Pizza Oven Usage and Care
After installation you will be provided with important guidelines to follow for the first use of your pizza oven. Please do take note of these and follow them carefully, they are there to protect you and your new appliance.
Cooking in a pizza oven has multiple benefits. They are spacious and can cook several dishes at once, they have the ability to reach soaring high temperatures and can cook your food faster than a conventional oven, and pizza ovens as a whole cook food more evenly, allowing you to cook everything to perfection
How to cook in a wood fired pizza oven
Wood burning pizza ovens are the most traditional and most popular type of pizza oven. Outdoor cooking enthusiasts enjoy the smoky aromas that enrich your food after cooking in a wood burning oven. Wood fired pizza ovens do require a little more attention however when cooking. You need to light the oven and make sure the temperature for the oven is right when cooking.
Firing your oven
Place some screwed pieces of paper (newspaper is fine) on the floor between two good-sized pieces of kindling (ensure it is dry!) placed lengthwise in the oven and light the paper with a match.
Place a handful of kindling across (perpendicular to) the first two pieces of kindling.
Once the kindling is well lit – place two split hardwood logs (not too big – about 4 or 5 cm diameter) across the kindling pile and top with one or two more once established and lit. Remember to maintain the crossing pattern so that the air can circulate through the wood – this is very important.
Push the woodpile deep into the oven with your pizza peel or poker. The fire should be just back of the centre of the oven. The flames should hit the top of the dome and cascade to the sides.
Let this fire burn for approximately 20 minutes, adding several more pieces of wood to keep a large rolling flame going. Your goal is to introduce an appropriate amount of heat into the oven and establish some red-hot coals. You need to burn wood in this manner until you see a small circle directly above the fire that is no longer black (carbon build up from the fire). This “white spot” is your indicator that the oven is ready.
At this point you can either push the fire to the back of the oven, or to the side rear or around the perimeter of the oven.
Outdoor pizza ovens should be very hot, keep an eye on your temperature gauge to ensure that the oven does not slip – if your temperature does start to drop, add a piece of wood and keep doing so until you reach the desired temperature.
Also bear in mind that on colder, damper days it will take longer to reach temperature and more logs to maintain it.
Once your oven is fired up and ready to use you can start putting the food you want to cook into the oven. You can place pans into the oven, leaving the handle slightly outside the exterior so you can easily lift, you can put pizzas on the stone or can use baking trays to cook also. Be careful when lifting things in and out of the oven. If you’re moving pizzas or bread in and out of the oven, we recommend you use a pizza peel; if you’re using casserole dishes or baking trays we recommend you use oven gloves for transferring in and out of oven.
The key thing to remember about cooking in any pizza oven is giving it enough time to heat properly. Pizza ovens are renowned for quick cooking times and evenly distributing heat but in order to benefit from this cooking experience you need to let it heat properly.
Start stacking, splitting and storing your wood now for next season. Stack your wood loosely off the ground in a criss-cross fashion to allow the air to circulate freely. If possible, store it under a roof to keep it dry. It is better to keep wood at least eight months to a year before use so that it is properly seasoned.
Never burn treated wood, in some instances (copper chrome-arsenate treatment) it can release poisonous fumes. Wood collected from the seashore is not suitable because it contains corrosive salts. Don’t burn garbage, painted timber or particle board —these all release pollutants
How to set an upside down fire.
You can light your fire as descirbed above or to get your pizza oven to light quickly and effectively, use the upside down fire.
- Stack 3 large logs side by side in your oven to make a base. Try to get them together as tight as possible. The objective is not to leave a space for the live coals to fall through to the bottom layer. The tighter the bottom logs are placed together the longer and more effective your fire will burn.
- Stack a further 3 medium to large pieces of wood (split) perpendicular to the logs and on top of the logs.
- Place some fire lighters down (if you use these) and then your kindling.
- Light your fire. The layers will start to burn from the top down, creating live coals which will start to pile up on the next level, causing it to ignite. The secret to this method is to create a domino effect of ignition from one layer to the next
Why do it this way?
The kindling burns first and begins to create a pressure differential. This creates a draw in the flue pipe. The wood stove also starts to warm up and so the whole system starts to “fire”. As the draw happens, the fire starts to burn and continues to heat up creating more draw. The smaller wood burns first and then the larger and largest logs. When you are ready, just add more wood. As the firebox starts to warm up, the bottom logs heat up and start to release volatiles. The heat and flames in the layers above, ignites and cleanly burns these volatiles.
In the traditional packing method, the first gases (volatiles) driven out of the wood, travel unburned through the flue pipe forming flammable creosote build-up onto the internal flue walls and releasing unburned carbon dioxide into the environment.
The upside down fire makes a dramatic difference in conventional fireplaces producing a long clean burn and will usually also solve any start-up smoking problems.
How to clean your pizza oven
Read your Manual
More importantly than all, make sure to study the manual for your model, including how hot your pizza oven should be, how to clean it, and how to maintain it. Once you have learnt all of this then all that is left to do is enjoy the delicious food you make.
When you first build or purchase an oven made from bricks or clay you will need to cure the oven to get rid of any moisture. If your oven contains a large percentage of water and reaches high temperatures, the likelihood of cracks appearing is quite high. If there has been a large amount of rain, cold weather, or you haven’t used your oven in a while, you may want to heat your oven at a lower temperature an hour or two before use.
Regular cleaning and maintenance
When operating a pizza oven of any kind, it is crucial to regularly maintain and clean the oven to ensure that the oven works efficiently and that your pizza does not take on any unwanted smells, flavours, or textures.
The first and most important rule of cleaning any oven is to make sure that the oven has cooled down before cleaning. A hot oven presents a serious risk of burning. Avoid cleaning a hot oven at all costs!
Additionally, if you do not own a pizza brush/scraper, a pizza peel or a chef’s knife can be used to scrape debris off the oven surface, but take care not to dig into the surfaces as doing so may damage your oven.
Brick ovens take a long time to cool off, so be careful – always ensure that the oven has properly cooled before attempting to clean.
With brick ovens, any debris should be scraped or brushed off with a pizza brush/scraper, a chef’s knife, or a pizza peel. For particularly troublesome spills, such as grease spills, you can try scraping or brushing it away, but if that doesn’t work – use a water-dampened cloth to loosen the grease/debris. The cloth can be placed on the end of a stick to apply to out-of-reach parts of the oven.
In general, spills and major debris should be removed as they occur (with a long brush or scraper to prevent burning), so that there is no opportunity for the debris to buildup into a more resistant form.
Many brick oven owners brush the oven bottom and sides on a regular schedule, even if there are no visible spills or debris, so as to maintain a certain standard of cleanliness.
When cleaning brick ovens, don’t forget about the exhaust stacks! They should be cleaned on a monthly basis, as they can develop of a layer of soot that affects oven safety (a chimney fire may occur) and will affect the flavor of your pizza.
Don’t attempt to clean the exhaust stacks on your own! Hire a qualified chimney sweep to clean your exhaust stacks, as it requires specialized knowledge and tools. The risk (a chimney fire, if soot isn’t properly removed) is too serious for an unqualified person to attempt maintenance.
Clay Pizza Ovens
Avoid using water or cleaning solution in clay ovens, as the can absorb it and then crack when heated up, which may result in cracks and damage to your pizza oven.
Use the scraper side of your pizza oven brush/scraper tool to loosen the ash and food debris on the inside of the oven, from the base to the sides to the top. For any particularly difficult spots, try using the brush side of the tool force the debris away from the oven walls.
After you’ve finished loosening the debris, use an oven-cleaning broom or hand brush to gather it all up and throw it away. Don’t manually pick up the debris – use a tool designed for the task.
If you are keeping your oven outdoors and want to keep maintenance minimal we might recommend you look at pizza oven covers. Just as you would cover a barbecue to keep it in top condition you can also purchase covers for your pizza oven.
In regard to the exhaust stack you should clean this properly once a year (providing you use it on a regular basis, if you only use it for home use every now again this time frame will be a lot longer) to ensure the oven is safe to use. Soot can build up in the flue and unless this is cleared can block ventilation and become somewhat of a fire hazard. Cleaning the exhaust is a very similar process to sweeping a chimney so if you know what you’re doing you can do it yourself. It is recommended however you seek professional advice.