Author Topic: Wood Fired Pizza Oven  (Read 35905 times)

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Offline Steve

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Wood Fired Pizza Oven
« on: September 09, 2003, 01:43:38 PM »
Wood Fired Pizza Oven

Restaurants all over the world operate wood ovens for making pizzas. Many people dream of cooking pizza in a back-yard oven. Is the pizza always better because the oven is heated with wood? No. The secret to "the best" pizza is a hot oven, not the fuel source. While wood fired ovens potentially make incredibly fine pizza, simply heating an oven with wood does not guarantee success. The oven has to be really hot -- pizza baking temperature is 750F (400C).

The wood fired oven is at approximately 750F (400C) after the oven is first fired with wood. Here is how it works. Remember that in traditional settings -- homes, village ovens, bakeries -- the main reason to fire up the oven was to bake bread, not make pizza. The traditional method for heating an oven to bake bread is to fill it with wood, get the oven walls so hot they glow white, and then, after about one and a half hours, to sweep out the embers, wait some time for the oven to cool from 750F (400C) to 450F (230C), and then load the oven with bread dough. For those of you who might use this description as a practical guide -- these temperatures can be used as rough guides -- as goals. The traditional moment to bake pizza and other hearth breads is just after the oven is swept clear of embers and before the oven cools from the initial post-firing 750F to 800F (400C to 425C) to a more realistic bread-baking temperature of 450F (230C). Pizza, and other hearth breads fit into traditional bread baking as treats. Whenever my mother made cookies I was allowed to lick the bowl and spoon clean. In a traditional oven firing pizza is like the dough snack.

Even when baking pizza at home for a party, the period of extreme heat will probably not last long enough to bake all the pizzas you need. The solution is to do what pizza restaurants do, rather than sweep out the embers, after the main oven firing push them to one side against the oven wall and then continue to add wood as needed to maintain the oven's 750F (400C) temperature.

While it is easy to maintain the oven temperature in the vicinity of 750F (400C), you just have to keep burning wood, this can turn into a great expense in a commercial setting. It is my that most restaurants skimp on the wood -- and thus operate their ovens well below the ideal temperature for pizza.

Pizza should take no more than three minutes to bake. Fast baking implies a thin crust and thin toppings. High heat creates flavors through canalization of sugars are usually not created when pizza is cooked more slowly. High heat also creates interesting textures -- crisp crusts are guaranteed as is some browning of the cheese and other toppings. High heat can lift pizza into another realm -- into more than tomato and cheese heated up on top of some dough.

In planning a restaurant oven it is obviously important to consider the amount of food the oven can produce. Think of production in terms of recipe timing. If you can afford to keep a smaller oven hot enough to cook pizza in three minutes you may find that the smaller oven can actually produce more food -- not to mention more distinctively tasking food -- than a larger oven operating at a cooler temperature.


Is there such a thing as a pizza oven?
What is the difference between a "pizza oven" and a "bread oven?"
A pizza oven is a bread oven being used to bake pizza. You can bake bread in a pizza oven, and pizza in a bread oven. This said, here is a more complex answer.

A classic bread oven, one designed for daily use by a commercial baker, or an oven designed for sharing by an entire village, is designed to be as massive as possible so the oven will retain as much heat as possible for as long as possible. For those of you new to the world of retained heat ovens, I will explain in a little more detail. Your kitchen oven is a metal box. The air is heated by gas or electricity. No heat to speak of is stored in the metal wall of the oven. When the gas or electricity is turned off there is no need to take into account the tiny amount of heat stored in the oven's metal walls. Bread ovens work differently. Heat from a fire burning inside the oven is stored in the walls of the oven. Traditionally, once the baker feels enough heat is stored in the oven's walls, the wood, now embers, is swept out and the oven operates for hours, even for a day with no further addition of heat.

What differentiates a "pizza oven" from a "bread oven" is the mass of the walls and the amount of insulation. An oven designed for pizza will typically retain enough heat in its walls to bake off a batch of bread, roast a chicken, some potatoes, and bake a pie. Since this is all that most of use our backyard ovens for, an oven of limited mass and even modest insulation is sufficient.

If you want to be able to bake for eight or ten or twelve or eighteen hours on a single firing of wood, then you require an oven that has substantial mass, and that is well insulated. The ovens made by the master oven-builder Alan Scott are designed to bake several batches of bread on a single firing.

In terms of numbers, an oven made with a refractory concrete shell that is between 1 and 2 inches (2.5 and 5cm) falls on the pizza oven, light baking side of the scale while an oven made of bricks falls into the bread oven, heavy baking side of the scale. In both cases insulation does matter, and a super well insulated thin oven might perform similarly to a poorly insulated thicker oven.
« Last Edit: September 09, 2003, 01:46:18 PM by Steve »