Wood-fired pizzas are all the rage, and more people than ever are building wood-fired pizza ovens in their backyards. However, before you start building your own, you should consider a few things first —and one of the most important things is learning how to use this oven.
To use a wood-fire pizza oven, start by making your yeast-risen pizza dough. While the dough proves, allow your fire to reach a temperature of around 325-330°C (617-626°F). Prepare your pizza while the oven heats, and place your pizza near the fire, rotating the crust often, for about 2 minutes.
In this article, I’ll help you understand how to use a wood-fired pizza oven in further detail. Please read on to discover the basics of making a wood-fired pizza so you’ll be confident in your skills at handling a pizza oven for the first time!
1. Make the Pizza Dough
You should prepare your pizza dough before you begin your wood fire, as the process takes several hours. Specifically, you should make dough that is suited for a pizza dough suited to a wood-fired pizza oven. You should not use the same dough for a wood-fired oven as you do a gas one due to the temperature difference between the ovens.
Here’s my favorite pizza dough recipe for wood-fired ovens:
Pizza Dough Ingredients for Two Large Pizza Bases
- 500g (3 ⅓ cups) bread flour, preferably stone-ground (you may use cake flour, but bread flour gets a better crust).
- 10g (2 tsp) Active Dry Yeast.
- 10g (2 tsp) salt.
- About 325ml (1 ⅓ cups) room temperature water (if your dough is too dry when mixed, you may add more, the dough should be malleable and slightly sticky to the touch).
Method for Easy Pizza Dough
- Combine yeast, flour, and salt in a bowl. Avoid copper and aluminum as they may affect your yeast.
- Add warm water and mix. I use the back of a wooden spoon in this stage to avoid having sticky dough hands.
- When your dough is mixed, place it in a bowl and let it rest for an hour or so. This resting time will allow the yeast to work its magic.
- Turn your dough out on a well-floured surface and knead until your dough is smooth and elastic. Wet your hands lightly with water before kneading to prevent the dough from sticking to them. You may add small amounts of flour as you knead if your dough is too sticky.
- Once your dough is smooth and elastic, form it into a ball and place it in a bowl. Take about two tablespoons of olive oil to coat the dough.
- Cover the bowl with the dough still inside, and set it aside to rest. Wait an hour or two, or until your dough doubles in size.
- Cut the dough to size. How big each portion should be will depend on your pizza oven size.
- Shape the dough into tight balls, ensuring the top is smooth and you tuck the underside under neatly. Avoid any breaks or nicks in the skin of your ball that will affect the expansion of the air and affect your dough rise.
- Lightly oil the exterior of each ball. This oil layer will prevent your dough from drying out and becoming hard.
- Place each ball into a plastic container or a light-oiled tray. Refrigerate for up to 4 days.
You should never make your pizza dough too far ahead before baking. The yeast is a living organism, and if the yeast dies, your pizza dough will be dense and heavy. The dough can only be refrigerated for four days at most, which is how far in advance you should make the dough.
2. Heat and Prepare the Oven
Once your dough is ready, you can light your pizza oven. Although the experts say that the hotter the wood oven, the better, there seems to be quite a disparity on what precisely the ideal wood-fired oven temperature should be.
In a scientific paper entitled The Physics of Baking Pizza, the authors stated that traditional Roman-style pizzaiolos (pizza makers ) bake their pizzas at 325-330°C (617-626°F) for 2 minutes in a wood oven with a firebrick bottom. Neapolitan pizzaiolos cranked up the heat even more to 700°F (371°C).
Wood-fired ovens get very hot quickly, so it’s essential to be careful when lighting them. Here’s what you should do:
- Ensure the oven door and the chimney vent are open while you use your oven.
- Start building a fire in the center of the oven. The best fuel for the fire is kiln-dried hardwood, and maple and oak woods are very popular. However, depending on their flavor preference, some people substitute coal for wood.
- Start the fire. Once the first flames are visible, you can slowly add more fuel to get the fire going.
- Watch the dome of the oven. You’ll need to wait until the dome turns black. Using firewood, you may also see the wood turn white simultaneously.
- Once the dome turns black, continue feeding the fire with more fuel. Watch until the dome goes from black to white.
- Close the smoke control—the oven should now be at the right temperature. You can use an infrared thermometer to measure the temperature or use your hand. For the latter, hold your hand a few inches off the oven floor, being careful not to touch it. It isn’t hot enough if you can hold your hand for more than 2 seconds.
- Allow the fire to die down. Then, use a scraper to move the embers to the back of the oven.
- The oven is now ready to use.
3. Prepare the Pizza
While the wood fire oven heats up, another person should work to prepare the pizzas.
To do so, you’ll first need to shape the pizza dough. You should shape the dough by hand rather than with a rolling pin. The rolling pin can knock out the essential air pockets that make your pizza base light and chewy. Rolling out your dough will also make the dough too thin and easily overcooked, especially in the higher temperatures of the wood fire oven.
Stretching a pizza can be daunting, so you might want to watch this YouTube clip on how to do it properly:
Once you’ve shaped the dough, you should top your pizza with sauce and your favorite toppings. In this process step, the world is your oyster—add whatever you like to your pizza.
4. Cook Your Pizza in the Oven
Once satisfied with your prepared pizza dough, place the dough onto a pizza peel. Never place the pizza directly into the oven—you won’t be able to move it around, and your pizza may cook unevenly.
A pizza peel allows you to move your pizza dough around the oven without worrying about injuring yourself. I recommend getting two peels—a wooden one for loading your pizza into the oven and a metal one for turning it inside the oven.
If you’re looking for a wooden peel, I recommend the New Star Wooden Pizza Peel from Amazon.com. It’s available in different lengths, so you can choose the one that works best for you and is made of lightweight basswood that is easy to handle.
I recommend the American Metalcraft Medium Blade Peel from Amazon.com if you need a metal peel. This design is available in 4 different lengths and comes with a wood handle that you can use without getting too hot to hold.
Use your wooden peel to transfer the pizza into the oven for the best results. Once it’s inside, use the metal peel to turn it inside the oven to ensure the crust heats up evenly. Using a peel and turning a pizza will require a bit of practice, but with time, you’ll be managing your oven like a pro.
Your pizza won’t take too long to cook but remember that temperatures may differ between wood ovens; it’s best to ensure that you cook your pizza according to your particular temperature range.
The pizza should take about 2 minutes at 325-330°C (617-626°F), but keep an eye on your cheese caramelization and the char on your pizza crust.
Also, the thicker the dough, the longer it will take. Like a peel, getting the hang of when your pizza is ready will take a bit of practice, but after a few sessions using your oven, you’ll get perfectly crisp pizza every time.
Once your pizza is ready, switch the metal peel for the wooden one, and pull the pizza out of the oven. We recommend switching between the peels because pizzas stick to metal peels easily—however, wooden peels are too thick to turn the pizza properly. Using both peels allows you to get the best of both worlds.
That said, no matter which peels you use, you should always flour the surface first. This layer further reduces the risk of sticking.
Once the pizza is out of the wood-fired oven, all that is left for you to do is slice it, serve, and dig in!
When using a wood-fire pizza oven, you must first make wood-fire-friendly pizza dough. Then, heat the oven until it’s at the right temperature and the wood is down to embers.
Shape your pizza dough and prepare it with your favorite toppings before transferring it to a wooden pizza peel. Use the peel to load the pizza into your oven, and use a metal peel to turn it, so it cooks evenly. Once cooked, pull it out with a wooden peel, slice, and enjoy.