Despite popular belief, the owners of Patio & Pizza Outdoor Furnishings weren’t always pizza oven experts! We started just like everyone else with some (or maybe a lot of) failed pizzas and plenty of lessons learned. It was our passion for good food that drove us to improve our methods, and eventually share our gained experience with the world in the form of our artisan ovens and delicious recipes. With that in mind, we thought we’d share some of our best tips so you get a head-start when using your own wood-fired oven for the first time.
Here are 8 lessons we learned while mastering wood-fired cooking:
1. Get it hot
Light the fire in your wood burning oven earlier than you think is necessary; it won’t hurt anything and will ensure your pizza oven is plenty hot when you’re ready for cooking. Pizza ovens are designed to withstand extreme temperature at long periods, by virtue of how pizza is cooked. Starting your fire early also means you can reduce your blaze down to a hot, ideal bed of red-hot coals that maintain consistent temperature and distribute their heat more evenly than an erratic flame would.
2. Worthwhile wood
Start your fire with small pieces of kindling and use really dry wood; it will decrease the chances of a smoky fire billowing out the front of your oven when cooking. While some smoke can be a welcome addition, since it can impart unique flavors to food, there’s no need to use “green” wood to achieve this effect. Generally speaking, smokey flavor can be accomplished with thoroughly dry wood and a little TLC to ensure a small blaze remains inside the embers. You can also try experimenting with different wood types, like cherry, to test how different smoke flavors might interact with your recipes.
3. Keeping it crispy
Make sure the oven floor is up to temperature before adding your pizza by using an infrared thermometer. Aim for at least 750 degrees Fahrenheit. Anything lower than this will mean that your dough maintains its soft, sometimes sticky consistency for a while before it starts to brown, making it difficult to rotate your pizza in the oven and adding to your cook time. Conversely, make sure to account for a higher temperature’s impact on the time it takes to bake your pizza in order to avoid a burnt mess!
4. Ashes to ashes
When things burn, they leave memories behind. It’s important to use a good, clean brush to sweep the leftover ashes off your pizza oven’s floor before you add anything to cook; this not only keeps ash from hitching a ride on your freshly-baked slices, but also extends the longevity of your oven by keeping buildup from forming and potentially damaging your oven’s interior. Once in a while, give your oven a thorough cleaning to pick up anything you might have missed during your pre-bake sweeps.
5. Flour is power
Use lots of flour on your pizza peel to make it easier to slide the pizza dough off the peel when putting your pie into the oven. Flour reduces the friction of sticky dough on your peel, which is necessary to cleanly move a pie into the oven; otherwise, the swift motion of taking the peel out from under the pizza might take some dough along with it, or worse, pull your pizza out of the oven and onto the ground!
6. We all start somewhere
Use a large spatula to help slide your pizza off the peel when first starting out. Practice makes perfect when learning to use a pizza peel, and it’s better to rely on some extra moving force during your first few attempts at baking than it is to contend with pizza on the floor, or face-down in your oven. When placing your pizza in the oven, simply slide the spatula just under the side of the pizza facing you and on top of the peel, and then with a little forward movement with the hand holding the peel, gently push the pizza off the peel and into the oven.
7. Less can be more
Try making small pizzas! It gives your friends and family the opportunity to make their own with their choice of sauces, cheeses, toppings, and more. You can make an entire event out of a pizza party in which everyone gets to make their own personal pizza, and gives you some relief when planning for guests that have dietary restrictions. Aim for pizzas that are about 8 inches in diameter, which is usually enough for one person to enjoy (and, they can always have another in 90 seconds!).
8. Experiment, experiment, experiment!
A well-made pizza oven will last a lifetime. There’s no reason to restrict yourself to the same recipes you’ve made over and over again. In fact, there’s no reason to stick to just pizza! On the Patio & Pizza Recipe blog, you’ll find countless recipes for varying styles of pizza, desserts, barbecue dishes, and more. You’ll find that you can make pizza out of just about anything in your pantry or refrigerator, and even if one didn’t turn out quite like you planned, the lessons you learn will make you a better pizza cook, and overall chef, for life.
To keep up with how we’re using our ovens, make sure you subscribe to the Patio & Pizza email list, where we share recipes, ideas, tips and tricks, and more. And as always, happy cooking!