We often say that the best outdoor pizza ovens is the kings of cooking, for many reasons that concern on the one hand its thermal capacity, i.e. the way it cooks food, and on the other hand the factors related to its charm and how it is used.
The first ones are related to how the heat released by the fire and the embers inside the oven spreads and to the properties of the fuel, which is added as a real ingredient giving the aromas of wood to the dishes.
The second ones concern the historical and cultural aspects related to the wood-burning oven, especially if we talk about pizza. In the world, the image of round pizza immediately recalls that of the wood-fired pizza oven. Wood-burning pizza ovens have a charm unattainable by other types of ovens, regardless of the goodness of the results. They call to mind the genuine cooking of the peasant tradition and inspire conviviality, being together and good food, all aspects that we love in Italy and that are part of our culture.
Other motivations can be found in the personal satisfaction of cooks, bakers and pizza makers, since fire management is a very important skill to develop and this type of ovens certainly requires more demanding management, but allows for better quality products.
The traditional wood-fired pizza oven is one made of refractory bricks and cement, which can be outside or walled in the home kitchen. To this type of oven, always very appreciated, is added the category of free-standing pizza ovens, i.e. free installation, born for the domestic market and that can be placed on an external kitchen floor or on a structure equipped with wheels, which will allow us to move it.
The market of pizza ovens is constantly developing, thanks to the great diffusion of pizzerias in our country. Many companies producing ovens have started to meet people’s needs, developing models for the domestic market up to the performance levels of professional models, making real ovens for home professionals.
Innovation in wood-fired pizza ovens can have various purposes, such as lowering the consumption of wood, the time needed for a significant increase in temperature, the ability to maintain heat over time or reducing production costs without sacrificing quality. Customers have also changed in recent years, because thanks to the web they are much more informed and demanding, making the sector of wood-fired pizza ovens for outdoor use develop in particular.
In this article we will talk about how to recognize a good wood-fired pizza oven and the characteristics that make this type of ovens the most suitable to make the most of this delicious dish. We will start with a general discussion on the reasons that make the wood-fired pizza oven the most suitable for cooking pizza, and continue by listing the key factors that must be present to have a good quality oven. Finally we will conclude by summarizing what are the factors to consider when choosing a wood-burning oven.
Why do you prefer a wood-burning oven to make pizza?
We can identify five main reasons to say that the wood-fired oven is the best for baking pizza, always remembering that the final choice is linked to the personal taste of those who use it.
Degree of personal satisfaction
The wood-fired oven requires greater skill than other ovens, because it is more demanding due to manual feeding, the need to purchase and transport fuel and the greater effort in cleaning the ashes, but above all for a more difficult to control cooking.
Moreover, fire attracts us all for ancestral reasons, linked to the importance it has had in the evolution of our species (the only one that tames fire for cooking). We are attracted by fire, especially if it is used to prepare food and it also attracts us to see the skill of cooks and pizza makers at work; proof of this is the success of TV programs related to food, present on all channels at different times. The many versions of pizza were born the day after the invention of wood-fired ovens, because the oven was the essential tool for baking bread and feeding the family. The essential ingredients are the same and in the artisan wood-fired ovens of the past, before baking the bread a pizza was made with a small part of the same dough, to control the temperature before the most important baking.
Ability to reach the required temperature
The wood-fired oven is suitable for cooking practically anything, but the high temperatures it can reach make it particularly suitable for making pizza faithful to the Neapolitan tradition. Pizza baking is a fast process (which can last even a minute or a little longer), for the reason we saw in the previous point and thanks to the high temperature. This allows the dough to cook evenly in the central part, without drying out too much. Moreover, the high temperature allows to reduce the cooking time, increasing the productivity of the oven.
The second reason to prefer the wood-fired oven is related to the fuel. By burning the wood to fuel the flame and create the embers, the scents of the burning plant are released, giving our food extraordinary aromas. We talked in our blog about how to choose wood for the oven, discussing in depth the cost, the caloric yield and what are the best plants. Moreover, the wood-burning oven is considered ecological because wood is a renewable energy source. In fact, if you are lucky enough to have a garden with large plants, you can have the fuel for free and in this case the wood-burning oven will also be cheaper over time.
The wood-fired oven is the fundamental tool to capture the attention of your guests, which you can satisfy both with a good pizza and with the experience of seeing you at work in your outdoor kitchen. Those who have enough space in the garden or terrace and want to make a lasting investment can decide to set up a complete kitchen, while those who have more limited space and budget needs can opt for a compact pizza oven, also in mobile version.
The wood-fired oven is not based on special technologies and is therefore less prone to component malfunctions, which occur in other types of ovens. In addition, its massive structure and resistant construction materials allow the wood-burning oven to last many years, even if it is placed under snow in winter. Until a few decades ago, ovens and fireplaces were one of the first concerns when designing a house, as they were the only source of heat for the winter and the chimneys had to be designed first and foremost, which also served as a radiator between one floor and the other of the building.
All these factors contribute to creating the charm that characterizes the wood-burning oven, as well as allowing a greater enhancement of the product. Thanks to the high temperature, the scent of wood, the charm in use and its durability, the outdoor wood-fired pizza oven is a purchase that will enhance your outdoor spaces and will allow you to greatly improve the quality of the food prepared, especially pizza.
The characteristics of quality wood-fired pizza ovens
After briefly looking at the reasons that make the wood-fired pizza oven the most suitable for baking pizza, let’s move on to the analysis of the factors that you should consider when choosing a new wood-fired pizza oven.
All of the characteristics that we are going to list are important in the evaluation of an oven and are part of the overall quality of the product. We will mainly focus on the structure and level of design detail, which will affect the baking performance and functionality of use.
Shape and dimensions
The shape of the structure of the wood-burning oven allows the diffusion of the heat that comes from the fire. The shape of the dome, a flattened half sphere, allows the creation of air currents that start from the flame and spread throughout the oven; going up the curved wall up to the centre of the sky, the hot air converges from all directions towards the centre of the dome, thus creating a thrust from above towards the floor of the oven and then up again, in a circular movement of very hot air that transmits heat by radiation, giving the food the aromas of wood.
In addition to the flame currents, the heat is generated mainly by the embers that form after a while, when we have consumed enough wood and the temperature will begin to rise. The embers in fact allow the increase and maintenance of the oven temperature, because they release a lot of heat that is collected and diffused by the refractory material of the soil and the vault of the oven, transmitting heat by conduction.
As far as the dimensions are concerned, we can say that wood-burning ovens are usually quite capacious, around one and a half metres of internal diameter. According to your needs, however, you can also choose much smaller models (from two pizzas) or much larger (to cook even more than ten pizzas at the same time).
The size of the oven you need varies depending on the number of pizzas you want to bake and there is no point in buying an oven that is too big for a derisory number of pizzas. A larger size of the oven inevitably corresponds to an increase in the consumption of wood and the price, due to the greater amount of materials needed for construction but also for greater structural complications; in addition, a very large and very heavy oven will need a stable floor (it will be necessary to make a concrete casting at the base, so that it does not sink into the ground over the years).
A good wood-fired oven therefore has the classic spherical shape that we saw at the beginning of the paragraph, although the innovation of modern wood-fired ovens can also have an impact in shape.
We have mentioned the material of the bricks, the stone slabs and the dome, defined refractory for its characteristic, essential for the operation of the oven, to accumulate and retain the heat it receives, releasing it to the food in a uniform manner in the various areas and for the duration of cooking.
The use of good materials is essential to obtain a good wood-burning oven, because it is necessary to reach a high temperature to cook pizza and it is important that the oven can do it quickly without consuming too much wood. Therefore, be wary of ovens that are too cheap for the quality they claim, because the use of poor materials in the long run can compromise the use of the oven, due to the faster degradation compared to an oven made with better materials.
Weight and stability
The total weight of the instrument depends on the size of the oven and the materials it is made of, which must be considered in relation to the base on which the oven will be placed.
As far as fixed ovens are concerned, with the same size it is usually better the heavier one, because once assembled it will not have to be moved anymore and therefore we can use stronger and more consistent bricks and stones, able to increase the thermal capacity of the single components. Consequently, a solid and sturdy structure must be set up, as heavy as the oven that will have to hold for a long time.
On the contrary, mobile wood-burning ovens need to be more manageable and lighter, to avoid back pain every time we move them. In addition to this, it is very important the quality of the support structure that supports the oven, which must be strong but light and able to last as long as the oven. A structure made to save money could wear out quickly, due to rust, some welding that jumps or screws that come loose, causing stability problems during work and risk collapsing, damaging even the oven that was perhaps still in good condition.
Practicality of the mouth and lid
The size and shape of the oven mouth together with the practicality of the lid are important for the convenience of working. The mouth must be large enough to comfortably handle the fire and pizzas, but not too large in relation to the size of the oven to avoid significant heat loss.
The lid must have a comfortable handle and must be stable not only when closed, but also when it is left resting to let only a little air pass through, i.e. when you have to raise the temperature with the fire already well alive and start to put larger pieces of wood, or when you have to maintain a constant temperature, for example for baking bread.
Speed of temperature rise
The structural characteristics of the furnace seen so far determine the overall heat capacity of an instrument. The ability to enhance the fire is therefore the other variable that we must consider in order to evaluate the quality of an oven, when we turn it on.
The speed of temperature increase depends on many factors in addition to those of the structure of the oven, starting with the choice of the most suitable type of wood for pizza and especially our ability to “handle” the fire. A good wood-burning oven is able to quickly accumulate the heat released by the fire, even if it is very large. Larger ovens need a lot of time and large quantities of wood to reach high and stable temperatures, even three or four hours. On the other hand, there are small and innovative ovens that reach high temperatures in half the time, reducing wood consumption.
The consumption of the oven depends on many factors, which we have already had occasion to mention. Each plant produces a wood with a different caloric yield, as well as aromatic and price. We have also seen that it depends on the ability to manage the fire and the speed at which the temperature inside the kiln increases.
The consumption of wood is really noticeable during use, depending on the relationship between how much food we cook and how much wood we need to add to maintain the temperature we want. This parameter should be evaluated according to the criteria that guide the choice of buying a new wood-burning oven, i.e. the time needed to increase the temperature, the size of the instrument and the price.
Coming to the operational aspects, i.e. those related to the convenience of working and the perfect baking of pizza, an essential feature in a good wood-fired oven is the uniformity of baking in the various areas of the oven, due to the differences in both the soil and the sensitivity to the distance from the fire. Minimal differences will allow us to have an easier management of the cooking and we will be able to cook the pizzas uniformly, perfectly aligning both sides of the same pizza and the cooking time of the whole oven.
The uniformity of the baking performance in the various areas of the oven is a very important factor when you have to bake many pizzas, because we will be able to better control the baking of all pizzas in the oven and with a little practice we will be able to develop our mental chronometer, to avoid going to check the oven many more times than necessary.
Speed of temperature recovery in the various zones
As we know, the point where we cook a pizza will be less hot than the surrounding area once it’s cooked.
Considering that pizza in a wood-fired oven usually cooks in less than two minutes, we should have no problem if we make a few pizzas during the evening, waiting a few minutes between one and the other in the same place.
If, on the other hand, we have several mouths to feed and we want to make a lot of pizzas in a short time, we will have to pay attention to the heat loss of the ground and the recovery time in the various points. This could cause an imbalance between the top and bottom of the pizza, which will not be cooked properly.
A good oven is able to limit this problem, but it is also up to the experience of the domestic pizza maker and his ability to manage fire and embers, which he will have to use to heat the ground of the oven well. You have to get familiar with the new wood-fired oven, even if it is not the first one you use, because each oven is unique and unrepeatable.
Keeping the heat
Once the pizzas are cooked, we can use the high temperature accumulated by the wood-fired oven to prepare other dishes that cook at a lower temperature. For example, it is possible to prepare the bread to be baked after the fire has gone out and the temperature has dropped to around 250 degrees, obviously considering the relationship with the cooking time and the size of the loaves (one kilo loaves can bake even more than an hour). Or, when the temperature has dropped further (180 – 220 degrees), you can bake a nice roast of meat or fish, or many delicious recipes based on vegetables.
A very important factor is also related to maintaining the heat for the next day: the best wood-burning ovens are those that can drop in temperature very slowly, allowing us to use them comfortably for several consecutive days. If a wood-fired oven is closed as soon as we have finished cooking pizzas, around 400 degrees, it will be able to stay above 200 degrees after a whole day and so if we want to use it again it will be enough to revive the fire. If we use the oven often enough, this will allow us to save a lot of wood compared to starting from the cold oven, thus reducing fuel consumption.
Design and furnishing of outdoor spaces
The last factor we have to consider when evaluating the quality of a wood-fired pizza oven is its ability to furnish our outdoor spaces.
A wood-burning oven in fact can be the protagonist of our outdoor evenings, thanks to its ability to attract the attention of our guests and for the value it brings to our outdoor kitchen. With a wood-burning oven in the garden we will no longer be forced to go back and forth from the domestic kitchen: instead of constantly distancing ourselves from our guests we can become the protagonists of the moment of conviviality together with our oven.
This will allow us to organize real showcooking at home, giving our guests not only excellent pizzas to eat, but above all complete experiences, as they will be involved in the process of making the food they eat, capturing their attention thanks to our ability to prepare it and our cooking tool.
The design of the wood-burning oven can be very varied. First of all we have to distinguish between indoor and outdoor wood-burning ovens, because the former is usually walled up in the kitchen and in this case you can only see the finish around the mouth. Outdoor ovens, on the other hand, can be seen completely and therefore we must also look at the outside of the dome and the structure, which must inspire solidity and sturdiness, but also take care with the lines and colours.
How to choose the wood-burning oven
We have seen that the choice of a new wood-burning oven must be weighed up against many different factors. First of all, we must understand our approach to cooking and our real needs, to avoid being in the two worst situations that can happen after buying a new oven:
The first is to try to save money thinking that a more expensive model is too much for us, to find ourselves with a tool that does not satisfy us and with which we can not enhance our pizzas.
The second is the opposite, that is when we are caught up in enthusiasm and want to overdo it, buying a wood-fired pizza oven much bigger than what we need, which does not mean we have wasted money because we will have a great tool, but we will have to sweat a lot to take full advantage of it. When buying a wood-burning oven we have to consider the quality of construction, which means the right shape and size and stability of the structure; moreover, the consumption of wood and the time needed to exceed 400 degrees are fundamental parameters to be evaluated.
Finally, the eye also wants its part and if we choose a free-standing outdoor oven will have its weight also the design and the ability of the instrument to furnish our spaces, as well as the weight for the mobile versions.
To conclude, we remind you that it is always better to take a look at the technical data sheet of complex products such as pizza ovens (which manufacturers usually put on websites), in order to better evaluate a comparison between several options.
A new wood-fired oven for making pizza in the garden or on the terrace will be the real protagonist of your summer evenings and will allow you to develop your culinary skills to the maximum, both for pizza and for all other bakery recipes. It is a necessary purchase to fuel your passion for cooking and in particular for pizza, thanks to its superiority in many ways. We greet you and wish you a good search for the next pizza oven.