Wood fired pizza, simply put, is pizza that is cooked in an oven that is fueled by wood. The burning of the wood produces flames and intense heat that cooks the pizza extremely quickly, in about a minute!
The most traditional type of wood fired pizza is called Neapolitan pizza. This type of pizza originates from the birthplace of pizza, Naples.
Neapolitan pizza has been perfected over centuries and it even has protection from the European Union. This means that any pizza place claiming to serve Neapolitan pizza must make their pizzas using authentic ingredients and traditional methods. This includes the use of a wood fired oven.
About a minute! Yes, you heard correctly! A wood fired pizza takes just 60-90 seconds to cook.
The extreme heat produces an excellent rise on the crust that results in a wonderfully light and airy crust. What’s more, the large flames produce a subtle charring on the crust that adds a subtle smoky flavour and a slight crispiness.
Once a wood fired pizza starts taking longer than 90 seconds it starts to become too crispy. The pizza can then be sharp and difficult to eat. A Neapolitan wood fired pizza cooked quickly and at the correct temperature should be soft and chewy with only a slight crispiness to the crust.
Traditional wood fired ovens are very large and are made of brick. They have large ceramic stones inside the oven, onto which the pizza is cooked. You may have seen one in a pizza restaurant before, they’re pretty hard to miss!
A fire is built with seasoned (and dried) wood at one side of the oven. Once the oven has gotten up to temperature, the pizzas are cooked at the side of the fire, with the flames licking over the pizza. In fact, 3 pizzas can be cooked at once in many of these huge ovens!
The downside of these traditional pizza ovens is that they are expensive, huge, and very labour intensive. This makes them very impractical for home use.
However, there are many portable pizza ovens now on the market, such as the Ooni (used to be Uuni) range (see image below).
These ovens use wood or wood pellets as fuel, have ceramic baking stones for cooking on, and reach temperatures of up to 500 degrees Celsius (900 Fahrenheit). This means they can accurately replicate the Neapolitan pizza ovens, albeit on a smaller scale and at a more affordable price (from around £250 or $250).
A wood fired pizza oven needs a chimney in order to create a draw, which encourages the combustion. The chimney also provides an escape for the smoke and gases produced as the wood is being burnt. For anyone interested in the science of this, there is a great article here on the technicalities of a pizza oven chimney.
On the portable wood fired pizza ovens the chimney can be removed when not in use for ease of storage/transport. So technically, a wood fired pizza oven doesn’t need a chimney, except when you want to cook pizza in it!
Pizza cooked in a wood fired oven has a slightly different taste. There is a hint of smokiness to the pizza which you don’t get from gas. It is only a subtle difference in flavour but it is certainly noticeable.
Actually, it’s a bit like comparing a gas grill to a charcoal BBQ. Both cook food in a similar way but the charcoal imparts a smokey flavour which cannot be achieved with a gas grill.
Some people do not like the flavour and it probably is a bit of an acquired taste. However, many people love the slight smokiness, finding that it adds another subtle dimension of flavour. Personally, I love the smokey flavour!
Other than the flavour, there is no reason why gas pizza ovens cannot achieve the same type of pizza. Gas pizza ovens can reach the same temperature and produce the same type of flames.
Neapolitan style pizzas cooked in a gas pizza oven look and feel almost identical to those cooked in a wood fired oven. The only real difference then is the flavour.
Many people prefer to use gas as it much more easy to manage, enabling the cooking of many pizzas with little to no maintenance required. However, many avid Neapolitan pizza enthusiasts insist that you must use wood to achieve the authentic pizza.
But if you like the sound of an easy to manage gas pizza oven that is also affordable and compact, there are many portable gas pizza ovens on the market. Pizza ovens such as the Ooni koda (below) are considered amongst the best portable pizza gas ovens.
Alternatively, you can get a gas attachment for a pellet pizza oven which then gives you both options – very handy.
Pizza is not the healthiest of foods but when made in the traditional Neapolitan way, with quality ingredients, it is far more healthy than most pizzas. Wood fired pizza typically uses fewer, high quality ingredients with light, hand made dough.
It is true that there are some health concerns around smoke and charring of food. However, with a wood fired pizza the smoke and charring is kept to a minimum. After all, a wood fired pizza is only cooked for around a minute!
I think it is safe to say that the occasional (or fairly frequent!) wood fired pizza poses very little health implications. In fact, a vegetarian pizza such as the classic Margherita could be considered quite healthy compared to many dishes.
For those wanting to take the healthiness of wood fired pizza to the next level, there is also the classic Neapolitan pizza Marinara. The Marinara pizza consists of just tomato sauce, garlic, and oregano. Not only is it considered a healthy pizza, it is also absolutely delicious! And that’s a fact!
In a traditional wood fired pizza oven, logs of seasoned dried hardwoods are used as fuel. This type of wood burns hot and consistently, which is incredibly important for cooking great pizza.
For home pizza ovens, wood pellets are often used. Bags of food grade hardwood pellets are easy to get hold of, relatively inexpensive, convenient to store, and they burn with great consistency. Wood pellets are my favourite fuel for my Ooni 3 pizza oven.
However, there are many types of affordable pizza ovens on the market which accept a wide range of fuels. This includes pellets, kindling, and charcoal.
With so many great options available these days there’s no excuse for not making great wood fired pizza at home!
Once loaded into the pizza oven, the pizza must be turned regularly (maybe every 20 seconds) in order to achieve an even cook. Keeping your eye on the pizza is extremely important.
The first few pizzas you cook are likely to be, well, not the best to be honest. Becuase it cooks so quickly, the margin for error is very small. I’ve had my fair share of burnt pizzas before getting it right!
But like anything, with practice the cooking becomes second nature. You know when to launch it, when to turn it and you know when to take it out. It’s not exactly a science, but using a stopwatch can help.
One of the most important factors for cooking a great wood fired pizza is the temperature of the stone. This is why getting a laser thermometer is one of the best investments you can make for your pizza oven. They are fairly inexpensive and they give you an instant accurate reading.
When I’m lighting my pizza oven I keep topping it up and let it burn until my thermometer reads about 450 Celsius (850 Fahrenheit) in the centre of the stone.
Then, I make sure it’s topped up, shape and top the pizza, and take a final reading before launching the pizza. Knowing the temperature of the oven before cooking will also help you to gauge how long the pizza will take and how often you will need to turn it.
This may sound complicated but you will pick up with time and practice, it’s fun! But I can’t emphasise enough how important a laser thermometer is. In my eyes it is essential!
The optimal temperature (of the centre of the stone) for a wood fired pizza oven is typically somewhere between 430-480 degrees Celsius (800-900 Fahrenheit). The perfect temperature will depend on your particular oven and your style of pizza.
In practice, great wood fired pizza can be achieved at many different temperatures so feel free to experiment.
Once the temperature of the stone starts getting up to 500 Celsius (900 Fahrenheit), the cooking starts to become uncontrollable and burning pizza becomes inevitable.
This is why I would generally recommend people to stay within the 430-480 degrees Celsius (800-900 Fahrenheit) range. This temperature should allow you to get the perfect crispiness and charring without too much risk of burning.
The extreme heat produced by a pizza oven is what allows the pizza to be soft yet crispy at the same time. These are the characteristics of a true Neapolitan wood fired pizza.
When pizza is cooked at lower temperatures, the top takes longer to cook but this means that the base is in contact with the stone for longer. Unless the pizza is quite thick, the result is then a very crispy and dry pizza with little softness to it at all.
The other problem with lower temperatures is that you cannot achieve the same charring on the crust. The extreme heat of the large flames in a pizza oven produces a slight charing that adds flavour and texture.
Also, if a wood fired pizza is kept at a lower temperature for the cooking, the pizza will cook longer and take on too much of a smoky flavour. This flavour then overpowers the main flavours of the pizza and the taste starts to resemble, well, the bottom of a dirty oven, quite frankly!
Making great wood fired pizza is quite a challenge but with plenty of practise, it’s very doable. If you’re going to make the best wood fired pizza then you’re going to need to start with the key ingredient:
Make great dough – first things first, every great wood fired pizza starts with great dough. Check out my recipe for authentic Neapolitan dough here, it’s the perfect recipe for authentic wood fired pizza! If you’ve never made dough before though, check out my no-knead Neapolitan style dough recipe here. You can still make great pizza from no-knead dough!
Once you can master the dough you’re probably about half way there! Then you’ll need to master the shaping of the pizza, which is an art form in itself.
Finally, you’ll need to understand your pizza oven and figure out how to get the best wood fired pizza from it. Through practice you’ll need to work out how hot to get your oven, how often to turn your pizza, and when to take it out.
Getting your pizza oven up to temperature and keeping it there can seem like a mountain to climb. I think we’re all so used to just switching things on these days. But you may find the fire management part enjoyable, it’s certainly very rewarding.
In a word, yes! Absolutely they are worth it. It is impossible to match pizza made in a pizza oven with a regular domestic oven. Don’t get me wrong, you can still make great pizza in a regular oven, but a pizza oven really does take it to the next level.
I highly recommend getting a portable wood fired oven (pellets are my favourite fuel). They are relatively compact and inexpensive, and the results you can achieve with them are nothing short of amazing. The fact that they are portable is an added benefit as well.
I’ll never forget the look on my friends faces when I took my pizza oven round to their place. At first I think they thought “what on earth is this silly little toy he’s brought?!”. But their faces soon changed when they saw huge flames emerging from the chimney and spilling out of the open door!
And seeing people enjoy your wood fired pizza is just one of the great feelings you get with a pizza oven. The other great filling is knowing you can have amazing Neapolitan pizza whenever you want! That, is priceless.
Now let’s get mixing!
I’m Tom Rothwell and I’m super passionate about all kinds of homemade pizza! In the last few years I've been on a quest to find the perfect pizza. Now I'm sharing what I've found out with the world!
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