Italy is famous all over the world for its excellent food and wine and the dish that immediately identifies us is pizza, which brings to mind the image of a wood-burning pizza oven. It was born as a poor dish, apparently simple and quick (water and flour cooked for a minute), to test the cooking temperature before baking the bread, the basic food for the whole family.
Over the centuries, the profession of pizza chef has developed an endless series of tricks of the trade and small tricks that make this dish so good, favoring its enormous diffusion. The best pizza oven is the symbol of everything that has to do with pizza, because it greatly enhances all the work, passion, skill and experience involved in preparing this delicacy.
The preparation of pizza is a world partly different from that of the kitchen, because if combined with a more or less elaborate topping it is configured as a single dish for an entire meal, including in the same bite cereals, meat, cheese and vegetables. A great advantage of pizza is that using the same base you can easily change tastes simply by choosing a different seasoning, which can be classic or elaborate, with refined ingredients and imaginative combinations. In addition, pizza is usually cooked in a single oven and there is no need to combine different cooking, as is often the case in the preparation of appetizers, first courses, main courses and desserts.
A pizzeria needs less equipment than a restaurant, because it prepares a single dish, it is therefore necessary to have a good performance oven able to cook in an excellent way, which is reliable, fast, easily manageable and able to work at full speed for many years.
There are many types of professional ovens, which can be of various levels of quality and price and can be different in terms of operating technology, capacity, temperature and consumption (depending on wood, gas or electricity supply).
In this article we will talk about how to choose the wood-fired oven for pizzeria, we will focus on this type of oven because it represents the best choice for the needs of a pizzeria, in terms of the quality of the product you want to bake.
Many pizzerias use electric or gas ovens, making in most cases a very good and sometimes excellent product. However, the wood-fired oven is the king of cooking, in pizzerias as at home, for various reasons such as:
- Very high temperatures that can be reached.
- A drastic reduction in cooking time, increasing the productivity of the oven.
- The different scents of wood, which give the dishes an inimitable taste.
- Charm for those who use it to manage and feed the fire like a “living” creature.
- Reject technology to live as in the countryside of the past, recalling a rural culture and memory of grandmother’s cooking.
- Charm and attraction on the part of those who observe the pizzeria with the oven in view, to admire the technique of the pizzaiolo, but with the look that always ends up on the flame and pizzas in the oven.
- We’ll talk briefly about how the wood-burning oven works, then give some advice on how to use it. We will see what are the characteristics of a good wood-burning oven and what considerations you should make before buying one for your pizzeria.
The oven is the pizzeria
What does fire represent to man? And what is the value of the pizza oven?
We could talk about it for hours. When prehistoric man learned to govern fire, there was a huge evolutionary leap, both intellectual and nutritional.
On a cultural level, the invention of cooking marked the difference between eating and eating and modern man is still prey to the fascination of fire, it is a matter of DNA. We suggest you this interesting article by italialegnoenergia.it, which explores the subject in depth, explaining how wood is at the basis of human evolution. Speaking about the symbolic value of cooking with wood, it is explained that:
“The crackling of the fire evokes in man, even unconsciously, primordial sensations; a domestic hearth, a family gathering place that at the same time brings together, nourishes and warms, allowing us to rediscover memories of ancient flavours”.
Over the centuries the culinary arts have developed a great deal and a few thousand years ago the first ovens appeared, first in a hole, then in clay, then in bricks, arriving to create a few centuries ago the wood-burning oven as we know it today.
Using the wood-burning oven for a pizzeria represents the attachment to tradition combined with the greater care of the product, which requires greater skill for a perfect cooking but can certainly have a higher gear than the others.
All the efforts that the pizzaioli have to face go through the oven, the most delicate phase to enhance a good product before reaching the customer, where it will be judged more or less consciously. The customer’s judgement is the reason that pushes us to do all this, out of passion for our work and in order to have satisfied customers that will generate other customers to satisfy and an economic feedback for our business.
The oven is therefore the real heart of the pizzeria and pizzaioli with time and sweat can develop a feeling of affection for their oven, faithful companion of a thousand battles. The fate of the pizzeria depends on the oven and it is therefore essential that it is a reliable oven with which we feel good and above all that it is able to give us an excellent cooking.
What does a wood-burning oven look like
Let’s briefly summarize what a wood-fired oven looks like and how it transmits heat to the food, a factor that causes cooking differences between the various types of ovens.
The traditional wood-fired oven is one made of brick and cement. It can be outdoor or indoor and in the latter case it is usually walled up in the kitchen. In both cases there is usually an empty space under the base of the oven to keep the wood at hand.
The two essential characteristics for the operation of the oven are the material and the shape.
Both the bricks and the stone slab with which the bottom of the oven can be made are of the refractory type, i.e. able to accumulate a lot of heat and distribute it evenly over the entire surface of the oven (the stone has the advantage of being uniform, facilitating firing both for surface stability and for a more uniform diffusion of heat.
The dome, or sky, of the oven is essential to raise the temperature and to have a quick cooking. The flame that burns from the wood rises up through the curved wall of the oven and reaches the central area. Here the vault pushes the heat downwards directly onto the pizzas, thanks to the hot air currents of live flame that are created in the oven thanks to the fire and the shape of the sky (which is not a perfect half sphere, but is a bit flattened, like our planet).
We can also distinguish ovens according to their height: low vaulted ovens are the most suitable for pizza, because they amplify the effect of the heat currents we have just talked about. The high vaulted ovens, on the other hand, are more suitable for baking bread, which needs a more stable temperature and humidity condition and needs to grow more in height.
Another variant to be considered is the free-standing oven, i.e. a stand-alone oven, equipped with wheels and transportable for every use, designed for domestic use but able to run a small room very well. The introduction of these models meets the need for comfort and practicality that can give the freedom of movement of the oven, which must be massive but light and equipped with a sturdy but also light structure.
How to cook with wood
Cooking in a wood-fired oven is undoubtedly more difficult than other ovens, but without doubt more fascinating for the reasons we saw at the beginning of the article, as well as being the true protagonist of white art and pizza faithful to the Neapolitan tradition.
The essential elements for a good cooking of pizza in a wood-burning oven are:
It begins with the choice of the wood to use, with its ignition and its nourishment, until the creation of the embers that will heat the bottom of the oven on which we are going to cook. You have to move the embers to heat the various areas of the oven while you raise the temperature, then approaching the wall to one side of the oven, where we will go to feed the flame again to make it rise towards the center of the dome, which will be ready when it becomes white from black and the fire will lose a little vigor.
A good wood-burning oven with full flame for a long time can exceed a thousand degrees. An optimal baking of the pizza takes place between 400 and 450 degrees, but expert pizza makers can lower the baking time if necessary, adding wood to bake even over 600 degrees. It is also an important factor to understand the size of the wood you need on various occasions. A piece that is too small could be insignificant if we have to bake many pizzas in the next few minutes, forcing us to repeat the addition operation. A piece that is too big might turn out to be wasted, because maybe you have to put it up at the end of the evening but you make less pizzas than you thought.
The amount of water in the oven air is extremely low when we have to start baking and this causes the dough to dry very quickly during cooking, even if the cooking time is short. A tip to remedy this is to wipe a wet cloth with water on the bottom of the oven, both to clean and to release some water from the cooking chamber before baking. This will allow the dough to grow more and cook well in the centre despite the short time, because it will slow down the formation of the crust and the heat will penetrate better during cooking.
Moving the pizzas
It is inevitable that the cooking of the pizza is faster in the part closest to the flame. It should also be considered that the bottom loses temperature at the points where it transmits it to the dough and we must therefore avoid baking always in the same place, which after a while will no longer cook well. It is important to turn the pizza on itself 180 degrees and put it back in the same point as before, in order to have a uniform cooking. In doing this you can also manage some movements to align the cooking times of the pizzas, putting the late ones closer to the fire.
The cleaning of an oven is fundamental for its correct functioning and to guarantee a long life. An interesting in-depth analysis is made in this article. The important thing is to give a good brush at the beginning of the work, when the oven is ready to cook. You should also pay attention to the bottom stone, which could get stained if you puncture a pizza and you need to brush vigorously. In addition, with wear and tear, small cracks may occur, or minor disruption in the case of brick ovens. When these problems worsen, they can become a cause of production inefficiency, which can lead to poorly cooked pizzas. It is therefore necessary to replace the affected bricks and put the whole floor back in place, or replace the damaged stone slab. For this extraordinary maintenance work, rely on a specialized technician and assess whether the damage is not so serious as to make it more convenient to buy a new oven.
How to choose a wood-fired pizza oven
After having summarized the operation and correct use of the wood-burning oven, let’s now see how to choose the new oven for your pizzeria.
Obviously the choice of your oven will have to adapt to the needs and potential of the spaces where you work, both those of the kitchen and those of the room.
The quality level of the oven you need will also depend on the experience and skill of the pizza chef, who with a new oven will be able to make a qualitative leap in the product served to customers.
The main variables to consider when choosing a wood-burning oven
The construction materials, time to temperature, finishes, weight, stability and manoeuvrability for free-standing ovens. Professional wood-burning ovens are designed to work hard and always, so they must last and for this reason you must choose products made with excellent materials, certified and guaranteed.
Another parameter that must be taken into account in a professional context to assess the quality of an oven is the fuel consumption, because there can be significant differences between an old and worn model and a new one, with even important differences in spending. Equipping ourselves with a professional oven that consumes less wood to reach the temperature we want and to maintain it during work is an excellent choice, which will make us work more comfortable and lower fixed costs, repaying with time a slightly higher investment. This is possible with modern ovens that combine tradition and innovation, thanks to a technology that combines refractory stone and stainless steel.
Professional ovens are usually not small, but the market also meets the needs of those who have little space in the kitchen. There are ovens for 2 pizzas and ovens for 20, depending on how many pizzas you have to make and in how long and this depends on the capacity of your room (hopefully it will always be full), in addition to work as a takeaway.
The budget of a professional wood-burning oven can start from a few thousand euros, maybe looking for an opportunity used if you don’t have too many pretensions. If, on the other hand, you have large and above all high quality needs, you have to spend a little more and if you want the top of the range, much more, even around 10 – 15 thousand euros.
The choice of a wood-burning oven for pizzerias can be complicated, because of the variables to be taken into account and the correct evaluation of the actual needs of each one.
The professional equipment market is experiencing a period of great development in recent years, with companies inventing solutions to increase quality while lowering the cost of running the kiln.
A good wood-fired pizza oven must heat up easily and keep the heat for a long time, it must cook evenly in the various areas and must not make jokes with the temperature, which could make us make mistakes in cooking. It must also be functional to the space requirements of each room, depending on the size of the kitchen and the number of pizzas that need to be made.
Finally, we conclude by saying that the wood-fired pizza ovens are a cornerstone of Italian gastronomic history and contain within them a boundless world of ancient cooking culture, wisdom in the choice of shapes and materials and study of the caloric yield of many types of wood, all motivated by passion for this food and this work.