LTH Home

JeffB's Custom Pork Pit/Pizza Oven

JeffB's Custom Pork Pit/Pizza Oven
  • Forum HomePost Reply BackTop
  • JeffB's Custom Pork Pit/Pizza Oven

    Post #1 - September 10th, 2007, 3:48 pm
    Post #1 - September 10th, 2007, 3:48 pm Post #1 - September 10th, 2007, 3:48 pm
    A few weeks back, trix and I received a wonderful last minute invitation to attend JeffB’s family pig roast up in southwestern Michigan. I believe his real motivation for inviting us had very little to do with meeting his wife and kids and everything to do with introducing us to his latest baby; a custom designed and built barbeque pit/pizza oven!


    Check it out:


    The totally workable pork pit in its unfinished state when we visited.
    Image


    Flames abound as Jeff crisps the skin in its final stages.
    Image




    Image





    Here are some details about the pit and specialty pig used:

    --The pig was a 140-pound dressed Hampshire from Roseland Organic Farms, near Dowagiac MI, which is known for organic beef and fruits/vegetables. This was their first commercial hog. .

    -- The pig was raised on sunflower seeds and grains, plus some fruits and vegetables.

    -- It was butchered and dressed at Gary's Custom Meats, a terrific processor in the tiny town of Union, MI, just north of Mishawaka, IN. Gary's walls are covered in "best of state" awards for cured and smoked meats, many for sale retail at the facility.

    -- The pig was processed just 3 or 4 days before the event and picked up the day before.

    -- It was Marinated in a Cuban-meets Yucatecan mojo of Seville orange, cider vinegar, garlic cloves, cumin, oregano, black pepper, salt, annatto paste, chiles de arbol, and Yucateco brand annatto marinade. Most of the ingredients came from nearby La Perla market, which serves a largely Yucatecan migrant worker community (that works the many fruit orchards and vineyards on the west coast of MI). It was marinated for about 4 1/2 hours.

    --The pig was cooked over local hardwoods from a nearby farm, mostly maple and cherry. The logs were burned down in the fireplace (burn down pit) and the embers were placed in the corners of the pit, with a thin layer of embers under the pig accessing through the fire doors. It was cooked skin side up and covered for around 5 hours at a heat of 250-350 (usually toward the higher end of that range), which is consistent with the NC/GA/FL style. It was then flipped for the last 1/2 hour or so to finish and crisp the skin.

    -- The meat was dark and flavorful with little or no white meat that one usually sees with most commercial pigs. The loin was particularly large, dark and flavorful. Not a particularly fatty pig, but very well-marbled compared to modern factory pigs.

    -- The Hampshire pig was the original and traditional breed used in the South for hams and BBQ.

    -- According to Jeff, “The pit is modeled after and very close in dimension to the classic Eastern Carolina pits and that of "Bob in GA" – Gwiv’s and Bruce's friend and BBQ traditionalist who rejects modern "competition circuit" extreme slow-and-low cooking. That style often uses gas, charcoal, etc., long-cooks the hog for 10 or more hours on a spit at very low temperatures, and results in a very soft, somewhat milder BBQ. Note that on my style of pit the pig does not "grill" -- far from it, due to the indirect heat, lack of any flame, and the distance from the embers. My traditional pit is also very similar to what Cubans use for lechon….
    As these are my very favorite styles and those I grew up with, this type of pit was a must for me.”

    “In addition to the taste and reduced cooking time, the traditional Eastern Carolina pit with a butterflied pig is less subject to disaster, including fires and over or undercooking. The whole-hog on a spit requires constant watching. If the spit stops, the pig is ruined. Likely to catch fire, at least will be overcooked in one spot, under in another. Also, when the pig is trussed and placed on a spit, the deep tissue is far from the heat and takes forever to cook (the deep part of the hams and shoulders) and the shallow parts (ribs and loin) get overcooked. Splaying the pig evens out the depth of the carcass. All that said, I have roasted pigs on a spit several times and really enjoyed it. The finished product also looks terrific.”

    -- The pit is around 3 feet tall, lined with fire brick and has a slightly elevated floor. The fire brick ends a few itches from the top, permitting the pig to sit down in the pit for
    better heat retention. The floor is around 22 inches from the cooking surface. A tin roofing for the cover was used when we were there a few weeks ago, but Jeff now has a powder-coated steel lid.

    --The pig was sandwiched between two custom made rolled stainless steel grates for easy handling.

    -- A keg of Bell’s Oberon beer made for a wonderful accompaniment to this delicious pig.


    *

    After trying a few bites of this perfectly prepared and exquisitely raised pig, it dredged up sad thoughts about the ever declining state of commercially prepared barbeque throughout this country. With few operations (or individuals, for that matter) today willing to use properly raised pigs and prepare them in this classic fashion, this decline really should come as no surprise. We most certainly live in processed and pasteurized times.



    Image



    Image



    Image






    *

    Jeff’s pizza oven/pork pit project has just recently been completed after several months of painfully slow construction. He has since added the fireplace which has a vaulted firebrick ceiling leading to a chimney for better ventilation and heat retention and on top of the pit is a Forno Bravo pizza oven from Italy capable of heating to 900 degrees in 1.5 - 2 hours. The trim is traditional Midwestern brick with locally quarried stone.


    One of Jeff's very first pizza attempts with the new oven. I believe this pizza was modeled after the legendary poster at Pizzamaking.com, Jeff Versano, and his reverse engineered recipe for Totonno's amazing pie.
    Image


    To those much more precise than I, this pizza oven should really be called a steak broiler in which VPN pizzas can be cooked.
    Image


    *





    The finished product:
    Image


    Thanks, Jeff.
  • Post #2 - September 10th, 2007, 3:58 pm
    Post #2 - September 10th, 2007, 3:58 pm Post #2 - September 10th, 2007, 3:58 pm
    Pigmon, beautifully documented account of a remarkable piece of home-cooking equipment and a hog.

    Interesting observation about the little or no white meat -- a characteristic of artisanal piggies?

    Hammond
    “Nobody exists on purpose. Nobody belongs anywhere. Everybody’s gonna die. Come watch TV?”
  • Post #3 - September 10th, 2007, 4:08 pm
    Post #3 - September 10th, 2007, 4:08 pm Post #3 - September 10th, 2007, 4:08 pm
    Holy cow (I mean, pig). Speechless.

    Was that custom-built by JeffB or some local company (for future reference)?
  • Post #4 - September 10th, 2007, 4:11 pm
    Post #4 - September 10th, 2007, 4:11 pm Post #4 - September 10th, 2007, 4:11 pm
    Beautiful setup Jeff. I've always had this fantasy of building something similar (a combination wood-fired grill, smoker, and bread/pizza oven). Of course, that would require some land to put it on.. but... we can dream.

    Looks great.
    Ed Fisher
    my chicago food photos

    RIP LTH.
  • Post #5 - September 10th, 2007, 5:07 pm
    Post #5 - September 10th, 2007, 5:07 pm Post #5 - September 10th, 2007, 5:07 pm
    Great report Pigmon.

    What a nice setup Jeff. Do I hear LTH Christmas party plans in the background? :)

    La Perla is an excellent place for Mexican food. I usually hit the place in Benton Harbor up to 3x per week for lunch.

    I'm going to be building a similar type pit next summer. Although mine won't be near as nice in detail.

    David,

    In my experience getting pork from Bob the meat is always darker than the store bought crud. In fact I think I'm going to take a butt out of the freezer to cook this week.
    Bruce
    Plenipotentiary
    bruce@bdbbq.com

    Raw meat should NOT have an ingredients list!!
  • Post #6 - September 10th, 2007, 5:53 pm
    Post #6 - September 10th, 2007, 5:53 pm Post #6 - September 10th, 2007, 5:53 pm
    It (food and oven) look awesome.
    What if the Hokey Pokey really IS what it's all about?
  • Post #7 - September 11th, 2007, 7:48 am
    Post #7 - September 11th, 2007, 7:48 am Post #7 - September 11th, 2007, 7:48 am
    Sweet Carol Channings Ghost, that is one terrific setup!
    One minute to Wapner.
    Raymond Babbitt

    Low & Slow
  • Post #8 - September 11th, 2007, 7:55 am
    Post #8 - September 11th, 2007, 7:55 am Post #8 - September 11th, 2007, 7:55 am
    I don't think I have ever been so jealous of anyone's backyard, ever. I just want a shack with a couple of huge refrigerators and a pizza/bbq pit.

    Would it be possible to get more information on the pit? Did Jeff design and build the entire thing himself? What is the cost of building something like this?

    Very, cool, thanks for the post.
  • Post #9 - September 11th, 2007, 8:25 am
    Post #9 - September 11th, 2007, 8:25 am Post #9 - September 11th, 2007, 8:25 am
    I want.

    I covet.

    I long for.

    That is too freakin' cool.
    I'm not Angry, I'm hungry.
  • Post #10 - September 11th, 2007, 9:19 am
    Post #10 - September 11th, 2007, 9:19 am Post #10 - September 11th, 2007, 9:19 am
    Rob,

    I'm humbled that you decided to post on my forno-pit. Any casual LTH reader knows that your comprehensive posts are some of the best, most thoughtful and entertaining food writing around.

    Let me cover some of the questions above and offer some insight regarding the challenges we faced in putting this together.

    No, I did not construct the setup. Are you kidding? I hired a very good, old-school mason from the Michiana area and worked with Rose Brick in South Bend to pick materials and purchase the oven (Rose is the midwestern distributor for Forno Bravo). I also worked with a sheet metal shop in SB who does great work. This was a "first time" project for all of us.

    The mason is a fireplace pro, but had never worked on a BBQ or an oven, let alone a combo. He's a real artisan. Anytime there was a corner to be cut, the mason advised against it. The unit is all brick masonry. No blocks, no metal framing. The only concrete is in the foundation and the roof.

    I did conceive the setup, which I believe to be unique (for now), and designed the thing down to the specific dimensions with help from my brilliant wife. My own pencil sketch of the setup predates the construction by months, but looks nearly identical -- a testament to the mason, really. I'd be happy to put anyone in touch with the mason via pm, after I ok it with him. Please understand, I've been thinking about this project for a very long time, and I'm glad I was able to get it done in a way that works and looks good. I look forward to using it for a very long time, and I am sure the setup will outlast me. It's a fortress.

    One key engineering problem that we solved with lots of hard work and thought from the mason (who consulted with an engineer friend) was how to build the oven atop a working fireplace. Literally hundreds of pizza oven pics are available on the internet, but you'll likely never see another setup like this, as far as I can tell. They nearly always use the space below for wood storage.

    The issue is that traditional fireplaces require a large opening at the top for the flue/chimney. On top of that, the pizza oven needs to sit on a very sturdy, heat-resistant platform with no gaps. Using the traditional way of doing things, we would have had to forgo a fireplace or expand the size of the unit by as much as 50% to accommodate a fireplace. We wanted something more compact and elegant (in an engineering sense), since the thing is pretty massive as is. The solution was to build a firebrick vault over the fireplace, which also serves as a platform for the oven. The vault gently slopes up toward the BBQ pit side. There, a flue exhausts heat and smoke from both the fireplace and the BBQ pit. There was quite a bit of informed speculation here, and it all worked out in the end. The vault is a lovely bit of masonry, as are the arches (note the outward angle on the fireplace arch, eg).

    As we have it, the fireplace is almost more like a large, open oven. The vaults and arches refer to the classic Roman structures from which these things evolved, and they allowed us to minimize the bulk. There's also the added benefit of much more heat retention and reflection in the fireplace than would otherwise be the case. That said, my favorite hypothesis that bore out is the fact that the shared fireplace/pit flue really makes the pit much more efficient and easy to keep stoked. That and the smoke goes up into the air, rather than filling the yard.

    Non-factory pigs, as Bruce notes, have much less white meat, and nearly none of the "cotton candy" that in some ways defines commercial pork BBQ. I don't mind the soft, lily white, almost friable stuff that commercial hogs have been bred and raised to have, but I prefer the rich, dark stuff.

    Thanks again.

    JeffB

    PS, I'll confirm Rob's statement that the pie pictured was made with dough following Versano's recipe. For a first try, the pies turned out quite well. Cook times in the 90 seconds to 2 min range. I've had a decent amount of experience with pizza previously, but those cook times keep you on your toes. Cheese was whatever they had at Costco, drained well. Tomatoes were the San Marzanos also available there, pureed with a stick blender (I tried Pomi passata first, but found it too thin).

    Note in the picture with the cast iron pan that the oven is fully "cleared"; that is, the interior (which is pitch balck with soot when cooler) has become hot enough that the soot is transparent, and the oven materials look as they did when brand new. I'm not too hung up on specific temps (nor is Versano), so long as it's "hot enough," which means over 800F, more or less. Full clearing is the giveaway that the oven is hot enough.

    The steaks (brought by a guest), which we cooked after the pizza appetizer, were really great, some of the best I've tasted anywhere. To compare, I cooked some steaks from the same batch over white hot lump charcoal the next day. Family and guests were unanimous that there was simply no comparison. The super hot, dry, convection heat of a wood burner makes possile steakhouse-broiler results, with the added bonus of a subtle wood smoke note.

    I also should empasize what a great resource Bob in GA's and Bruce's posts were, both for their in depth discussion of the Eastern Carolina style and for their documentation of the classic E. Car. pits.
  • Post #11 - September 11th, 2007, 11:49 am
    Post #11 - September 11th, 2007, 11:49 am Post #11 - September 11th, 2007, 11:49 am
    Thank you for answering our questions. When are you going to start booking tours for LTH members that want to see a demo?
  • Post #12 - September 11th, 2007, 12:10 pm
    Post #12 - September 11th, 2007, 12:10 pm Post #12 - September 11th, 2007, 12:10 pm
    2008 LTH picnic at Jeff's place!

    :-)
    Dominic Armato
    Dining Critic
    The Arizona Republic and azcentral.com
  • Post #13 - September 11th, 2007, 12:33 pm
    Post #13 - September 11th, 2007, 12:33 pm Post #13 - September 11th, 2007, 12:33 pm
    JeffB,

    Beautiful job. Congratulations.

    Bill/SFNM
  • Post #14 - September 11th, 2007, 6:33 pm
    Post #14 - September 11th, 2007, 6:33 pm Post #14 - September 11th, 2007, 6:33 pm
    A pig of beauty is a joy forever...lovely, lovely....
  • Post #15 - September 12th, 2007, 7:13 am
    Post #15 - September 12th, 2007, 7:13 am Post #15 - September 12th, 2007, 7:13 am
    JeffB wrote:The steaks (brought by a guest), which we cooked after the pizza appetizer, were really great, some of the best I've tasted anywhere. To compare, I cooked some steaks from the same batch over white hot lump charcoal the next day. Family and guests were unanimous that there was simply no comparison. The super hot, dry, convection heat of a wood burner makes possile steakhouse-broiler results, with the added bonus of a subtle wood smoke note.


    Jeff,

    First off - what a beautiful installation. Simply stunning yet functional... it really is awe inspiring. Great work, great vision!

    IMO, you are nailing the elusive steak flavor of true bistecca alla Fiorentina, cooked in searing-hot oak burning ovens. Most everyone who has been to Firenze has had it; but few have had what is truely the most amazing steak on the planet (because so many places make just a "good" steak). That super hot sear, the perfect meat (I imagine you had some beautiful beef), excellent olive oil and just a touch of rich salt and you can get a flavor that blows you away. In fact, thinking of your set up and a steak has me salivating at 9:11AM, because I think that with the right beef, I could have Firenze all over again (and drink more wine, too)

    Well played sir.

    Cheers,

    -Andrew
    Remember kids, last one dead is a sissy
  • Post #16 - September 13th, 2007, 1:09 pm
    Post #16 - September 13th, 2007, 1:09 pm Post #16 - September 13th, 2007, 1:09 pm
    Jeff, amazing job on the oven/grill/better-than-Star Trek-food-replicator. One small addition to your bistecca fiorentina would be to throw a few sprigs of rosemary on the fire as you roast the meat. It might not add that much flavor, but it smells nice and that will make your yard festively Florentine. Throw in a burning effigy of Savanarola and you will have quite the party.
  • Post #17 - September 14th, 2007, 9:18 am
    Post #17 - September 14th, 2007, 9:18 am Post #17 - September 14th, 2007, 9:18 am
    I knew you guys would understand. Thanks for the kind words.

Contact

About

Team

Advertize

Close

Chat

Articles

Guide

Events

more