Prototype to production - we came a long way

  This is an account (from memory) about the first prototype.

As I mentioned elsewhere, Ben (my now Pizza adviser) purchased a Forno Bravo pizza oven for his backyard.  I was intrigued to say the least.  It cooked really hot 800-900F (your home oven is really only good to about 450° F). and it kept a very consistent temperature. He had a couple of really fun pizza parties in his back yard. I was hooked.

I tried making some pizza's in an Akorn that I was playing with, and they turned out pretty mediocre. The bottom got done, but the top was always undercooked. My crusts were pale, and the pizzas never matched the quality of the wood fired oven. I also noticed that the process just wasn't conducive to an enjoyable pizza cook. I was leaning over a 700° fire trying to slip a pizza peel out from under the pizza.  It is like tailgating with a disposable aluminum grill.  You can do it, the food is hot, it is charcoal, but it is really not that great.

So, I set out to make great pizza on a kamado style grill. Great pizza would make me happy so it would be fun. This was a project for me - not to start a business.  

I began by propping open the lid of the Akorn.  I could slip a pizza onto the oven and it protected me from that blast of heat, but I lost any way to control the temperature. I also lost so much heat that I just ran through charcoal.  I added some baffles to the side to keep the heat in, but with an open window I had no temperature control. One night this turned into a + 1200F inferno. I started tinkering in the shop with some sheet metal to create a device that would insert but also control the airflow.  After 47 cut fingers and a few nights of work, I came up with the design below. (This one is made of galvanized metal, but I was testing temperature control, not cooking. I understand that cooking and galvanized metal do not mix.)

Proto 1

Proto 1

This was the first prototype of a Pizza-Porta. The door was a great addition because I got temperature control back. I made different versions of this thinking that the door would be the ultimate solution. Unfortunately, it did not improve the character of my pizza. Access was easier, but the top of my pizza was still not cooking as fast as the bottom. And, the crust did not compare to the wood-fired oven. I parked the prototype in the garage.

I did some research on wood-fired ovens. It turns out that the fire heats the roof of the oven and the roof of the oven in turn heats the floor. I realized that the uneven cooking was due to the roof of the kamado not retaining heat and that the highest temperature air was escaping through the chimney. It hit me that closing the chimney and providing an alternate, adjustable chimney would accomplish this.

I drilled some holes in my test bed model and cooked a few pizzas. I immediately noticed the difference in the way the pizza cooked. The top was cooking even with the bottom. The crust was actually getting brown around the edges. And, the crust was lighter because it was cooking even and rising as a unit. No more frying-pan pizzas!

Test-bed model new airflow openings added

Test-bed model new airflow openings added

I had made the transition from providing access to the pizza stone, to creating a cooking chamber that cooked pizza like a wood-fire oven. Along the way, people that I spoke with said that they would be interested in buying one. I began thinking that this might be a viable product - but that is a different story. I took the next step in prototyping to create a water-jet cut set of parts. I hand-bent them to make this mild-steel version for demonstration.

Hand-made prototype - ready for Pensacola Eggfest

Hand-made prototype - ready for Pensacola Eggfest

After doing a lot of pizza cooking and completing all the details of setting up a business, I began the process of developing a model that could be produced in manufacturing. This was the first version from METCAM in stainless. At last a real product.

First model made in production

First model made in production

This is a condensed version of a great deal of ups and downs. Thank you for everyone who supported the journey.