How to Host a Cob Oven Backyard Pizza Party – Hive 678

How to Host a Cob Oven Backyard Pizza Party

Last weekend I got lots of experience in how to throw a great cob oven pizza party, during the long-awaited Hive678 Pizza & Dancing Party Fundraiser, to raise money for the roof of the cob oven. I’ll tell you a bit about cob ovens, then go into detail about how I set it all up for efficiency and fun. We ended up baking around 30 pizzas in under two hours!

Kaja’s face says it all!

Note: Much of the information in this post is also applicable to an indoor pizza party with a regular-ol’ electric oven. You just won’t be able to bake quite as many pizzas so quickly.

Thank you Gaby Macklin for taking this awesome time lapse video. It really captures the essence of the party:

About Cob Ovens

A cob oven is made with a mix of clay, sand and straw called cob. To use a cob oven, a fire is lit in the single chamber, and burns until the stove heats up. Then the fire is raked out into a pit, the base is wiped with damp rags, and the pizza goes into the same chamber where the fire was.

Traditionally, a community or village would have one cob oven, and everyone wanting to bake would bring their baked goods to bake in succession. The foods that need the hottest temperature and the shortest time, such as pizza and flatbreads, are baked first, then sourdough bread, then stews and stuffed veggies, then cookies, crackers and granola, and finally you can dry out the wood for your next fire with the residual heat.

You can bake so much with one fire! A cob oven is a great way to bring a community together. Even my AirBnB guests joined in the fun!

A pizza party is a fun way to bring a community together, and I prefer it over a potluck, because your guests only need to bring ingredients, rather than having to prepare anything. Personally, I love community gatherings, but I am not always prepared to whip up something delicious to share, so I would much prefer to attend a pizza party.

Setup

Setup is very important to make everything run smoothly, and you’ll need a lot of supplies. You will need a ton of flat surfaces to chop veggies, assemble pizzas, and slice finished pizzas, so gather all your cutting boards, baking sheets, and of course pizza peels. A word of warning: we had a thin plastic cutting board for the pizzas coming out of the oven, and it got melted by some coals that were stuck to the side of a pizza that just came out. So I don’t recommend plastic, but I also don’t recommend using really expensive wooden cutting boards for this part of the process.

Supplies

  • tables
  • chairs
  • scale
  • bowls
  • long wooden spoon
  • rolling pins
  • pizza peels
  • cutting boards
  • more cutting boards or other flat surfaces, like baking sheets
  • knives
  • cooler
  • can opener
  • damp towel (for the dough)

Ingredients

  • cornmeal
  • pizza dough
  • pizza sauce
  • olive oil
  • cheese
  • toppings

The oven has its own set of tools related to using the oven.

  • garden hoe
  • towel-wrapped stick
  • bucket of water
  • pizza peels
  • metal fire-receptacle

After you’ve collected all your supplies, you’ll want to arrange everything in a logical order to make an assembly line. I knew it would be a bit chaotic, and it was, but my preparation helped to bring a bit of order. I brought out all the mobile tables that I could, and I still could have used more space.

Working from left to right, I had the following stations:

  • dough portioning
  • dough rolling
  • topping chopping
  • assembly
  • THE COB OVEN
  • slicing & eating

Dough portioning

This can be done ahead of time, and then you won’t need a station for it. Figure out how big you want the pizzas, and how much dough per pizza. Weighing them is best. We had 7.2kg of dough, for 30 x 250g crusts, and we were aiming for pizzas exactly 12″ diameter because that’s the size of the peels I have.

At this station, you’ll need a scale, a small bowl on the scale, the container of dough, and a big bowl to put the portioned balls of dough, and a damp towel over the dough balls so they don’t dry out.

Dough rolling

I only had one rolling pin and limited table space, so only one person could roll at a time. The more space you have, the more rolling you can do. This station needs a bag of flour to prevent the dough sticking, a smooth rolling surface, and a rolling pin, and more surfaces and rolling pins as space allows.

Topping Chopping

This station has the best name, and really needs no explanation. Have cutting boards, knives, and possibly some bowls to move chopped ingredients off the boards.

Assembly

Guess what you need here? More flat surfaces! Flat surfaces everywhere! Everyone assembling their pizza needs a surface with no edges, so the pizza can be easily transferred from the surface to the peel. This station, sort of intermingled with the chopping station, has prepared ingredients, sauce, and cheese. I also had a cooler under the table to keep cheese cool, and a bucket for compost.
#protip Put the tomato sauce inside another container to make sure you don’t get dribbles on your tablecloth.

I got a great deal on pizza sauce from Wholesale Club. It was only $4.97 for almost three litres of pizza sauce! We used about 2 litres, and I froze the rest, so don’t worry about buying too much sauce. It comes in a giant can, so you should also have a spoon with a long handle so you don’t lose it in the can.

To assemble pizzas, take your flat surface and liberally sprinkle with cornmeal. Put down your rolled dough on the cornmeal, spread some sauce on it, and add the toppings. You can’t pile the toppings too high because the pizza has to be jiggled off peel, and if it’s a mountain of toppings, they will all fall off anyway. When you’re ready for your pizza to go in the oven, sprinkle more cornmeal on the peel, transfer the the prepared pizza to the peel. It should jiggle slightly because if it’s stuck in place, you won’t be able to get it in the oven.

THE COB OVEN

This is the most stressful station! Somebody has to be here to monitor the pizzas, take them in and out, and make sure the base of the oven doesn’t catch fire. Wait, what? Forget I said that.

Pizzas cook SUPER quickly at first. The first one we made cooked so quickly it almost burnt because we barely put it in there and it was done already.

Make sure you have your oven tools handy.

Slicing

Aaaaaand more flat surfaces! Here is where you should use your least precious cutting boards, because depending on how carefully you cleaned out the oven, you might get some hot coals on the bottom of the pizzas. This is the station that everyone swarms around, so make sure there is lots of standing room.

 

Other party elements

There are a few more non-pizza-related things that I did to make the party-goers comfortable, but also to make less work for yourself during the party. If you are hosting by yourself, you’re going to be occupied baking pizza, so anticipate your guests needs and all the questions they might have. Make signage to answer the questions they might have, such as “Where is the bathroom?” and prepare for things they might need.

First, I did some quick and dirty hand lettering to direct them how to find  the party, the bathroom, and some of the rules of the property.

I set out some non-alcoholic refreshments. I had lime cordial and peppermint iced tea, but you should have water at the very least. You can just leave out a pitcher and glasses out where people can help themselves.

I also put out some chairs, and tried to have some shade for people to sit in as well.

That’s it!

My pizza party was a delicious success! We ate about 30 pizzas, and I raised a good chunk of money to go towards the roof. I love being able to share my space with others, and I look forward to hosting many more cob oven baking parties.

 

 

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