According to a recent survey, pizza is America’s favorite food. Consisting of round baked dough topped with sauce, cheese, meat and veggies, it’s an incredibly versatile dish that can be prepared in countless ways.

One of the most delicious ways to make pizza like a pro us using a wood fire pizza oven.

However, you’ll need two things to cook delicious pizza likes the pros: a wood fired pizza oven and the right pizza wood. Once you’ve mastered the art of using a pizza wood stove, you’ll be able to professional-quality pizza from the comfort of your home.

This article will discuss how to use a wood burning pizza oven, choosing the right wood for your oven, dough preparation, and cooking the pizza. 

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What is a Pizza Oven?

Before we explain how to use a wood fire pizza oven, let’s first take a closer look at what it is.  Also known as a masonry or stone oven, a pizza oven is a special type of baking chamber that’s designed to cook large foods, including pizza, at high temperatures. Although they are designed in different ways, most feature a brick or clay construction with a half-dome baking chamber. You simply slide your pizza into the oven, at which point it will cook from the heat produced by the burning wood.

How Does a Pizza Oven Compare to a Convention Kitchen Oven? 

A pizza oven isn’t the same as a conventional kitchen oven. For starters, pizza ovens are typically heated using wood, whereas kitchen ovens are heated using electricity or gas. This alone can have a significant impact on the flavor and overall quality of your pizza. Since they use gas or electricity, kitchen ovens don’t offer the same flavor as their wood-fired counterparts. You can still cook pizza in a kitchen oven, but you shouldn’t set your expectations too high.

Kitchen ovens aren’t able to produce as much heat as a pizza oven, either. A typical kitchen oven has a maximum temperature of about 500 to 600 degrees Fahrenheit. While this is more than enough heat to bake chicken, pork chops, casseroles and other dishes, it’s not enough to get that authentic Napoletana pizza flavor (which cooks at 900 degrees).

When cooked in a kitchen oven, pizza dough will remain relatively soft. By cooking pizza in a pizza oven, on the other hand, the dough will turn to a golden brown color with a crispy texture. This is because pizza ovens can reach temperatures of 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit or more.

In recent years, there is also a fun and growing collection of stainless steel pizza ovens that are smaller, more portable, and have a lower cost. Despite being smaller, they can still reach incredibly hot temperatures and make for some incredible pizza making. Examples of this kind of pizza oven include the Ooni Pro, Ooni  Karu, and Bertollo Wood Fired Oven.

How Does a Wood Fired Pizza Oven Work?

Believe it or not, it’s actually quite simple. The fuel to the oven is fired with a starter fire of stoker-made coals and kindling which gets the draft going. This creates pre-heated air that moves through an iron pipe at the bottom of the boilerplate, heating up some water within this plate. This can then be used to generate steam through pipes leading into an upper chamber where the dough is set for cooking. This works well for home-made wood fired pizza ovens. 

To understand how a wood fired pizza oven works, you must first know that there are two types: the tiled and the brick ones. The tiled type is probably what you see most often in pizzerias and restaurants, while the brick ones are mostly found on terraces or private homes. This does not mean that one is better than the other, as both are equally good for baking pizzas. The tiled ones are easier to clean and can be made in any size, with no technical difficulties involved.

The operation of any wood fired pizza oven depends on several factors, such as: the thickness of the oven walls; their material and quality; and the method used to control airflow and temperature. 

How to Use a Wood Fired Pizza Oven: A Step-by-Step Guide

A wood fired oven is a great alternative to more traditional methods of cooking, as there are no harmful fumes or gases such as those emitted by charcoal or propane. If you’re ready to fire up your pizza oven, then follow along as we share how to cook in a pizza oven. 

Choosing the Right Wood

Unless you’re experienced with pizza ovens, you may assume that all wood is equal. After all, how much of a difference can wood really make when cooking pizza? Well, using the right wood matters for several reasons.

Let’s start by hearing from Richard Blais, winner of Bravo’s Top Chef All-Stars, when he explained the importance of quality cooking wood by saying, “Firewood is an ingredient. Once you wrap your head around that, and understand that great cooking uses great ingredients, you’ll want to use Cutting Edge Firewood every time.”

The quality of wood affects several important factors:

  1. The Flavor – if you cook with wood that is musty, then your pizza will taste musty. If you cook with wood that has mold or fungus, then you will cook off mold and fungus into your pizza. If, however, you use wood that is clean and dry, you will get nothing but the amazing wood fired taste people love in good pizzas.
  2. The Experience – have you ever had to work really hard to get wood to light? It’s frustrating and time consuming! It’s so much better when you can light a single match and then ignite a beautiful fire quickly.
  3. The Heat – Wood fired pizza ovens are meant to cook the pizza at extremely high temperatures, but low quality wood will never get the fire hot enough. You need dense and dry wood to create the kind of heat required for amazing pizza.
  4. Consistency – If you add wet wood to a fire, then the temperature of the fire will actually drop. This makes it much harder to maintain consistent temperature when cooking a pizza and can cause major headaches when trying  to cook. You wouldn’t toss a cup of water into your oven, so why would you add wet wood?

So here is the moral of the story: If you want to step up your pizza-cooking game, then you need to recognize that firewood is a key ingredient, and the best ingredients make the best pizzas.

Pro Tip: Choose Kiln Dried Cooking Wood

Always use dry pizza wood in your pizza oven. Burning wet or damp wood will result in a less-efficient combustion process. Once you light it– if you’re even able to light it — it will convert less organic wood matter into heat. Unfortunately, this means the temperature of your pizza oven will be too low to create a crispy crust. At the same time, the wet or damp wood will release high concentrations of particulate matter into the air, some of which will land on your pizza.

Don’t assume that a piece of wood is dry just because it doesn’t feel wet or damp – there can  be plenty of moisture on the inside.

Prepare Your Dough

If you are cooking pizza in a wood fired pizza oven, you will need to prepare the dough. This is an easy task and it’s well worth the effort as this will give your pizza a different flavor.

Before you start making your pizza dough, make sure that you have:

  • Flour
  • Water
  • Salt
  • Yeast (some recipes will call for dry active yeast or quick-rise yeast) Usually, it’s best to use active dry yeast which is more readily available. For best results, proof it before adding it to the flour mixture. 
  • Oil (some recipes will call for olive oil, but this is optional)
  • A baking stone (optional, but this is a good thing to have!) You can use parchment paper in a pinch, but it’s better to reduce the amount of mess you’ll have on your hands. This will also make it easier to transfer the dough.
  • A pizza peel (optional, but this is a good thing to have!) Again, you can use parchment paper in a pinch, but it’s better to reduce the amount of mess you’ll have on your hands. This will also make it easier to transfer the dough.

Now, for the fun part: making the dough! 

Mixing the ingredients – The easiest way to mix this together is by hand. Simply add the water and yeast to the flour. Oil can be added here, too.

Kneading the dough – Knead this in your hands for about 10 minutes. If you are using a pasta machine, you can do this in the machine instead. Be patient with yourself if you are kneading by hand. Make sure not to apply too much pressure, or else the dough will be tough and it won’t have good texture when it’s cooked.

Forming the dough – This is the most important part. Pasta machines are great for this because they make it easier to form the ball into a disc for making pizza. But, you can make these by hand if you want to. Simply press and flatten your dough (this will make it easier to cook).

Cooking the pizza

Once you have your dough ready, add your desired toppings. Then, it’s time to start cooking the pizza!

Remember that you’ll need a pizza oven with a high temperature in order to cook your pizzas in extreme conditions. This can be different depending on the type of pizza that you are making. For example, if you’re making a thin-crust pizza on a stone, this is usually in the range of 800-900°F (426 – 431°C). If you’re baking a large pizza with toppings, this is usually in the range of 1000-1200°F (538 – 546°C). In order to be safe and reduce your risk of burning your pizzas, make sure that your oven has an adjusting thermostat. Also, make sure that it can reach this temperature easily. You can test this by putting in your thermometer and see if the oven reaches the right temperature.

Tips for Cooking a Wood Fire Pizza

  1. Always add cornmeal to the crust for a crispier pizza.
  2. To ensure that your pizza crust isn’t soggy, first pat it dry before placing in the oven. This will ensure that all of the moisture from the sauce, cheese and toppings stays inside of your pizza, leaving you with a perfectly crispy crust every time!
  3. If you’re making a Margarita pizza, don’t add too much sauce. The more sauce you add, the longer it will take your pizza to cook.
  4. Slice and cook your toppings in advance so that the cheese can melt evenly over them.
  5. If you dry your ingredients off before adding them to your pizza, this helps prevent soggy toppings on your pizza.
  6. Try to make sure that the temperature of your dough is consistent throughout; if you find that one area doesn’t rise or has risen too much, take it out and add some flour to make up for the difference in moisture.
  7. When cooking in a wood fired pizza oven, don’t put too many toppings on as this will make the pizza take longer to cook and also potentially burn the other ingredients.
  8. If you’re making a supreme pizza with many different toppings, spread them out around the circumference of your pizza so that it cooks evenly.
  9. If you’re new to making pizza and want to try it, start with a simple Margherita variation. This is the most basic and easiest pizza that you can make.
  10. When making a woodfired pizza, always cook the dough first before adding the toppings. This will help keep the dough from burning and will prevent your pizza from getting soggy.
  11. Don’t forget to oil your wooden peel before you start cooking your pizza. This will prevent the dough from sticking to it.
  12. To make sure your pizza is crispy, try to use a well-seasoned pizza stone or griddle. Also, leave the dough to rise for about an hour before cooking it.
  13. You can also ensure that your crust is crispy by using cornmeal as it will soak up any moisture from the sauce and cheese.
  14. Dice your toppings into small pieces in order to help them cook faster and evenly.

Backyard Pizza Chef Testimonial

It’s easy for us to talk about the importance of good cooking wood, but will you actually notice the difference when cooking a pizza in your backyard?

Here is what one of our customers, Greg A in Maryland, had to say:

I have had a wood fired pizza oven for a good six years or so as you can see in the pics attached. I made it through all the bad pizza lessons you could imagine working the dough and other ingredients to craft the perfect method for Neapolitan pizza. I was frustrated over the years finding consistent, dry, clean wood. Here in Maryland what was considered kiln dried was first stored outside and aged, then finally at some point sent to a kiln for a few hours at best. I believe I have now found the perfect wood at Cutting Edge. Everything is in balance, temperature, flavor, and time. The close up picture with the pizza and a piece of wood burning behind it tells the story. It burns across the whole stick, evenly lit, hot bright flame. Lights quick and easy. It took half the time to bring the oven up to temp, and half the wood. In fact I could control the temperature so easily with this wood because it was an immediate contributor of heat rather than taking heat to smolder and dry out before truly burning. The pizza tasted clean and crisp like it should. By far the best wood for any oven – I am so pleased I have found the right source!
Greg A.
Maryland

Tips for Using a Pizza Oven

Along with using the right cooking wood, follow these tips on how to use a wood fired pizza oven. 

  • Aim for an internal temperature of 700 to 800 degrees Fahrenheit in your pizza oven. You can raise the temperature of your pizza oven by adding more cooking wood.
  • Build a fire in the center of your pizza oven, and when you’re ready to add the pizza, use a metal scraper to move the coals to the back of the oven.
  • Clean any remaining wood or ash out of your pizza oven after each use.
  • Avoid using dough with a high sugar content. Sugar-based dough is fine when cooking pizza is a conventional kitchen oven. When used in a wood-fired pizza oven, though, it causes the crust to cook unevenly.
  • Don’t leave your pizza sitting in the oven for too long. Assuming your pizza oven has reached a temperature of 700 to 800 degrees Fahrenheit, it should only take one to two minutes to fully cook a pizza. Allowing it to cook for longer than two minutes may result in the crust or toppings burning.
  • Use caution when adding and removing your pizza to protect against burns.
  • Remember, while it’s called a “pizza oven,” you can cook other types of foods in it, some of which include potatoes, bread, fish, hamburgers and more.
  • To make sure your pizza doesn’t burn, cook it along the shortest side of the oven.
  • To ensure that your pizza cooks evenly, line your oven with parchment paper so that it will help to keep the heat even and prevent overheating spots.
  • You can also help your pizza to cook evenly by closing the oven door during the first five minutes of cooking time.
  • Use a pizza stone or a cast iron griddle to cook your pizzas so that they don’t stick.
  • To help ensure that your crust doesn’t burn before your pizza is fully cooked, cover it with aluminum foil in the last ten minutes of cooking time.
  • To speed up the cooking time, add two wooden skewers to your pizza crust to hold it while cooking.
  • Place the pizza immediately on a peel after it is cooked so that it stays hot and crispy.

Don’t limit your pizza-cooking activities to a conventional kitchen oven. Using a pizza oven with the right wood will help you create better-tasting pizza that simply can’t be achieved with a kitchen oven. And once you get the hang of it, you can use it to cook other foods.

Try the Best Pizza Cooking Wood Available

Want to make wood-cooked pizza in your backyard that gives your friends and family a true taste of Italy? Then make sure you use Cutting Edge Firewood’s premium pizza wood. Discover the difference our miniature cut or standard cut pizza oven wood makes. Try it today!