How Does a Wood Fired Pizza Oven Work?

A wood fired pizza oven is a special type of oven designed to cook pizza by using heat from burning wood as the main fuel source. Unlike traditional kitchen ovens, wood fired pizza ovens can reach much higher temperatures, up to 800-1000°F, which allows pizza to be cooked quickly and evenly. The intense heat from the fire brick and flames creates the perfect environment to quickly bake the pizza crust, melt the cheeses, and caramelize the toppings.

A Brief History of Wood Fired Pizza Ovens

The use of wood fired ovens to cook pizza has a long tradition stretching back hundreds of years to the early origins of pizza in Italy. Ancient civilizations first used primitive wood burning ovens carved from stone to bake flatbreads. Later, wood fired pizza ovens were developed and used extensively in Naples, where the iconic Neapolitan style pizza emerged.

The highest quality Neapolitan pizza is still made using these specialized high heat ovens today. The rise of artisanal pizza restaurants bringing authentic pizza Napoletana to the masses has sparked a resurgence of interest in wood fired pizza ovens in home kitchens as well.

How Does a Wood Fired Pizza Oven Work?

A wood fired pizza oven consists of a few main components:

Fire Brick Dome

The dome or ceiling of the oven is built using fire bricks or clay tiles that can withstand extremely high heat. Fire bricks are typically double-insulated and resist thermal shock, meaning they won’t crack from the rapid heating and cooling.

The curved dome shape helps reflect heat back down onto the pizza, enabling fast, even cooking and melting of cheese and toppings. It also retains heat very well once the oven is fully preheated.

Cooking Floor

The floor of the oven is also made of fire brick or clay tiles laid to create a level cooking surface. Some ovens have a baking stone floor for increased heat absorption and radiation.

The oven floor is where the pizza cooks directly by conductive heat transfer from the hot surface up through the crust. Oven floors are designed to distribute heat evenly across the entire surface.

Landing Zone

Many wood fired ovens have an area at the oven opening known as the landing zone. This is a small ledge made of brick or metal at the front of the cooking floor where the pizza can be placed while loading and retrieving it.

The landing zone absorbs radiant heat from the oven dome and preheats the bottom of the pizza before it is slid onto the oven floor for cooking.

Ventilation System

Proper ventilation is critical for fire safety and managing the oven temperature. Vents in the front allow air flow into the oven to feed the fire. Chimneys at the rear exhaust smoke and gases.

Adjustable vents give control over the air flow and temperature. Increased air flow raises the temperature, while restricting it can decrease heat.

Fuel Source

A wood fired pizza oven needs a constant supply of wood to maintain the high temperatures required. Hard wood varieties like oak, maple, and ash that burn longer and produce less smoke are commonly used.

The fire is started in the oven using kindling and allowed to get established before loading in larger pieces of firewood. The fire is maintained to the side of the oven floor rather than directly underneath.

How Does Fire Create Heat in a Wood Fired Oven?

There are a few ways that the wood fire creates and transfers heat inside a wood fired pizza oven:

Radiant Heat From the Fire and Dome

The hot fire radiates heat outward in all directions, heating up the oven floor and walls. The fire bricks absorb and reflect heat back down extremely efficiently. This radiant heat from the dome is the primary way the oven reaches the high temperatures needed to cook pizza properly.

Conductive Heat Through the Oven Floor

The blazing fire also heats the oven floor through conduction. The floor absorbs heat and becomes piping hot, up to 800-900°F. The pizza dough and crust directly contact the hot floor, cooking via conductive heat transfer.

Convective Heat Flow

As fire burns, it creates convection currents of hot air and gases moving through the oven. This constant motion ensures the heat is distributed evenly everywhere rather than remaining stagnant.

Infrared Heat From the Coals

Infrared heat is another way the fire transfers energy. Hot burning coals and embers glow and produce infrared radiation which can directly cook the pizza ingredients above the coals.

How is Pizza Cooked in a Wood Fired Oven?

Cooking pizza in a wood fired oven relies on using the various heat transfer methods generated by the fire. Here is the general process:

  • The fire is started and burns until the oven interior reaches the target temperature, around 700-900°F. This takes around 1-2 hours.
  • When ready to cook, the coals are raked to the back and sides, clearing the floor center. The vent is adjusted to fine tune the heat.
  • The stretched and topped pizza dough is placed on the landing zone to preheat for a minute.
  • Using a long handled pizza peel, the pizza is slid into the center of the oven floor.
  • The intense heat from the oven floor, dome, and coals cooks the pizza in just 2-3 minutes.
  • Using the peel, the cooked pizza is pulled back out onto the landing zone to be removed and sliced.
  • The next pizza can then be loaded in, with the process repeated for subsequent pies.

Benefits of Cooking Pizza in a Wood Fired Oven

There are several advantages to using a wood fired pizza oven:

  • Very high temperatures – The oven reaches 800-1000°F, ideal for Neapolitan style pizza. This high heat cooks the crust quickly before it becomes dried out.
  • Fast cooking – At these extreme temperatures, pizza bakes fully in just 2-3 minutes. The rapid cooking gives the crust a perfectly charred exterior with a soft, chewy interior.
  • Enhanced flavors – The wood fire combustion adds a light smoky flavor. The intense heat also caramelizes and enhances the sweetness of any toppings.
  • Consistent results – Once heated, the thick brick retains heat exceptionally well so every pizza bakes the same.
  • Authenticity – Cooking in a wood fired oven creates genuine Napoletana pizza with the perfect soft and bubbled crust.
  • High capacity – Large ovens can accommodate many pizzas in a short period of time, ideal for entertaining or restaurants.
  • Environmental benefits – Burning wood as fuel is considered carbon neutral since trees absorb carbon as they grow.

Common Types of Wood Fired Pizza Ovens

There are several common varieties of wood fired pizza ovens:

Brick Wood Fired Ovens

  • Traditional brick ovens are made from solid brick and mortar.
  • Heavy and thick brick absorbs and retains heat extremely well.
  • Good thermal mass helps maintain high temperatures during cooking.
  • Well insulated with minimal heat loss.
  • Often custom designed permanent backyard installations.

Modular and Portable Ovens

  • Constructed from a combo of metal, fire brick, and ceramic materials.
  • Many include removable chimneys and other components.
  • Lightweight and on lockable wheels for portability.
  • Quick to assemble and can be broken down for storage or transport.
  • Ideal for food trucks, catering, or taking camping.

Barrel Oven Kits

  • Made from an actual 55 gallon steel drum cut lengthwise.
  • Lined with high temp fire brick and insulation.
  • Include a vent, chimney, and legs.
  • Affordable and easy DIY backyard build option.
  • Compact size for small spaces.

Maintenance and Operation Tips

Following some best practices will keep a wood fired pizza oven working its best:

  • Use recommended oven fuels like dry, seasoned hard wood. Avoid soft woods like pine which smoke heavily.
  • Start the fire slowly and let temperatures increase gradually to prevent cracking the bricks.
  • Allow at least 1 hour preheat for the oven to fully heat soak at 700°F or higher.
  • Keep the oven vented properly, clearing smoke and regulating air flow.
  • Brush ashes out from previous fires before starting a new one.
  • Inspect for damage and replace broken bricks as needed. Re-seal any cracks annually.
  • Invest in a good oven brush, ash shovel, and temperature gauge.
  • For portable ovens, place on a non flammable and level surface away from combustibles.

Frequently Asked Questions About Wood Fired Pizza Ovens

How hot does a wood fired pizza oven get?

Wood fired pizza ovens are designed to reach and maintain temperatures from 700°F to over 1000°F. This is the ideal heat range for cooking authentic Neapolitan style pizza in just 2-3 minutes.

What fuel can you use in a wood fired pizza oven?

Dry hardwoods like oak, maple, and ash make the best oven fuels. Avoid soft resinous woods like pine that produce excessive smoke. Wood pellets, compressed saw dust logs, or charcoal can also be used.

How long does a wood fired pizza oven take to heat up?

It takes 1-2 hours for a wood fired oven to fully preheat to the optimum 700-900°F temperature range. Starting with smaller kindling allows a fire to gradually establish before adding larger logs. Enough wood must be burned to heat soak the internal brick mass.

Can you cook things other than pizza in a wood fired oven?

While designed for pizza, wood fired ovens work great for cooking many other foods that benefit from live fire and the intense heat. Roasting vegetables, charring peppers, baking bread, cooking fish and meat, and more are all possible.

Do wood fired pizza ovens need ventilation?

Proper ventilation is critical through an adjustable oven vent and chimney. The vent provides incoming combustion air for the fire and allows heat and smoke to escape through the chimney. Ventilation regulates temperature and air flow.

How often do you need to fire a wood fired pizza oven?

For permanent backyard ovens, firing frequency depends on usage. Restaurant ovens burn daily. At home you may only use your oven once a week or for special occasions. The oven should be fired periodically even if unused to dry moisture and burn food debris.

What is the difference between a brick oven and ceramic oven?

Brick ovens are made from solid dense fire bricks while ceramic ovens use a combination of materials including fire brick along with ceramic fiber, calcium silicate, and metal. Ceramic ovens are lighter weight and better insulated.

How thick should the walls be on a good wood fired pizza oven?

An ideal thickness for the dome and floor in a masonry wood fired pizza oven is around 4-6 inches. Thicker walls improve heat retention but increase weight. High quality fire brick and proper insulation can compensate for thinner construction.

The Perfect Oven for Perfectly Cooked Pizza

Wood fired pizza ovens provide an exciting way to cook pizza that can’t be replicated in a conventional kitchen oven. The exceptionally high heat of a wood fire bakes the thin Neapolitan crust to perfection in just minutes. Ovens designed for pizza also distribute heat evenly across the floor so every pie turns out great. With the variety of pre-made ovens available, anyone can bring the experience of authentic wood fired pizza into their own backyard.

Laura Kassovic

Laura Kassovic, a former engineer at Intel SOC, now dedicates her efforts to mentoring startups in the realms of Wearables and AI. As a co-founder of New Tech Brake, she spearheads a wireless sensing solution enterprise catering to diverse applications including product development, research, location tracking, and people monitoring, as well as asset and cargo supervision. The platform empowers developers to craft an array of innovations such as fitness trackers, temperature-monitored cargo systems, medical trial tools, smart running garments, or even straightforward transmission of unprocessed accelerometer data to cloud-based repositories.

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