Using a pizza oven can seem like an artform, and in many ways it is, but by understanding how it works you can start to understand the best ways to cook your food and get the results you desire.
The short answer
How do wood-fired pizza ovens work? A simple explanation is that a fire is lit inside using wood which heats up both the dome and the oven floor, and both of these retain heat to ensure high temperatures for a long period of time. Couple this with a live flame and you’re on your way to cooking traditional pizzas.
The oven will reach temperatures up to of 930°F/500°C which is perfect for quick cooking pizzas and then as the temperature drops you can cook other dishes, working your way right down to 250°F/120°C and slow cook meats over night.
This gives you three different ways of cooking in a wood-fired pizza oven:
- Fire in the oven (utilizing a live fire)
- Embers in the oven (utilizing the hot embers once the fire has gone out)
- Retained heat (utilizing the heat stored in the bricks)
We’ll now go into each of these methods in more detail.
Fire in the oven cooking
When you have a live fire in the oven your pizza, and anything else you put in there, will get cooked in three different ways all at the same time:
- Reflected heat – the flame bounces off the dome ceiling and comes back to not only cook the food but to also add more heat back into the floor.
- Convection – This is aided by the airflow into the oven which circulates this hot air around the oven interior and over your food.
- Conductive heat – This is the heat stored in the oven base which cooks the food directly on top of it.
Embers in the oven
Apart from pizzas, most dishes in your oven won’t need the high heat from a live fire and in most cases it will simply be too hot. Letting the fire die down will allow the temperature to drop and then become the right heat to roast and grill your food. These hot embers will also continue to heat the oven.
At this stage there will simply be ash in your oven, but there will also be heat retained in your pizza oven floor and walls, and this makes it great for baking bread and other dishes that require a lower temperature you’d normally associate with your domestic oven. As the temperature drops you can move onto slow-cooked meals such as chilli or brisket.
It’s best to rake out the ash and keep the oven door closed so that you can keep the heat in, and as there’s no flames, there’s no need for air to feed a fire anymore.
Knowing how your oven works will make you a better chef
All pizza ovens will function slightly differently due to the quirks or their build or simply by how the fire has been built and sustained. If you can get to know how your own pizza oven behaves then you will become a better chef and also be able to use it efficiently by learning what other dishes and recipes you can cook it in rather than solely pizza.