Achieving the perfect wood-fired pizza takes nothing more than a great outdoor pizza oven and a bit of preparation. To ensure your first pizza party goes off without a hitch, we’ve got some advice for newbies and pizza professionals alike. Here’s our take on making the perfect pizza.
Lighting Pizza Ovens Outdoors
Most of us have a pretty good idea of how to start a fire. You need logs, kindling, a firelighter, and a flame. Build yourself a little mound with the quick-burning materials in the middle. Light it up and you’re good to go. But your fire has to heat an entire oven not just char the end of a few marshmallows. There is a better way.
We favor the box method of fire-building. If you have a small pizza oven start with around 6-8 logs. If you have a large pizza oven you’ll need 9-12.
Build a stack by placing 2 or 3 logs in a row left to right, then 2 or 3 on top the opposite way. Continue until you’ve used all your logs. For a larger oven, it’s a good idea to place three logs around the walls of the oven, like a short wall around your stack. Now place a small amount of kindling and a firelighter on top of your stack. This fire will burn top-down and result in a slow-burning, evenly-spread fire that will soon have your oven up to the optimum temperature.
The fire should be in the very center of your oven. If you can’t reach the center of your oven to light the firelighter safely, build the fire on a peel and slide it in once lit.
Top Tip: For a good fire you need good-quality, dry logs. Damp logs will take forever to light and will not burn hot enough to heat your oven properly. Only use logs that are ready to burn (ie have been dried) and store them in a cool, dry place.
Getting Your Pizza Oven to the Right Temperature
Pizza ovens can reach temperatures well beyond standard household ovens. To achieve the perfect pizza with slightly charred toppings, melted cheese, and a puffy, chewy crust, your oven needs to reach 700 degrees Fahrenheit.
Thanks to the ancient technique of molding the pizza oven in a dome shape, this temperature is easily achievable. The flames from your fire heat the walls of the oven. When the walls can no longer absorb heat, they radiate the surplus back into the dome.
It can take between 1.5 and 3 hours to get your oven to 700 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s worth investing in a laser thermometer to get an accurate reading of the heat inside your oven.
You may need to add more logs to keep the fire in your oven going to reach optimum temperature. But once that temperature has been reached, you can let the fire begin to die down. A properly heated oven will stay hot for hours, enough time to cook a whole batch of delicious pizzas!
Top Tip: The first pizza you cook in your oven will likely be a disaster. Its hard to know exactly how the dough will behave and your oven may be a little too hot or a little too cold. Use a plain piece of dough or pita bread as testers to see whether your oven is at the right temperature.
Making Your Pizza Dough
There’s no denying pizza cooked in a wood fired oven tastes better. And once you’ve made your own pizza dough a few times, you’ll never eat another frozen pizza!
It’s easy to make pizza dough at home and recipes call for only four ingredients.
- Start with 4 cups of stone-milled flour. Something like bread flour works best.
- Add a pinch of salt.
- Take one cup of warm water and dissolve 1 ounce of brewer’s yeast or 2 teaspoons of active dry yeast.
- Scoop a little well in the middle of your bowl of flour and pour in a tablespoon of olive oil.
- Add the water-yeast mixture a little at a time until the flour and water come together in a dough.
- Knead the dough for about ten minutes before placing it in an oiled bowl and covering with a muslin cloth or linen tea towel to rise. It’ll take about two hours.
- Finally split the dough into four balls and leave on a floured surface to rise for another hour.
Preparing Pizza Toppings
How you prepare your pizza dough is very important. Getting a good rise makes the difference between a soggy, heavy pizza base and a light, crisp and airy one. But if you want to be crowned the king or queen of the wood-fired pizza you have to make sure your toppings are on point too.
- Most pizza sauces can be prepared up to a week ahead and frozen for long-term storage. Now you’ve got your outdoor pizza oven installed, you’re going to be making a lot of pizza! Prepare a large batch of pizza sauce (we like this New York-style recipe from Serious Eats) ahead of time.
- A classic Neopolitan Margherita pizza has only three toppings, pizza sauce, mozzarella, and fresh basil leaves. Other classic pizza toppings include pepperoni, salami, ham, chicken, peppers, mushrooms, olives, pineapple, and anchovies. When adding toppings to your pizza, the only limit is your imagination!
Top Tip: Don’t overload your pizza with toppings. It’s tempting to get creative and create a brand new flavor concoction but topping-laden pizzas are difficult to cook. If your pizza is especially dense in the middle, you risk burning the crust and leaving the center undercooked.
With your pizza masterpiece carefully assembled, all that remains is to slide it in the oven! Use your peel to push your fire to the back or over to one side of your oven. Slide your pizza in and rotate it every thirty seconds or so, to ensure it cooks evenly. In less than the minutes, your outdoor pizza oven will deliver a mouth-watering wood-fired pizza. Slide out that slice of heaven and enjoy!