Cooking outdoors brings with it a universal sense of joy, accomplishment, and connection to people and place – and brick ovens have been aiding in this process for thousands of years. Maybe this feeling comes from the ancient ritual of gathering around an outdoor fire and cooking? Who is to say? All we know is that the feeling of being outdoors and connecting with people is a great joy of life, and we should all be lucky enough to experience it more often.
Long before we set out to build a new kind of brick oven, we stumbled along the long but rewarding journey of learning to craft simple, traditional brick oven pizzas. We quickly learned that good brick oven pizza is an art of balance and simplicity. Every ingredient and step count, from using fresh, local ingredients to the way the toppings are prepared and the way the pizza is cooked.
As we learned more about the cooking process, and the environment required to make this perfect pizza, we became increasingly drawn into the world of the amazing and ancient machine known as the brick oven.
WHY BRICK OVENS?
Brick ovens date back thousands of years and cook unlike anything devised before or since. Despite all the advancements of science, these ancient machines still reach higher temperatures (1100+F), cook faster, and are more insulating than any other cooking apparatus. That’s why restaurants today still use them to make the best pizza.
THE GENESIS OF THE RELIC OVEN
With our quest to make perfect brick oven pizza firmly established, we set off in search of a tool to create the necessary cooking environment in a form-factor that fit our needs. Upon surveying the landscape of existing products, we came up short. A traditional large oven was too large for our small urban living space, and even if we could, we couldn’t afford one. We also wanted an oven that we could easily take with us when we moved to a new place, or could take on the road with us to an event or family cookout.
We became interested in incorporating features of Kamado-style ceramic cookers like the Big Green Egg™ but we came to understand that these cookers had limitations. First, the fire in these burns below the pizza stone floor, so too much heat is focused on the bottom of the pizza; second, the hinged lid is not ideal for constantly loading and unloading pizza; and third, they are fragile and we had reservations about taking such an expensive unit out on the road.
Very simply, we needed something less expensive, more mobile, and more durable than traditional ovens and kamado-style cookers, but still perfectly geared to reproduce the authentic wood-fired brick oven environment.
Thus, the idea of the Relic oven was born – A modular, more portable, more durable brick oven and backyard cooker.
With our goals firmly in mind, we set out to design an oven. Brick ovens create their tremendous cooking environment by adhering to key mathematical ratios (for example the height of the archway in comparison to the height the dome) first discovered thousands of years ago. We studied these ancient rules, and applied them to the dimensions to our new smaller and more modular form factor. Along the way we developed the dual floor option that lets the unit mount on a round kettle grill or any flat surface. Above all, our focus was a design that was functional, utilitarian, and could stand the test of time.
Of course, an oven on paper wasn’t worth much if we couldn’t build it. So as we were designing, we set out on the long road of learning to work with the basic materials that would make our design possible – something we would only come to fully appreciate years later.
We would come to learn that we were limited by the standard materials that were used for traditional ovens (ie., firebrick and conventional refractory) and traditional ceramic cookers. If we wanted to design an oven with features like never before, we had to create new materials and manufacturing techniques never before used to create cookware.
So, we found ourselves doing things we never envisioned at the start – inventing new materials and using them in new ways to create an insulating, yet durable “layered composite” with properties that didn’t exist at the time.
This required a tremendous amount of testing. We failed. A lot. But we came to develop our unique art of creating fireproof components of our ovens by hand. Much like a good pizza dough, a perfectly engineered stone is a carefully crafted balance of materials. How they are handled is what makes the final product what it is – a perfect oven or oven part truly is like a perfect bread – a seemingly simple, yet amazingly subtle and varied process – one that required, and still requires, a sharp mental focus and attention to all our senses.
We were fortunate to have the time, health, energy and help from a wealth of people. The work took on a life of its own, and while it always seemed to take longer than expected, everyone knew we were making progress and the product had a chance to become a reality.
The Relic Oven and the TNSD products are made possible by the dedicated efforts of the following people:
Brian Butler, B.T. Ulrich
Eric Woodard, Adam Truckey, B.T. Ulrich
HINGE & MECHANISM DESIGN
Adam Truckey, B.T Ulrich
MACHINING & MASTER FAB
Andrew Caldwell, B.T., Jeremy Denton
MOLD DESIGN & FAB
B.T., Jeremy Denton, Eric Woodard, Alex Varaksin
MATERIALS R & D
B.T., Robert Jewell, Thomas Ryan
B.T., Jeremy Denton, Thomas Ryan
Brittany Ulrich, Paloma Dare, Thomas Ryan
VIDEO & PHOTOGRAPHY
We Make Videos, Jeremy Denton
WHERE WE ARE NOW
Designing and building our ovens has, so far, brought us just as much joy as using them. We’ve spent countless hours dreaming and experimenting, and now we are one step closer to streamlining manufacturing. We have created a system that is both advanced and artisan, handmade and individually imagined, yet capable of being manufactured on a wide scale. After years of quality testing, prototype-building, and sleepless nights, we have developed the functional design necessary for such distribution.
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A LOOK TO THE FUTURE
Our design work on the Relic and love for all things cooking eventually led to designs for other outdoor cooking products, each with unique properties, and each utilizing the advanced materials as the Relic oven. Our motto is that outdoor cooking should be built to last a lifetime. The ancients knew the value of efficiency and self-sustainability, and we strive to follow the direction of designs and constructions that have stood the test of time.
Today, we stand at the crossroads, looking to make the leap from a labor of love and handcrafted item to something that can be produced reliably, with the highest quality of care. We are convinced we are ready for the challenged, and have carefully studied and planned the steps to get there.