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How Does A Pizza Oven Work?

The pizza oven rotates a circular tray through the fire, heating both sides of your wood-fired pizza at once. While this may take a little longer than an oven that uses cast iron rotating trays, it's a safer and easier way to use an outdoor oven.

Pizza ovens are well-known for quickly and efficiently baking pizzas. They always create a perfectly crispy crust without burning the cheese. So, how can these ovens make a great pizza every time?

Pizza ovens work by trapping the heat from burning wood in an insulated chamber. The heat forces itself over the pizza while smoke leaves through a chimney on top of the oven. Layers of brick and ceramic hold heat inside of the pizza oven long after the flames burn out, resulting in a perfect pizza.

Throughout this article, we’ll explain how pizza ovens work, how they get hot so quickly, and whether or not your pizza oven needs a chimney. Enjoy!

How Does a Pizza Oven Bake Pizzas?

Pizza ovens use various forms of heat to warm and maintain the oven’s temperature. Family Handyman explains there are gas and wood-burning pizza ovens. However, wood-burning pizza ovens are far more popular. You can quickly adjust the temperature without worrying about high gas bills or gas leaks.

Most pizza ovens use a combination of fire bricks, concrete, and ceramic to create a reliable form of heat maintenance and insulation. They also prevent the outside of the pizza oven from getting too hot. The porous materials let a little bit of heat escape to prevent structural damage, but it’s not enough to ruin the pizza’s baking temperature.

Freshly baked pizza.
Pizza ovens use various forms of heat to warm and maintain the oven’s temperature.

Although most pizza ovens are simple, you can get various models with oven grates, handles, doors, and many other accessories. These items let you customize your pizzas by choosing how thoroughly you want to bake them, and at what temperature. Below, we’ll jump into the numerous reasons pizza ovens get much hotter than traditional ovens.

How Do Pizza Ovens Get So Hot?

Pizza ovens get so hot for these five reasons:

  1. Ceramic insulation prevents heat from leaving the oven. Ceramic is used in countless cooking applications, including pizza ovens, plates, bowls, mugs, etc. It’s porous enough to prevent cracks but dense enough to maintain as much heat as possible to bake the pizza evenly.
  2. Brick insulation stops the oven from cracking or breaking through the intense heat. Much like ceramic, brick has been used to insulate countless items throughout the kitchen. Not only does it have a classic visual appeal, but it also maintains and regulates the heat inside the oven.
  3. Fire brick allows heat to rise through the bottom of the pizza. NPR claims fire brick not only beats steel in terms of having a higher temperature, but it also prevents excessive amounts of concentrated heat from scorching the dough. It’s an all-around better choice, which is why pizza ovens make better pizza than regular ovens.
  4. The optimized angle forces the heat over the top of the pizza before it leaves the oven through a vent. Most pizza ovens have the wood on the sides or the back of the oven. The heat from the flames goes over the pizza since the chimney is almost always slightly angled away from the flame. This process naturally heats and bakes the pizza, ensuring a deliciously crispy crust.
  5. Slow-burning wood maintains the heat. Most pizza ovens use slow-burning wood because it prevents excessive amounts of ash from getting on the pizza. However, pizza ovens can hold quite a bit of heat long after the wood fire is extinguished. The aforementioned insulated properties help tremendously.
A preheated bricked pizza oven.
The primary reason pizza ovens don’t ruin the pizza is due to the insulation.

You might be wondering how a pizza oven gets so hot without burning the pizza or covering it in soot. After all, burning most food so close to an open flame would cause all sorts of issues. The primary reason pizza ovens don’t ruin the pizza is due to the insulation, but it’s important not to forget about the chimney.

Does a Pizza Oven Need a Chimney?

Pizza ovens need chimneys to direct the airflow. The chimney lets the smoke escape, but it also forces the hot air over the pizza. This dual purpose makes chimneys irreplaceable for most pizza ovens. That being said, it’s important to clean a pizza oven’s chimney regularly to remove soot and ash buildup from the debris.

Trade Price Flues adds that pizza ovens need chimneys because they provide optimal ventilation. A lack of airflow can ruin a pizza because it prevents the dough from retaining a soft interior. If there was no airflow, the pizza would feel stale and far too crunchy to be enjoyable. Furthermore, you’d risk burning the pizza.

Pizza oven with Chimney.
These vents are similar to chimneys, but they don’t provide the same high-quality airflow.

The good news is that almost every pizza oven includes a chimney. If yours doesn’t, there’s likely a vent somewhere near the top of the oven. These vents are similar to chimneys, but they don’t provide the same high-quality airflow. Nevertheless, they’re perfectly fine if you clean them when they get clogged by debris.

Keep in mind that the wood you use will directly impact how much soot and ash you have to clean from the chimney. Below, we’ll explain why the wood you choose is so important.

Can You Use Any Wood in a Pizza Oven?

You can’t use any wood in a pizza oven; the wood needs to be rated for pizza ovens. Pizza oven wood is often treated to last a long time and prevent excessive amounts of ash. It also doesn’t have countless artificial chemicals, dyes, scents, and other additives. Everything in the wood can go into the pizza, so it’s important to stay on the safe side.

A outdoor firewood pizza oven.
Pizza oven wood is often treated to last a long time and prevent excessive amounts of ash.

Steer clear of these types of wood when using a pizza oven:

  • Painted wood can put unwanted dangerous paint chips and lead into the pizza. Many companies toss painted wood from various projects. It might be tempting to head to the scrapyard for free wood for your pizza oven, but that’s the last thing you should do. These paints are filled with unhealthy additives.
  • Chemical-packed wood will dump those ingredients throughout the food. Some companies jam-pack their wood with chemicals to make them burn longer, smell a certain way, or look better than natural wood. Unfortunately, these chemicals cause far more harm than good.
  • Wet wood or uncured wood often takes too long to burn and results in lots of ash and soot. If you collect your own firewood or wood for pizza ovens, let it cure for a few weeks under direct sunlight. Cover it during rainstorms to prevent mildew, mold, and rot. Curing takes a long time, but it’s more than worth the results.

So, what kind of wood should you use in a pizza oven?

A hickory wood.
A cured wood burns slowly without putting nasty chemicals on the pizza.

Carolina Cookwood Pizza Oven Wood comes in 12-inch slabs. This cured wood burns slowly without putting nasty chemicals on the pizza. You’ll receive up to 25 pounds of woodcuts to heat and treat your pizza oven whenever you want to.

Naturally cured wood is always the best because it provides a clean aroma. When wood is dried too quickly by various machines, it develops an artificial scent that can alter your pizza’s taste. Furthermore, it doesn’t burn nearly as long as wood that cures in the open air.

Final Thoughts

Pizza ovens have been around for a long time, but there’s no reason to change their design. These high-quality ovens create and hold heat through various forms of insulation to create a surefire method of delicious pizza baking. Using the right kind of wood and properly venting your pizza oven will yield the best results.

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