Perfecting the craft of cooking with wood in a wood-fired pizza oven can take some practice, but the results will be well worth it. Wood imparts unique flavors and intense heat to create a one-of-a-kind culinary experience. Biting into a piece of cheesy pizza with a perfectly crispy crust and just the right amount of char and smokey flavor is a taste sensation.
Choosing the right type of wood is essential for creating the perfect crispy crust. The best wood for pizza ovens is kiln-dried hardwood, such as oak, pecan or hickory. Hardwoods are ideal for creating the high temperatures needed for pizza crust as they burn hot and produce little ash. Avoid using pine or other softwoods as they burn at a lower temperature and produce ash and creosote which can leave an unpleasant, acrid taste in a pizza crust.
Wood-fired pizza ovens – whether they are small ovens (Ooni, Gozney Roccbox, Solo) or built in brick ovens – are designed to burn wood down to hot coals as a fuel source. The oven walls are thick and have insulation that retains the heat. Dense hardwoods burn and take a few minutes to get hot, but they then retain the high temperature, making them perfect for outdoor ovens.
Tips to build your fire and maintain heat:
Start by stacking two or three layers of “mini cut” pizza wood (or kindling) log-cabin style in the center of your oven and ignite it with an excelsior fire starter or some other fire starter.
Allow the wood to burn for about 10 to 15 minutes, until it’s fully engulfed and starting to release coals. Then introduce one or two pieces of medium-sized pizza wood.
Make sure your fire is in the very center of the oven so your oven floor is properly heated.
Fires need oxygen to burn, so ensure your fire is well-ventilated. Keep your oven chimney clean and keep the chimney door or flue open until the fire is well established.
After the initial fire has burned down to mostly coals (with some pieces of wood intact), use your ash tool to move the fire and coals from the middle cooking floor to an area on the side or back of the oven. They will remain here during cooking.
You want to keep your oven temperature between 750˚ and 900˚F.
Smaller and mid-sized ovens can preheat in about hour and will maintain their heat. The smaller the oven, the quicker it will heat up. Some small ovens may only require a single piece of wood to keep temperatures hot.
Larger, commercial ovens can take as many as six hours to get properly heat-soaked, although higher quality woods can lower this time.
For small, portable ovens, use small 6” pieces of wood. For mid-sized pizza ovens, use 8” pieces of wood. For full-size pizza ovens, use 16” pieces of wood.
Each manufacturer has instructions and recommendations for their individual pizza ovens. Please consult all user manuals prior to cooking your first pizza.
Experiment with temperature and wood species to create the crust you like best and enjoy the many delicious pizzas in your future!
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By Natalie Carmolli, Proven Winners® ColorChoice® shrubs
Photographs courtesy of Proven Winners® ColorChoice® shrubs
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