Getting the best out of your wood-fired pizza oven is a process of trial and error. We’re taught as children that fire is incredibly dangerous. Even a carelessly dropped cigarette could ignite a blaze that will kill us all.
In reality, getting a good fire going, especially in damp conditions, can be a challenge. Once lit, you have to continue building your fire until it heats your oven to optimum temperature. If you can’t reach the optimum temperature you can’t fire a perfect and delicious pizza masterpiece.
Practice makes perfect but no one wants to stay in the amateur leagues for long. Follow these 5 hot tips for working your wood-fired pizza oven and you’ll reach pro status sooner than you think!
1) Go For a Dome-Shaped Pizza Oven Kit
You can buy wood-fired pizza ovens that are barrel-shaped or dome-shaped. Dome-shaped ovens are the only way to go. The first Italian pizza ovens were dome-shaped and been baking superior pizza for centuries.
A perfect dome-shaped oven ensures even heat distribution. This is key if you want to achieve an evenly-baked pizza. A true dome shape will also generate a higher cooking temperature than a barrel-shaped oven. Only ovens with a true dome shape will give your pizza the beautifully puffed-up and charred crust that sets an amazing pizza apart from a mediocre one.
2) Make a Pizza Oven Fire the Right Way
There is a right way and a wrong way to make a fire in your wood-fired pizza oven. We recommend the box method of fire-building. Arrange your logs in a Jenga-like box. Place two or three logs (depending on the size of your oven) in a row then build another row on top, facing the opposite way. Stack two or three layers like this, then place some kindling and a natural firelighter on top.
If you have a large pizza oven it’s also a good idea to place three logs around the stack. Like a short wall that runs around the perimeter of the oven. These logs will catch last and ensure a wide fire that will heat the whole oven.
3) Use the Right Fuel for Your Wood-Fired Pizza Oven
You can’t burn any old wood in your pizza oven. Advice varies on the best type of wood for use in a pizza oven but we recommend ready to burn hardwoods like oak, hickory, mesquite, or wood from fruit trees like apple, pear or apricot.
It’s tempting to use softwood or cheap processed wood like MDF. These woods will burn far too quickly and will produce a lot of smoke, which can coat the inside of your oven in harmful deposits.
Avoid green wood at all costs. Green wood is any wood that has recently been felled. Wood is between 80 and 90% water. Burning green wood creates a lot of steam and smoke that will not heat your pizza oven efficiently. Too much smoke creates creosote build-ups on the inside of your oven that will not only taint your oven baked food but are highly combustible!
Ready to burn wood has already been dried. This will burn hot and long enough to get your pizza oven to optimum temperature.
4) Do Your Pizza Preparation
The key to a baking a premium wood-fired pizza with minimum effort is preparation! Do these four things before you start cooking and you’ll be minutes away from a freshly baked pizza.
Heat Your Oven Early
Depending on the size of your pizza oven it can take up to three hours to reach optimum temperature. If there are environmental issues to contend with, like damp weather, it can take even longer. To ensure your pizza oven is ready to go when you are, light your fire a few hours before you intend to cook. It’s easier to maintain the temperature of your oven than increase it. Once you have your oven up to the right temperature, 700 F for most ovens, you can monitor it and add more fuel when necessary.
Make Your Dough Early
Pizza dough can also take around three hours to rise. A basic Neopolitan recipe calls for flour, yeast, salt, water and an optional teaspoon of olive oil. Creating the dough is simple but the rise takes a bit of care. Here’s a nice crowd-sourced pizza dough recipe. Although this recipe describes cooking the pizza in an oven, the same recipe applies for a wood-fired pizza oven. This recipe works for four large pizzas. Split the dough into 6 for smaller pizzas or to feed more people, double (or even triple!) the measurements.
Prepare the toppings
You don’t want to be preparing a tomato sauce or slicing mozzarella while trying to maintain the temperature of your pizza oven. Get your toppings sliced and diced ahead of time!
Get your utensils ready
You should only ever use long-handled utensils specifically designed for use in wood-fired ovens. Pizza ovens reach incredibly high temperatures. Make sure your utensils are clean and within reach before you put your pizza in the oven.
5) Experiment With Your Wood-Fired Pizza Oven
The largest residential pizza ovens can accommodate several pizzas at one time. Or you can experiment. Nothing says special occasion like an entire suckling pig, lamb or game animal. A large pizza oven can accommodate a whole animal and will infuse the chosen meat with a smoky, wood-fired taste you can’t get any other way.
It takes minutes to cook a pizza in an oven that has reached optimum temperature. Use that heat to cook a few steaks, roast a whole fish or grill a tray of vegetables. You can also bake bread in your pizza oven, cakes, cookies, and other desserts.
Now you know how to use your wood-fired pizza oven like a pro, the culinary possibilities are endless!