It doesn’t get much better than a traditionally-made, properly-prepared, and absolutely decadent gourmet pizza. As a meal, it’s got everything you could ever want and could ever need: rich, creamy cheese; soft yet crispy bread; and your choice of toppings, which can include anything your heart desires, from the finest meats to the freshest vegetables.
We can understand if your mouth is already watering in anticipation but bear with us. Before you can take a bite out of one of life’s most delicious delicacies, you’re going to need to know how to prepare a pizza properly, and that includes being aware of the intricacies of the different components and tools at your disposal.
You’ve read the title, so you already know where we’re headed with this. Needless to say, wood-fired ovens are synonymous with the pizza-making process, and knowing how they work and how best to use them will set you on the path to pizza-preparation perfection. Let’s not waste any more time and get into the meat of the matter before it goes cold.
What is a Wood-Fired Pizza Oven?
The name says it all, really: it’s an oven fueled by burning wood rather than electricity or gas, usually involved in the making of pizza, among a few other goodies. They’re typically made of brick and are very large and have big ceramic stones within the oven itself. You may have already seen one of these stone ovens in any pizza restaurant worth its salt - they’re damn-near impossible to miss.
A fire is built with seasoned, dried wood on one side of the oven, and once a sufficient temperature has been reached, the pizza starts to cook from the side closest to the fire. Of course, there’s more to it than that, and we’re going to cover the operation of one of these wood-fired ovens shortly.
For now, all you need to know is that cooking a pizza using a wood-fired oven is an incredibly lengthy, labor-intensive process. As such, it’s something of an impractical task to attempt at home - luckily, there are several portable pizza ovens on the market which can easily be used as a substitute.
How Does a Wood Fired Pizza Oven Work?
The actual mechanics of a wood-fired oven are decidedly complex, even if the actual operation is simple. There are a few key factors at play that will all require equal amounts of consideration on your part, so it’s best that you understand the entire process from start to finish.
Luckily, we’ve managed to break it down in a way that is (hopefully) easy to read and understand.
Wood-fired ovens use fire (generated by wood) to heat up the oven entirely, whose general construction can also retain that heat over an extended period of time, even after the fire has died down and only hot ashes and embers remain.
Generally speaking, however, and especially in restaurants where the oven will need to be continuously used, a living fire is used to prepare a pizza. Now, we couldn’t find any fun or memorable names to describe this particular method of pizza-cooking, so for now, we’re just going to call it “Fire-in-the-Oven”.
Let’s take a look at this process more closely.
With the “Fire-in-the-Oven” method, your oven will, in fact, be simultaneously cooking your pizza in three different ways. Specifically, heat-reflection, conduction, and natural convection will all play a role when cooking with a living fire.
Simply put, the heat from the fire is bounced off of the top of the oven’s dome and onto the food. This also recharges the oven floor, whose heat can be lost quickly during the actual cooking period.
You can describe this part of the process as your oven’s “breathing” mechanism. Cold air is drawn from the outside of the oven - through the opening - and hot air is then released through that same opening’s top half. Because of this, hot, moist air is constantly moving across the top of your food, leading to a better overall cook.
Lastly, the heat stored on the oven floor is transferred directly into the food you set atop it. This works for bread and pizza, as well as any pot or pan you may use instead.
When these three mechanics work together, they can produce some of the best-cooked and most delicious pizzas.
Of course, your chosen dish may not always require the exhaustive temperatures caused by a living fire. In this case, you may choose to opt for either of the two other wood-fired oven cooking methods, namely “Coals-in-the-Oven” and “Retained Heat”.
This type of wood-fired oven-cooking is not much different from the method we’ve already covered. The only real difference is the absence of a living fire, which you would instead allow to die down and use the heat generated by the coals to cook. There will still be enough heat to allow you to roast, grill, sear, and brown, and the oven floor will retain this heat for long enough to ensure that you can still produce a great meal.
Using retained heat in a wood-fired oven is the closest you can get to a conventional oven. A step down from the previous method, all you need to do is rake out the coals and close the oven door to allow the heat to moderate. The oven will cook for hours on end and allow you to bake bread, desserts, or a small roast, and can also be used to cook beans, soups, or stews slowly.
We’ll end off by reaffirming our love for wood-fired oven-cooked pizza. Pizza of this variety has a unique and rich flavor that you simply cannot replicate using other, perhaps more conventional cooking methods. The effort that goes into producing such a delicious meal is great, but it’s up to you to decide if the pizza you’re eating is worth it. (Hint: it will be).
That’s all you need to know about wood-fired pizza ovens. Hopefully, you’ve learned a thing or two, and hopefully, we didn’t let this topic cook for too long and overstay its welcome. Regardless, we know what we’re going to be cooking this coming weekend. We hope you’ll join us soon.