One of the biggest concerns for pizza oven owners is knowing what type of wood to burn in their ovens. Different woods can impart different flavors, so it is important to consider what the wood you’re burning is adding to your dishes.
One of the key factors to making sure everything goes well when you cook with your wood fired oven is learning about the best types of wood to use and how to make sure they are in top condition for burning.
Types of wood and starters NOT to use
First And Foremost: Stay Away From Charcoal As A Main Heat Source!Charcoal seems like a good idea because it burns hotter than most firewood. However, it doesn’t transfer heat efficiently inside the oven. There are three factors that contribute to the heat inside the oven: hot coal transfer, flame refractions off the oven dome, and thermal equilibrium. When you use charcoal to heat your oven, you lose one of these sources of heat, as charcoal does not produce a sustained direct flame – or really, any flame at all. This leaves you with pizza that is unfinished and unevenly baked, with toppings that have been left un-melted, and dough that remains un-browned. You want the perfect pizza that results from a heated wood oven: A crisp pizza dough exterior, with a chewy interior, and perfectly roasted toppings. (http://bobbyflay.com/recipes/recipes/21/pizza-with-bacon-caramelized-onions-and-toasted-garlic)Finally, charcoal also presents a safety issue. Charcoal produces more carbon monoxide than firewood, introducing an invisible and potentially fatal element to your food, your home, or your restaurant. To make matters worse, carbon monoxide is undetectable without specialized equipment.
Processed Woods Are Cheap – But They’re A Bad Idea.
Processed woods include any wood that has been painted, pressure treated, stained or laminated. It also includes glued woods such as particle board and plywood. These woods have been treated chemically and will release chemicals into the air and onto your food when burned. Remember: your firewood burns in the same chamber where your food is cooked. If you’re not sure if the wood has been processed, throw it out! It is better to play it safe.
- Don’t Use Softwoods Or Resinous Woods.
Some examples of softwoods are pine, cedar, juniper, yew, spruce and redwood. These woods usually come from trees that have needles or cones.
As softwoods tend to have lower densities, they don’t burn as hot or as long. This means that any fires you start with softwood will turn to soot and ash very quickly – too quickly for you to properly cook your meals.
Softwoods also tend to be resinous, with high sap or oil contents. Some examples of this are birch, pine, eucalyptus, fir and cedar. These woods leave heavy coatings of soot in your pizza oven and chimney flue. They also cause creosote buildup, which can be a fire hazard. If you’ve already made the mistake of using a resinous wood in your oven, you can burn off the buildup with a hot, clean-burning wood like oak.
If you decide to use resinous woods in your oven for flavor, make sure to remove the bark before firing. This will help reduce the moisture and sap content of the wood.
Do Not Use Wood That Has Not Been Properly Seasoned
Even the right type of wood won’t work properly unless it is perfectly dry. Wood that is wet burns poorly and will likely produce a lot of smoke, causing soot and creosote buildup in your oven. If your wood is still green, it is most likely not dry enough.
Wood that is too dry is just as problematic. Seasoned wood is described as wood that has a moisture content of about 20%. A moisture content lower than this is considered too dry for use in wood-fired ovens. Overly dry wood produces smoke, soot and creosote in a way that is similar to wood that is too wet. Check if your firewood has darkened ends with small radial cracks. This is a good sign that the wood is too dry for use in a wood-fired oven. Later in this article, we will cover more tips on how to make sure your wood is properly seasoned.
Pro-tip: You can use the retained heat from your baking sessions to remove moisture from firewood, and prepare it for the next session. Once the heat in your oven has diminished a bit, add enough wood for another session. This is also a great way to bake out moisture in case your store of firewood gets rained on. If your oven has a door, make sure to leave it partially open to let any gasses escape.
The Best Woods To Use
It is best to avoid pine twigs, leaves and bark for kindling as they produce a lot of smoke.
Provided they come from untreated wood, wood chips, pellets and lumber scrap make good kindling. Take note though that unless your oven is specifically designed for it, wood pellets and chips won’t provide the necessary heat to cook meals in your oven. You will still need a main wood fuel source.
- The Best Firewood Is Made Of Hardwood
The type of wood you use for your pizza oven will depend on where you live, but generally speaking, the best firewood is made from hardwood trees.
Hardwood can weigh as much as three times the weight of softwoods, allowing them to give off more heat. Here are some excellent hardwood options that are easily available and relatively cheap:
- Oak – Oak is one of the safest firewood options available. It burns hot and clean. It is also one of the easiest woods to find in North America, and is often available at reasonable prices. It is a great choice for firewood.
- Maple – Maple is also a great option for firewood. Like oak, it is easily accessible in North America.
- Ash – While still considered a hardwood, ash tends to be on the softer side. It also tends to be more easily available, and thus less expensive than other options.
- Mesquite – Mesquite does not need much seasoning; as a naturally dry wood, it can even burn when freshly cut! Mesquite tends to be quite difficult to start, however, so you will need to use a lot of kindling. When using mesquite, it is a good idea to mix oak into your firewood to extend your fire’s life – mesquite is a very hot burning wood!
Other great options include: almond, hickory, birch, walnut and beech.
- Fruitwoods Are Also A Great Option – Especially If They Come From Hardwood Trees
Fruitwoods give off a fragrance and impart different flavors when used as firewood. Here are some excellent fruitwood options:
Apple – Apple gives off a wonderful fragrance and a subtly sweet flavor. It also tends to burn very hot. That is why some of the best-known pizzerias swear by apple! However, apple does tend to be more expensive and harder to find than other firewood options. Cherry – Cherry imparts a mild, sweet flavor that can go with virtually anything. It can be difficult to source locally, but you can get some right away by ordering on Amazon.
Other great options include: pear, pecan, peach and plum.
Tips For Buying Firewood Or Cutting Your Own
- As much as possible, harvest or buy firewood between early spring and late winter. During these seasons, most of the sap and moisture will be accumulated in the roots of the tree, giving you wood that is easier to dry. Additionally, harvesting at this time will give your wood the summer to dry out. If you buy your firewood, it will be seasoned for you and ready to burn.
- Always aim to purchase firewood a cord at a time. A cord refers to a stack of wood that measures 4’ x 4’ x 8’. This helps you make sure that you are getting a good price, as buying in units that are unrelated to the standard cord can conceal a high price per cord.
Make sure to go to your wood suppliers’ yard so you can see exactly what you are buying. Don’t lose heart if you make a bad firewood purchase – we’ve all been there. It takes some time to develop the ability to judge good firewood.
- Here are some good places to get wood: firewood retailers; local parks; friends or neighbors who cut or prune their trees; companies that cut trees; manufacturers that process wood; and the municipal town maintenance crew.
There are two main ways to dry your firewood: a kiln that is especially made for drying wood (expensive); or in a well-ventilated firewood shed.
- Depending on how large your wood pieces are, it could take up to two years for it to dry sufficiently. If you are cutting your own wood, try to split it into pieces that measure 16”x3”. It is always a good idea to split your firewood, as split wood tends to dry faster. Split wood is also easier to start and burns hotter. Your kindling can be smaller.
- Remove the bark from your firewood to reduce its moisture content.
- Some people leave the bark on their firewood because they prefer to cook with more smoke. If you do this, make sure to turn the wood with the bark facing up so that the wood can burn better in the oven.
Pro-tip: Can’t find a reliable source of firewood? Or thinking of harvesting your own? Invest in a wood moisture gauge so you can be sure your wood is perfectly seasoned for burning.
What is your favorite firewood to use in your pizza oven? We’d love to hear from you!