How to Light a Fire in a Wood-Fired Pizza Oven

This image shows wood fired pizza oven

 

Once you've tasted pizzas cooked in a wood-fired pizza oven, you'll find it hard to go back to store-bought pizza ever again. There's something magical about the charred smokey flavour on your crispy based pizza that can only be achieved when cooking in a wood-fired pizza oven. 

 

Lighting a wood-fired pizza oven isn't dissimilar to lighting a fire in your fireplace and is relatively simple provided you have the right wood and tools. 

 

Here's what you'll need:

  1. Natural firelighters
  2. Kindling
  3. Dry hardwood
  4. Matches/ fire lighters
  5. Pizza oven brush
  6. Pizza oven scraper
  7. Long sleeve heat proof gloves

 

Firelighters - I personally recommend using all-natural firelighters made from compressed cardboard rather than the white "jiffy" style firelighters that are packed full of chemicals. Remember, your wood-fired pizza oven is an enclosed oven that you'll be cooking your food in. Don't put anything inside the oven that you don't want to taste. 

 

This image shows wood firelighters

 

Kindling - Use a dry kindling that is made from natural hardwood. Steer clear of any treated wood or any wet wood that you've just picked from your garden. 

 

Dry hardwood - I cannot emphasize the importance of using hardwood that is dry. Do not use firewood sold in prepackaged bags from the petrol station. This wood is not dry, will not light properly and will not burn hot enough to get to 450C cooking temperatures.

 

Ideally, your hardwood would have been dried for a minimum 6-12 months and stored undercover. My preference is to use double split redgum or double split ironbark. Both burn very hot and will impart a strong smokey flavour. The size of the double splits should be roughly 30cm long and 10cm thick.

 

This image shows kindlings fired on pizza oven

 

Wood scraper - You'll need a tool to move your wood in the wood-fired pizza oven. Remember - the oven will be 450C when you need to move the fire so make sure that the handle is long enough to reach the back of your wood-fired oven otherwise you'll burn yourself

 

Pizza oven brush - A long-handled brush made from a material that won't burn such as wire or horsehair is needed to sweep the pizza stones/bricks. This ensures that the majority of the ash from the fire is removed from the base of the wood-fired pizza oven before you put your pizza dough in to cook.

 

This image shows pizza oven brush

 

Long sleeve heat proof gloves - Gloves are often the thing that most people forget the first time they fire up their wood-fired pizza oven. Even if your pizza oven brush, scraper and peel are long enough to reach the back of the pizza oven, when your oven is 450C, you won't be able to get within about half a meter of your oven door opening. 

 

This image shows heat proof gloves used in adding kindling to pizza oven

 

Once you have all your essentials, it's time to get the fire started. 

 

  1. Place 3 firelighters in the middle of your pizza oven in a triangle formation about 2 inches apart
  2. Place 6-8 pieces of kindling over the firelighters
  3. Place 5-6 pieces of hardwood splits in a tee-pee formation over the top of the kindling
  4. Light the firelighters either using matches or a long-handled fire starter. 
  5. Keep the door off your wood-fired pizza oven and the flue completely open to maximize airflow and help the fire get started. 

After about 15 minutes, the hardwood splits should be fully burning and any resins on the wood burnt off. Close the flue halfway and put the door on the wood-fired pizza oven, leaving it choked about 5cm so air can still get through.

 

Continue to monitor the temperature of the oven until it reaches the ideal cooking temperature. For pizzas, I recommend cooking at temperatures between 400 and 450C. For roasts and bread, I recommend cooking at 200-220C - similar to the temperatures you would cook in your normal kitchen oven. 

 

This image shows pizza cooked on wood fired pizza oven

 

Once the oven has reached the desired cooking temperature, remove the door and use a scraper tool to move the fire to the back of the oven. Once the burning splits are at the back of the oven, use a pizza oven brush to sweep the ash and small embers to the back of the oven. This will give you a nice clean surface to put your pizza dough onto. 

 

Personally, I like to cook my pizzas directly onto the brick floor of the wood-fired pizza oven as I find it gives the crispiest base and the most authentic flavour. Some people however prefer to cook in pizza trays as it makes it easier to handle the pizzas - put them into the oven, spin them around and remove them once cooked.

 

This image shows two pizzas cooked on pizza oven

 

If you're one of those people who prefer to cook in trays, just make sure your pizza base is very thin so you still get a nice crisp base. Alternatively, start out cooking in the trays, then remove the pizza from the tray to crisp up the base towards the end of the cook. 

 

This image shows two delicious pizzas

 

Regardless of whether you like to cook directly on the bricks or whether you like to cook in pizza trays, once your wood is at the back of the wood fired pizza oven, you're ready to cook

 

 

 

 

 

 

by: Michael Wilkie