How to use a wood oven easily?

The traditional wood-burning oven is a bread oven, a pizza oven and a barbecue. The wood oven also acts as a smoking room and allows the fruit to dry. It is an incredible cooking tool that is often underused.
However, with a little technique and experience, cooking with a wood fire becomes a real moment of pleasure and sharing, and even an art of living.

COOKING OVER A HIGH HEAT IN A WOOD OVEN

Cooking over high heat is a very high temperature cooking – about 350°C – fast and suitable for short cooking times for foods that need to be searted. It requires leaving the oven open to allow the fumes to escape and, above all, to monitor the cooking.

WHAT TO COOK IN AN OPEN OVEN?

Use this cooking method to cook pizzas, fish and seized meats.

IN PRACTICE

  • After the fire is lit, heat your wood-burning oven to temperatures of about 350°C or even 400°C.
  • Maintain this temperature by adding a few logs of wood for about ten minutes for a cast iron wood oven.
  • Push the fire back to the bottom of the oven, or around its edges, to distribute the heat and flames and to create an area for your dish.
  • Place your dish in the open space near the embers or near the entrance if the oven is really too hot.
  • Monitor your cooking.

While you are enjoying your grills and other pizzas, the temperature of the wood-burning oven will drop to temperatures closer to 250°C and allow the kitchen to cook in low heat, with the oven closed.

SLOW COOKING IN A WOOD OVEN

For this cooking there is no more high heat. The residual heat accumulated by the wood oven is used; the downdraft cooking is a slow, closed oven cooking.

THAN BAKING IN A CLOSED OVEN?

Cook all dishes that need to be simmered, gratins, pasta such as breads, brioches, cakes and meat dishes such as roasts, poultry, beef fillets, lamb legs. It is also a cooking method suitable for desserts.

IN PRACTICE

After heating the oven or, after baking with the door open, remove the remaining embers or ashes to use the entire surface of the oven.
To do this, take the necessary precautions by using containers that can withstand the heat of any embers still present in the ashes.

Clean the sole with a brush to remove any residual dust. You can also use a damp cloth.
When your oven is ready, keep the door closed to conserve heat and open it only when the desired temperature is reached.
Bake and… wait for the baking time, avoiding opening the oven.

It will take experience but it is all the charm of cooking in a wood-fired oven!

Baking times in a wood-burning oven are generally shorter than in a conventional oven.
Note that many meats can be cooked at very low temperatures, about 150°C, for very long periods of time. For example, you can put a braised beef or poultry in the oven at night and pick up the dish the next morning!

Tip: Feel free to cover your dishes with aluminium foil so that they do not burn on the surface if the oven is very hot.

Example of organization: If you have to be away between 10am and 12pm, turn on your oven around 7am, prepare your kitchen between 8am and 10am. When you return at noon, put your dishes back in the oven to reheat them. The residual heat from the furnace will be more than sufficient. Simple and practical!

HOW TO KNOW THE TEMPERATURE?

The easiest thing today will be to use a thermometer. It gives an indication of the temperature in the oven. Your learning and experience with your oven will complement this, and there are many empirical techniques available to provide a temperature indication. The most common method is flour. A handful of flour thrown on the sole should brown and then blacken without burning, the temperature is then close to 250°C. It’s the temperature of loading the bread.

WHICH THERMOMETER FOR YOUR WOOD OVEN?

Get a high temperature thermometer that can measure temperatures up to 500°C.
There are nowadays laser sight thermometers but it is necessary to be very careful about their use because depending on the surface targeted the temperatures can be wrong.

WHICH ACCESSORIES TO USE?

Get a minimum of accessories and dishes to work serenely.

Don’t hesitate and take a set of at least 4 accessories. That’s all it takes, but these 4 below are really essential:

  1. The wooden shovel
  2. The stainless steel shovel
  3. The squeegee
  4. The brass brush

Use the wooden shovel to put bread, pizzas and other flour-based culinary preparations in the oven in general. However, to remove your bread and pizzas from a wood oven, use a stainless steel shovel. This makes it easier to remove breads and pizzas from the sole.

The squeegee is also an essential accessory. It simply allows the fire to be moved during the various firings. Finally, it is useful for removing embers and cleaning the wood-burning oven at the end of use.

Last accessory: the brass brush. It is used to clean areas where the pizza topping has overflowed. Use the brush to clean and push back into the fire what has been spilled.

Apart from these 4 accessories, bring an ash bucket. It’s a metal bucket. Be careful to store this bucket on a non-flammable surface and away from flammable materials (twigs, dry foliage,…). The bucket may contain hot embers and you must avoid any risk of fire.

HOW TO CHOOSE THE RIGHT PIZZA OVEN?

AS A PREAMBLE: WHICH PIZZA ARE WE TALKING ABOUT?

Whether electric, gas or wood, a real pizza oven is only essential when you want to make homemade fresh dough pizzas with a professional look.

For frozen pizzas or pizzas made from pre-cooked dough, a multifunctional oven equipped with a quality pizza stone may be suitable.

A small electric pizza oven could also be considered for this type of cooking.

However, this equipment will be undersized if you want to make raw dough pizzas in the traditional way, for a number of reasons, as we will see.

pizza

1. THE GOOD COOKING OF THE PIZZA: HIGH TEMPERATURE REQUIRED.

From an innocuous point of view, the problem of cooking a pizza properly can become a very specific subject.

Indeed, if you want to achieve a perfect result, i.e. a crispy dough on the outside, soft on the inside and a just cooked topping without being burned or dried out, the pizza should not cook for more than 2 minutes.

In the oven, there must also be a good balance between the temperature of the sole (cooking surface) and the temperature of the cooking chamber.

It is indeed possible to have 300°C in the baking chamber quickly after ignition and refractory bricks that are still cold because they have not had time to store the heat.

The result will be a pizza with an overcooked topping and a soft dough.

Remember to respect the temperature increase of the sole to have a homogeneous heat.

A little tip: a good way to check the temperature of the sole is to opt for an infrared thermometer.

The ideal baking temperature for pizza is around 350°C, with variations depending on the thickness of the dough, its water content (a Neapolitan pizza with a slightly thicker dough and containing more water is baked between 400 and 450°C)

A good pizza oven must therefore be configured to reach and maintain these high temperature levels.


2. THE DESIGN OF A PIZZA OVEN:

As we have just seen, it takes a lot of heat to make good pizzas. It is therefore necessary that the furnace produces and conserves as much energy as possible.

A good pizza oven must be powerful (if it is gas or electric) and above all well insulated.

A thickness of insulation of several centimetres should seal the baking chamber by lining the bottom of the hearth and the entire vault surround.

The more efficient the insulation, the more heat will be kept and the temperature constant. Good insulation (rock wool or ceramic fibre) also ensures that the oven walls are not too hot and therefore less heat is generated in the kitchen.

On the other hand, it is very important to choose an oven with a fairly thick hearth that stores and optimally releases heat. The composition of the sole must also be checked: it must be made of 100% natural materials. Domestic ovens have a sole between 1 and 3cm thick while professional ovens have a sole of at least 5cm thick.

Finally, and always in order to keep the heat in, the shape and materials of the baking chamber must be adapted to the heat release and the size of the door must not be too large not to cause too large a drop in temperature when opening.

3. THE DIFFERENT TYPES OF PIZZA OVENS:

THE WOODEN PIZZA OVEN:

To all credit, the wood-burning oven is THE pizza oven par excellence. It reaches high temperatures, allows very fast baking (often less than 2 minutes) and gives the pizza that unmistakable wood fire flavour.

The high temperature of a wood pizza oven allows a caramelization of the sugars in the dough and gives it that black spotted appearance so sought after by purists.

The high heat released by the fire allows cooking without any drop in temperature and the door is open.

It is the oven of the best pizzaïolos and enlightened amateurs.

Depending on the model, it can be used indoors or outdoors, recessed, installed or on legs.

The wood-burning pizza oven requires careful supervision of the baking process, for example, the pizzas must be turned with a shovel once or twice during baking, which prevents the area near the embers from burning.

Maintaining a wood-burning pizza oven is quite simple, a hard brush and an ash scraper will do the trick.

A wooden pizza oven requires, as its name suggests, dry wood (we recommend using dry beech wood at Caloria) that does not burst upon combustion. For lighting, natural firelighters and a bag of mini wooden buckets will do.

Depending on the size of the oven, the hourly consumption should be between 2 and 5 kilos of wood and the temperature rise time should be between 30 minutes and 1 hour for the largest professional equipment.

In terms of price, it is also one of the most expensive. However, if you buy a second-hand wood-burning oven, this price can decrease significantly and make this essential Italian cooking tool affordable!

THE GAS PIZZA OVEN:

The gas pizza oven is a very good alternative to the wood oven. First of all, in terms of performance, which is close to a wood-burning oven.

The ignition is very simple (a simple click on the piezo button and you’re done) and the temperature rises quickly (from 10 to 20 minutes).

The advantage of the gas burner in the form of a longitudinal ramp is that it frees up space in the cooking chamber compared to a wood fire. For the same oven size, the gas model can therefore be practical to put an additional pizza in the oven thanks to this space saving.

For most manufacturers, the range of gas pizza ovens takes on the aesthetics of wood ovens, with an additional ignition and temperature control knob on the front. Gas burners are often located on a side part of the oven, instead of the wood fire in a way.

A space reserved for the gas bottle is provided in the bottom of the oven.

Gas pizza ovens can run on butane/propane or natural gas.

Maintaining a gas oven is quick and convenient, no ashes to remove, a simple brush stroke to remove the flour and you’re done.

Gas consumption is included between 1 and 3 kg per hour, depending on the size of the ovens.

ELECTRIC PIZZA OVENS:

An excellent indoor appliance, the electric pizza oven has the advantage of being compact. Often square in shape, it can be easily installed and housed in kitchens. The electric pizza oven does not necessarily make pizzas drier if it is powerful enough to reach and maintain proper cooking temperatures.

Equipped with a timer and a thermostat, its use is practical and wide, it can indeed replace a conventional deck oven if necessary for baking sweet, savoury or bread tarts.

The electric pizza oven is also suitable for bakeing/heating pre-baked or frozen fresh pizza.