Manufacturer of the year!

The manufacturer that Pizza-Porta has partnered with since the beginning won a prestigious award this week. Metcam was recognized as the best manufacturer in the state of Georgia in their size category.  The team was invited to a huge ceremony and the award was presented by the Governor.

Congratulations to Bruce and his entire team. Thank you for all of your support as we kicked off this new business.  

Bruce is the one who interrupted my pitch and said "you had me at Pizza and Big Green Egg".

 

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Thank you for reading. You can learn more about Metcam here.

 

Cortlandt

5 Top tips to get that kamado hot.


 

At every demonstration that I conduct someone shares a story about their grill struggling to get past 400-500F degrees.  I recently had a similar problem in a brand new Kamado Joe grill.  No matter what I did with the top and bottom vent, the grill would not get into my prime pizza cooking range of 600F degrees.  I figure out that I was experiencing internal blockage that was keeping the grill from getting hot enough. Here are a couple of ideas to remedy this problem:

 After a thousand pizzas

After a thousand pizzas

1) Get a grate in the bottom. I recommend the Kick Ash Basket (I bought mine - and have no financial tie with KAB). Grates allow small chunks of charcoal to drop through rather than block the little air holes of the standard fire grate. The brand new KJ I was using had the standard fire grate and the little holes were getting blocked by charcoal.

2) Be careful with how the heat deflector is placed in the grill. The BGE platesetter allows a lot of airflow around the edges, the KJ deflectors are round and can restrict the airflow.  I found that if you put the KJ deflectors up high in the Divide and Conquer system or overlap them by an inch in the middle, you will get more airflow around the outside edges.

3) Ensure that all of the parts of your setup are cleaned out and allow plenty of airflow.  For example, the BGE pizza stone for the XL is very large relative to the grill circumference so make sure it is not impeding airflow around the edges.

4) Charcoal. I am charcoal brand agnostic and have had success with almost all brands I have tried. I do make sure that the bags stay dry.  Also, make sure that the little pieces don't create a solid matt that keeps the air from flowing into the center of your charcoal. 

5) A big fire is hotter than a small one. Start the fire in a couple of spots and get it roaring before closing the lid and using the vents.  High temperature means high fuel consumption so go ahead and top up that fire box. The ceramics take time to soak in heat.  

Bonus - One other tip I have learned is to monitor the wind.  If wind is blowing into the chimney, it is reducing the airflow through the charcoal.   Rotate your grill or block the wind.

I hope this is helpful, because pizza really likes a hot oven.  The dough rises more rapidly and the dough interior is not overdone. Pizza should be seared like a steak, not baked like a butt. 

Cortlandt

 Fill'er up

Fill'er up

 That's hot!

That's hot!

 Before the charcoal flames settle down

Before the charcoal flames settle down

Another Eggfest win using a Pizza-Porta

I have heard companies say that they love their customers.  In this case, love isn't exactly the right word.  I am in awe of this group.

 Ship of Fools team photo - who brings a mixer to an Eggfest?

Ship of Fools team photo - who brings a mixer to an Eggfest?

They are Pirates (or the Ship of Fools here) and they are the most daring, outrageous pizza cooking bunch I have ever seen.  Before they cooked pizza using the Pizza-Porta at Porkopolis last year we had a couple of telephone conversations about pizza making, but it became clear that they had everything all figured out. I was a guest at the Porkopolis event and was very impressed. The team had racks and pans and rollers and timers and signs custom made for the event. They ended up cooking 50 pizzas that day including some pretty unique combinations. And, they took first place in the competition. That is first place with pizza at a meatfest... err.. I mean Eggfest!

 

 

 Winners accepting the trophy at 2017 Porkopolis

Winners accepting the trophy at 2017 Porkopolis

 
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Well, they did it again!  This is the menu from the Chain of Lakes Eggfest in Winter Haven Florida in March.  They again skipped the basic margherita and pepperoni in favor of some magical pizzas.  To honor the local cuisine, they invented a couple of pies.  A Cuban pizza made perfect sense for a Florida event, but then they went and made a Key Lime Pie pizza!      

I have tried many different things on pizza, but Korean sauce on brisket sounded  a little out there.  And, a Cuban sandwich is tough to imitate in pizza form. Key lime pizza? I was skeptical.  Thankfully we had a runner who went down and snatched up some samples.  Let me tell you, I was blown away.  They pulled off an amazing combination and the crust was crispy and not overwhelmed and loaded down with moisture. My compliments to the chefs!   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When the day was done and the judge's votes were counted, the Ship of Fools pulled off another win at an Eggfest They were the 2018 Judges Choice. 

 Key Lime Pizza with Graham Cracker crust!

Key Lime Pizza with Graham Cracker crust!

 That meringue was made in the booth!

That meringue was made in the booth!

 Yes, they had shirts with a Pizza-Porta printed for the occasion.

Yes, they had shirts with a Pizza-Porta printed for the occasion.

 

In addition to having great cooking skills, they are the nicest folks you could ever meet. Competitive yes, but they are great ambassadors of the Egg community.  I am humbled to have had such a fantastic team choose the Pizza-Porta to demonstrate their skills! 

Thank you Greg, Bill, Teena, and Kellie (and Aaron) for choosing the Pizza-Porta

 

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Winner swag!

Entrepreneurship

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Business Startup - 6 Tips

This is a quick blog not on the Pizza-Porta product, but on the process of launching a business. Many people ask me about the thrill of going from idea to product to distribution.  It is the coolest job in the world. right?  Not a cubicle for miles. Meet new people. Cook at fun events. Trade pizza for beer!  For those who are thinking about doing something like this, I offer the following advice:

You need Product Passion -  You are going to have to love your product for a couple of reasons. First, you are going to doubt yourself and the product over and over, and over.  Second, some people are going to tell you that your baby is ugly - to your face! Third, you are going to need to demonstrate your product a lot.  You need thick enough skin to gently defend your idea, but not so thick that you don't listen for feedback - when it is good.

Find a "Go" signal - I have invented a number of "fantastic products" in my career.  Most of them are thankfully still in a notebook and did not get an investment. I am a lean entrepreneurship consultant and advocate. In this practice you spend as little as possible to find out as much as possible as fast as possible (I should trademark that maybe). Drawing pictures, creating brochures, and using look-alike products to gain an understanding of what your consumer wants are all really cheap methods to get feedback. Keep testing/refining your product concepts until your consumers give you a real "go signal". Make this hurdle high - collect deposits, get down-payments.  For example: If someone hands you cash it is pretty much a "go". If they tell you your idea is awesome - they could just be polite. (working with Moves The Needle taught me well) 

Listen, but do it carefully. You want to gain insights into how your product concept fits into the life of your consumer. Don't forget, though, that not everyone you speak to is a target customer. You need to make sure that your are crystal clear on what type of customer you are targeting, and speak to them. I received a lot of feedback that was completely misplaced because the person I was speaking with wanted to help me, but did not understand backyard pizza. 

Don't polish it too much. Until your product is purchased for full price and put to use by a consumer that you did not personally sell, you really don't know how it is going to go. As soon as you have something you can put in the market, Go! All the study and second guessing and design iterations just cost you money beyond that point. Get your product good (not perfect) and go. Then work on improvements based on real market feedback.

Figure it out-ness. The fantastic part about being an entrepreneur is that you have new challenges each day. The brutal part about being and entrepreneur is that you have new challenges each day. You are going to have to be very versatile. How do you do accounting? What if someone wants to ship a pallet?  What happens if your website dies? What do you do when a competitor launches a knock off? You don't have to make everything up every day, but be prepared for some creative problem solving on the fly.  

Love life. Don't forget to enjoy the ride. Thankfully people remind me of this at shows all the time.  "Wow, you have the coolest job!", "Wait, you get to drink beer and make pizza at your job". "That is a cool invention".  It is easy to get bogged down in accounts receivable and lose track of how extremely lucky you are!

I hope this is a helpful list. I am grateful to all those folks who did favors, cut deals, took a risk on me, or offered feedback along the way. Let me know if I can pay it forward to you - send me an email.               

Cortlandt

cortlandtm@pizza-porta.com

Learning from Pros

 No gas jets here - 100% wood fired  M    ugnaini   oven

No gas jets here - 100% wood fired Mugnaini oven

I like to tell people to seek advice from those who know best. I try to learn about pizza cooking from people who make pizza for a living. A good pizza restaurant will do hundreds of pizzas a day! I love to learn as much about authentic pizza as I can. A trip to Italy is definitely in my future!

I went on a field trip recently to learn food operations from the guys at Local Pie Bluffton. Sonny was kind and patient enough to let me help with prep one afternoon. I found out later that his team usually does all of this without help - and much faster!

What we did.

We started with a tour of operations and introductions to the team. We then got an Introduction to restaurant hygiene and safe food practices. These are all great things to understand. 

1) Slice mushrooms. Local Pie has an amazing mushroom pie that includes smoked mushrooms. We sliced an entire 24"X12" box of Baby Bellas and Large Shitake mushrooms that they source from a local farm. These are mixed together with some special ingredients and wood smoked for a few hours. It is amazing how a 5 gallon bucket of mushroom pieces shrinks when cooked. 

2) Slice tomatoes for roasting.  Again, a huge tray of tomatoes that were sourced from a farm about 30 minutes away were cut into wedges for roasting.  These were seasoned and placed on a tray in the pizza oven where they were roasted for a very brief time.  

3) Making Ricotta Cheese. I have attempted ricotta cheese at home in the past. I used a gallon of milk and cream and ended up with about a tiny 1/4 cup of ricotta. I learned to cook the milk until it "breaks".  Then remove and stir before filtering the whey out of the curd.  We created a tub of ricotta that was super smooth and creamy.  

4) Making Mozzarella Cheese. A pizza restaurant uses fresh mozzarella on nearly every pizza. Cheese production is as urgent as dough. We made a batch of fresh mozzarella from a 44 lb cheese curd. The process is not difficult, but to do it right there are a number of variables. First, the curd is diced into chunks and put into warm water.  Then, hotter and hotter water is added to cook the curd.  In the hot water, the curd makes a miraculous transformation into a giant ball of taffy-like cheese. Pulling and stretching aligns the texture of the cheese and makes it into a homogeneous ball.  Once the cheese is cooked and smooth and stretched we cooled it with salt water.  Finally, after about 15 minutes the fun part - form it into balls and shape it into 2 lb. sausage shapes in plastic wrap.    

 Huge batch of gooey Mozzarella

Huge batch of gooey Mozzarella

5) Making dough. I have made my share of dough in the kitchen using various recipes. I even upgraded and got an 8qt Kitchen Aid mixer.  Even with this mixer I am only able to make about 6 dough balls at a time.  24 pizzas takes four batches of dough.  The restaurant is a little different.  Their giant mixer makes 100 dough balls at a time!  My prep for Eggtoberfest would have been very different with this mixer!  Mind blown.

 Dough Mixer - done!

Dough Mixer - done!

Local Pie uses a starter/Poolish added into the flour and water that supplies the active yeast.  They also use some EVOO.  I was not given the recipe, but did add the parts as directed. They do use 00 flour as they are cooking in an 800 degree oven.  Sonny pointed out that cooking their dough in a home oven would not work that well, because the 00 flour does not brown at less than 700F degree.  If you had pizza from the Local Pie booth at Eggtoberfest, you know that their dough cooked beautifully in the Pizza-Porta at 800F.     

We put the ingredients in their mixer and bam! - 2-3 minutes later it was completely incorporated and smooth as silk.  We dug out the dough and placed it on the counter.  The staff saw this happen and all jumped in to help.  They have a cool tradition to gather around and catch up with each other while forming dough balls.   

 

 

Once the dough was formed, we had to end our tour. It was a great day of learning the details of a pizza restaurant.  Did I mention that we made pizzas throughout all of this prep work?  Patrons were in and out throughout this process and we stopped and made a pie or two and then jumped right back in.  I am thankful for the team at Local Pie Bluffton for showing me how all of this worked.  I am so impressed with the team there because I left in the afternoon while they cooked pizza unit 11:00 pm that night.  

This trip reinforced that a great pizza starts with great ingredients.  Everything we did was from scratch - no Cisco cans in this back room. Local Pie makes some fun pizza combinations based on what they can source fresh, locally. This daily routine is a lot of work, but the difference is obvious when you bite into a pizza.  So, why am I writing this post? It was gratifying to see that I can reproduce the steps of a great restaurant at home and use the Pizza-Porta as a very close approximation of a real wood-fired oven.    

 

Thank you for following us. If you are in Hilton Head be sure and check out Local Pie.

Cortlandt

Shop for Pizza-Porta and accessories HERE

 

 

 

    

     

It Ain't Just The Dough Recipe

When we cook pizza at shows and events, we are frequently asked for our dough recipe. We are happy to share recipes that we have tested, but that is not the key to our great pizza. Our quest for that perfect, crunchy, light crust in the Big Green Egg® started with us tweaking multiple dough recipes. The results all seemed pretty average, regardless of the ingredient proportions. It wasn't the dough recipe that was holding us back.

Pizza is a wonderful, simple food consisting of a few ingredients placed on a bread base. Dough is made from only a few ingredients: flour, yeast, water and a little salt. Fantastic crust is the result of getting the chemistry and physics exactly right.  Here is a link to a detailed article on the subject click here. There are hundreds of postings that endorse cooking pizza at temperatures above 600ºF, but they don't explain why. This article explains the importance of temperature on the dough baking process.  Here is a recap of the action taking place as dough heats in an oven.

 

 Chart from classofoods.com

Chart from classofoods.com

 

Step by step, the dough metamorphosizes from a gooey pale dough blob into a crisp, airy, browned crust.  The challenge of making extraordinary pizza versus average pizza is that the dough must make this journey at a certain pace. A pizza dough placed in a high-temperature oven (>600ºF) will heat from the outside in.  As the outside of the crust reaches 150ºC (302F) it forms that beautiful toasty brown color. Then, as it hits 200º (392ºF) it begins to show that black char, hallmark of a wood-fired oven pizza.  Meanwhile as the internal temperature reaches 100ºC  the moisture in the dough turns to steam which cooks the internal portions of the dough leaving it soft and slightly chewy. It is just like searing a tuna or a steak - At high temperature the outside gets charred and crispy quickly so the inside does not have time to soak in heat and remains lightly cooked.

For hundreds of years, wood fired pizza ovens have cooked at 700ºF-900ºF.  This high temperature takes dough through all of these steps in about 2 minutes.

 

 Pizza-Porta vs Wood Fired Oven

Pizza-Porta vs Wood Fired Oven

Pizza cooking in a kamado grill (without a Pizza-Porta) often progresses too slow or inconsistently (BGE, Kamado Joe, or other).  The heat may be low, it may be too concentrated in the stone, or the delicate heating process is interrupted by opening the dome causing a sharp drop in temperature. These factors interrupt the steady progress and led to a tough, chewy, and dense character.  This can not be overcome with a different dough recipe.

After numerous average pizzas, we decided to take on this problem. Our crust needed steady, intense heat on the top and bottom so that the dough temperature would increase steadily and rapidly.  Our solution is to increase the radiant energy available from the dome by keeping the lid down and closing off the chimney. Further, we  capture the rising heat and create a convection flow over the top of the pizza by placing the chimney vents below the dome. And finally, we balance the three energy sources by deflecting the intense heat from under the pizza stone . These modifications, made possible with the Pizza-Porta, enable any kamado grill to perform like a wood-fired pizza oven.  An easy-to-install accessory is all it takes.

We are happy to share dough recipes.  But, our crunchy, light crust is as much a result of the Pizza-Porta as the dough ingredients.

 

Life's too short to make average pizza.

Cortlandt

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Thank you to www.classofoods.com for the detailed resources on bread making.

Internal cooking Setup in a Pizza-Porta

I have spent a lot of time fussing with kamado style grills.  From the Akorn to the Kamado Joe, Big Green Egg, to the Grill Dome, I worry about the details of how each performs.  When making a product that many of you will use in a variety of cooking conditions it is important that everything has been tested and works.  I have also spent time with wood-fired pizza ovens.  Some are giant restaurant models, others are individual pizza ovens.  Each of these ovens has its own characteristics. The best advice is: Know Your Oven.

 

Original Pizza Cooking Challenge

In a wood-fired pizza oven, the fire is built on one side.  The heat travels to the top of the oven, heating the roof. Therefore, the primary heat source is above the pizza. That means a Kamado oven is built completely upside down for traditional pizza.  The heat source is below the pizza, making even cooking challenging. The trick is to limit how much heat comes up through the stone, and maximize how much heat gets focused on the top of the pizza.  Below is an illustration of the challenge in cooking a pizza in a Kamado grill.

 

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The heat is focused on the bottom of the stone, overheating it, and then a great deal of the heat is lost thought the chimney before it can cook the top of the pizza.

 

Optimal Setup

Using the Pizza-Porta allows you to cap off the top and heat up the inside of the dome to cook your pizza evenly on the top and bottom.  This diagram shows one more trick you can do to balance the heat in your oven.  By placing additional deflectors under the pizza stone, you can get even more heat to go around the stone and heat the sides of the dome. This balances the heat from the top and bottom.

 

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Setup is very important to cooking in your Pizza-Porta.  The personality of your particular grill combined with how you are cooking will affect how you set up your grill for a pizza cook. Just like cooking pancakes on a griddle, each raw pizza will reduce the temperature of the stone.

If you are going to cook a bunch of pizzas in rapid succession, you want a quick recovery time for your pizza stone, so you should reduce the deflection of your setup.  If you are going to cook pizza with 15-20 minute breaks between them you should definitely add additional temperature deflection. The Pizza-Porta was built to allow you to vary the internal setup of your grill to meet your needs.  Racks, deflectors, double racks. lifters, and other items can be used to customize what you want to do. We are launching our deflector accessory as a way to give you more options for your internal setup.

Too Hot?

So what if your stone gets too hot? In a pizza restaurant they will put a "blank dough" into the oven to cool off the floor.  This dough is often burned on the bottom so it is discarded. This is a great way to get the heat down.  Another option is to put a little water in a cast iron pan and place it on the stone for a few minutes.  This will cool off the stone in the same way.

Check out our our new deflector here

Thank you for reading!

Double Your Pleasure with an RCL Double rack

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I had an huge epiphany when developing the Pizza-Porta.  Just like stacking ribs or butts when you are cooking for a crowd, you can stack layers of pizza in the Large Egg! The Pizza-Porta door was actually expanded along the way to add access for a second tier rack. This added space for a second pizza actually makes the capacity equivalent to a 36-40 inch wood-fired pizza oven. We use a double rack for events and catering (and when lots of people show up for a pizza party!)

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The Pizza-Porta creates even temperatures in the oven chamber so a double rack would cook each pizza at about the same rate. By opening the door you can check the progress of each pizza without impacting the temperature.  I wanted to tackle a couple of challenges when developing a new double rack specifically for the Pizza-Porta.

The Challenge:  Make a rack that is customized for the Pizza-Porta with a couple additional features:

  • Added width between the front legs to clear a 12" wooden pizza peel
  • Align the height so the top and bottom stone have equal access through the door
  • Add a backstop
  • Bonus - it folds so it is easy to store!

The Result:

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This three-leg stand holds 2 of the 14" BGE pizza stones at the optimal height for the Pizza-Porta.  The feet of this rack sit on the fire ring, so that it will straddle the platesetter placed with legs facing up.

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The three legs are precisely cut from heavy stainless steel to accommodate a wider peel.

By arranging the features carefully and pivoting in the center, the legs nest to make a compact, folded stack for storing.

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The Rear center leg is extended up to serve as a backstop for the top and bottom pizza stones so that pizzas are not accidentally pushed off the back.

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This is our first rack design.  This one is specific to the Large BGE and will not fit the KJ or other grills.  Let me know if you would be interested in a rack for those grill configurations.  I love to solve grilling challenges, please share yours.

Thank you for reading.  If you call it Pizza Porta, or Porta Pizza, we would love to hear from you. Subscribe to our occasional blog.

Shop for the RCL Double rack here

Eggtoberfest 2017

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How could we compete with the fun we had cooking with the All-Star Big Green Craig team last year?  Start with a few Bloody Mary's and....  No, wait, we had to plan first. And make dough, lots and lots of dough.  As the plan came together we had a couple Pizza-Porta owners who wanted to do some cooking of their own.  Then, we found out the guys at Local Pie, the number one Pizza restaurant on Hilton Head Island, were available to show what pizza professionals can do with a Pizza-Porta.  We decided to link these together and make a pizza piazza at Eggtoberfest.  This is a little picture story of the event.  We got so busy cooking, we did not do a great job with photos! As some of you saw in my posts, the dough making started on Wednesday evening using Peter Reinhart's recipe, and required the appropriate beverage choice. Then, we made dough on Thursday, and then we made some more on Thursday night.

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Friday night we enjoyed some tasty BBQ with a little help from my Flame Boss and Lane's Classic rub.  We also did some final recipe testing on our Pizza menus (an excuse to cook some pizza with shortribs).

Eggtoberfest warmup

We set our alarms and got up super early to pack and trek out to Stone Mountain.  Our team of Backyard Pizza Chefs did a fantastic job setting up and taking pictures.  Please check out the backyardpizzachefs Facebook page and www.backyardpizzachefs website.  We want to create a space for information on pizza cooked on the BGE or Kamado Joe.

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Backyard Pizza Chefs team
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And the Pizzas that were created in these three booths were amazing.  I walked around checking on the oven temperatures and it turned out that each booth settled on a different temperature.  Local Pie was cooking their 00 dough at 750-800F, the Pizza-Porta booth was running 675, and the backyard team ran at about 625. It was interesting to see the results. The only Egg that got refueled was the Local Pie booth that cooked 50 pies in total. We ran about 4 hours on our initial load of charcoal.

Shoutout to Unicoi Preserves for sharing some of their Salted Carmel Peach preserves.

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We were excited to see a huge crowd form before the gates opened - and then a T-Rex came and ate a bunch of them....no, wait that didn't happen.  Pizza was enjoyed by hundreds and hundreds....and then some.

And we did collect a big pile of votes - thank you for all of those!

eggtoberfest pizza line
 Some were more rustic than others!

Some were more rustic than others!

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Eggtoberfest large Big green egg

Ben showed off our new double stone rack.

And when we ran out of dough we celebrated!

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Thank you to everyone who came to one of the three booths to taste pizza made in the Pizza-Porta.  Our professional chef team, team of owners, and company team thank you for all the great comments and appreciation for our hard work.  Now, if you have any ideas for next year, let us know.

Thank you to Lee and Sonny from Local Pie. Thank you Carrie, Tim, and Firmon on the Backyardpizzachefs team. Thanks to Maggie, Aiden, and Carter who got drafted to help. And, thanks to the Pizza-Porta team; Ben, Becca and my lovely wife.  This could not happen without all of you.