so industrious John!

    Thanks for sharing!

  4. David says:

    I’m kind’a partial to the galvanized, makes it look like a big metal hamburger. Oh, and how many thermometers do you have?

    • johngl says:

      I was torn on leaving the shiny galvy or painting. I can leave some accents I suppose. On the thermometers…hmmm…at least a dozen. Several x-long probes, several short ones, one for candy, the laser, and numerous others including a few electric ones for roasts. One even has a remote.

  5. Biz says:

    That is one of my dreams of my life to have a pizza oven in my back yard! I actually have some pizza dough in my fridge – may need to heat up my quarry tiles for some za tonight! :D

    • johngl says:

      I usually have some in my fridge, too. In a strange twist, I ran out about three days ago. Otherwise I’d have stuck one in the “new” oven!

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