Homemade pizza provides a different type of experience in addition to the renowned tastiness of pizza – you get to immerse yourself in the exciting preparation steps, one of which is firing up the oven.
In sharp contrast to kitchen ovens, outdoor pizza ovens are more extensive and able to heat up to high temperatures. Wood-fired and charcoal-fired ovens are some of the most familiar oven types, and it is only normal to wonder if these fuels can be interchanged, regardless of what fuel type the oven was designed for.
Today, we will clarify if it is possible not to use charcoal in a wood-fired pizza oven.
The Wood Fired Pizza Oven
There are several fuel options available when it comes to pizza ovens. Nevertheless, the wood oven has always been the most popular choice. There is a distinct flavor and crustiness that the flash of open flames from burning wood creates. If you care much about authenticity, the wood-fired oven is the best to make a real Neapolitan-style pizza.
Most wood ovens have a dome shape and feature an interior chamber where wood is brought to burn slowly and consistently. One of the highlights of wood-fired pizza ovens is that they can heat up to higher temperatures compared to typical kitchen ovens.
The burning wood heats up the interior to the required temperature which could be anything between 650°F – 900°F. An adequately heated oven can still be used well after the wood burns out, as they are designed for a high level of heat retainment.
We would recommend that new bakers use an oven temperature at all times until they are so familiar with the process and temperature dynamics. As authentic as the wood-fired pizza oven, there are special climes where coal-fired and gas-powered pizza ovens are rated higher.
Using a Wood-Fired Pizza Oven
Your first few times using a wood-fired oven to make pizza will require some extra care. It doesn’t matter if you have considerable experience baking in ovens. It is still reasonable to take certain precautions on your first use of a new oven. Some of the essential things to consider and carry out when using a wood-fired oven are discussed below.
Start 2 hours early
Forgetting the heat-up time an oven requires is one of the prerequisites for a bad baking experience. Electric ovens only require the press of a button to get them going, but you have to feed in the wood and get the fire going in this instance. Most ovens need the wood to burn for about 1 hour, 30 minutes to 2 hours to get to the required 600°F – 900°F required temperature range.
Use simple hardwood
Simple hardwood is still the best fuel to use, but many people prefer fruitwood like almonds, pecan, and cherry. In addition to the fact that simple hardwood burns hotter, you run a lesser risk of releasing toxic chemicals into your oven interior. Avoid pine and other similar softwood, as they may produce toxic chemicals.
Use an oven thermometer
It is really essential that you have a thermometer in the interior before you fire up the oven, more so if you are newly experiencing the oven. They may not always give the most accurate readings, but you’ll get a better sense of how hot the internal temperature has become and whether it is ready for the dough or not.
Close the smoke control
After the oven might have heated up to the required temperature, it is best to close the smoke control to keep as much heat inside as possible. You may have to open it at specific periods during the baking process, as you don’t want the interior to be too smoky.
Use a Pizza Stone
It is entirely possible to use the oven without a pizza stone, but that in itself will influence how your pizza comes out eventually. Pizza stones make for more even heat distribution, and in the absence, a more hands-on approach will be required in turning the pizza to ensure even heat distribution.
Rotate the pizza
You should also have a peel nearby, so you can keep turning the pizza for even heat distribution. Even if you are using a pizza stone, it is still essential that you rotate occasionally. A typical kitchen oven will feature air-forced blowing for even heat distribution.
Using Charcoal in a Wood-Fired Pizza Oven
Now, let’s discuss the several dynamics of using charcoal in a wood-fired oven. Is it possible? And should it be done?
Can You Use It?
It is possible to use charcoal in a wood-fired oven, and it is, in fact, not an uncommon practice. It works best when you use lump charcoal instead of broken-down ones. Charcoal and wood burn in different manners, and it is important that you understand the differences. Charcoal is, particularly, a great fuel to recharge the oven with when the temperature is on the decline.
Regardless of the suitability of charcoal for wood-fired ovens, you should always check with your manufacturer, as some do specify whether you can use their products in that manner or not. We recommend that you not go against the instructions if it is clearly stated not to use charcoal in the oven.
Charcoal Fired Pizza
Whether it is in a wood or charcoal-fired oven, charcoal fuel produces a different effect in pizzas. Neapolitan-style pizza has always been made in wood ovens, but the crispier and chewier nature of New York-style pizzas has something to do with charcoal. It burns more fiercely than wood, hence its crispier nature.
Pizza ovens use a special type of charcoal called “lump hardwood.” Lump hardwood is made from compressed pieces of crushed wood with a high level of volatile organic compounds, but low levels of ash. The low level of ash means that it will not cause a fire in a pizza oven to burn hotter and faster. This is beneficial for pizzas because the crust is cooked before the toppings are melted, making for a crispier crust.
Pizza ovens come in a variety of shapes and sizes, but they all have one thing in common: they need a fuel source. Some pizza oven owners use gas, while others use coal or wood to heat up their ovens. Coal burns cleanly and produces very little ash, which makes it ideal for pizza ovens. However, coal can be hard to come by for some people and must be purchased from a store or post office.
If you own a pizza oven and want to be the best wood-fired pizza chef, you need to know how to use it. For starters, you can’t just place the coals anywhere and hope for the best. Generally, the coals should be placed in a circular pattern in one quadrant of the oven’s interior, no more than two rows deep.
If you have been wondering if it is safe to fuel your wood oven with charcoal, it is relatively safe to do so.
However, the ultimate decision should be based on the manufacturer’s instructions. The high heat produced by charcoal can crack your oven, so you have to make sure that the material can handle charcoal burning. Anyways, you could as well get a dedicated charcoal-fired pizza oven if you can afford one.