A Guide to Cooking with Wood-Fired Pizza Ovens

Beyond cooking the perfect pizza, restaurants use wood-fired pizza ovens for all types of dishes. So even though you may love your wood-fired or hybrid pizza oven for its ability to deliver pizzas with consistently crunchy crusts and ooey-gooey cheese, if you’re not exploring the many other foods that can be elevated by cooking them in a pizza oven, you’re probably missing out.

These dishes include:

  • Meats
  • Vegetables
  • Pasta
  • Bread
  • Desserts

At Fontana Forni, we love encouraging wood or hybrid outdoor pizza oven owners to use their ovens to their full potential. That means searing, roasting, baking, slow cooking, barbequing, grilling, steaming, and simmering such a varied range of foods they may never need another cooking appliance again.

Want to learn how to make the most of your wood-fired pizza oven? Read on!

Cooking in Wood-Fired Pizza Ovens

Cooking in wood-fired pizza ovens is slightly different from using the oven and stove top in your home. Instead of setting a specific temperature on the oven or turning a knob to adjust the temperature of a cooktop burner, the amount of heat in the oven is determined by how much heat energy is being released from the burning wood.

As wood burns and turns to embers, it gives off more heat. Using wood-fired outdoor pizza ovens requires tossing out what you know about cooking temperatures and cooking times. Luckily, for those of you who prefer following recipes to the letter, each Fontana Forni wood-fired and hybrid pizza oven comes with a thermometer on the outside of the unit to help you gauge the temperature of your pizza stones throughout the cooking process. Although this can help you keep track of the approximate temperature of your oven, if you want to be even more accurate, an infrared thermometer is sure to do the trick as it measures the air temperature inside the oven instead.

Unlike other kitchen equipment, wood-fired pizza ovens don’t just make cooking a lot more fun, but they can also add loads of smoky wood flavor depending on the types of wood chips you use. All you need is to keep your wood fire low and slow for at least 45 minutes to get as much smokiness into your food as possible. Just imagine the endless possibilities of smoked meat, veggies, and even desserts, all cooked in the comfort of your own home!

One drawback is that keeping a wood fire low and slow enough to cook and smoke meat properly can be tricky. For an easier smoking process, opting for our hybrid pizza oven that allows you to control temperatures with a gas burner could be the best choice for you.

Learning Temperature Scales for Wood-Fired Pizza Ovens

The type of cooking you want to do in authentic pizza ovens will determine what temperature you need to aim for. You control the temperature by changing the amount of wood you load into the oven, as well as how long you allow the oven to preheat. This doesn’t mean cooking in a wood-fired oven is complicated. In general, the temperature scale is very similar to what you are already familiar with and use when cooking with your oven or cooktop.

And with a Fontana Forni oven, it’s even easier. Unlike other wood-fired pizza ovens, we build each of our ovens with a damper to maximize the control you have over internal temperature. Our ovens also feature built-in baffles in the chimney that slow down escaping heat and help retain heat for longer.

  • Slow Cook/Slow Roast: You can use your wood-fired oven to slow roast and slow cook meals, from pot roasts to pulled pork, stews, and beans. The temperature gauge on the wood-fired oven should be maintained between 200°F and 250°F.
  • Baking Desserts: You can bake desserts like pies, cakes, and cookies in your wood-fired oven. You can even bake scones! The ideal temperature for baking desserts is between 300°F to 350°F.
  • Baking Bread/General Baking & Reheating: For general baking or baking your favorite homemade bread, you want to keep your wood-fired pizza oven between 400°F and 450°F.
  • Roasting/Grilling/Baking Hearth Bread: Roasting requires higher temperatures, between 500°F and 550°F. Remember, when using your oven at this temperature range, foods will brown faster, which is perfect for making seared steaks, hamburgers, brats, and other meaty dishes. When grilling or baking in a pizza oven, opt for cast iron pots and pans as these will hold up the best at high temperatures. Just keep in mind that most of these tools will be made for use in an oven, and not on direct heat like they are when placed on pizza oven stones. If you’re worried your equipment may be damaged by the heat, try lowering your cooking temperatures slightly.
  • Baking Pizzas/Calzones: To make brick oven pizza like you get at your favorite restaurant, you’ll need an oven that can reach temperatures of up to 1000°F depending on the type of pizza and dough you’re making. This is to ensure your pizzas are always cooked to perfection without burning the crust or leaving soggy bits in the center.

Tips for Maintaining Desired Pizza Oven Temperature

Man fueling a woodfired pizza oven with kiln dried wood

The key to cooking with wood in a wood-fired oven is understanding how to regulate and maintain desired temperature levels. Unlike the oven in your home, a wood-fired oven is designed to absorb and retain heat. Once the desired temperature is reached, you can let the fire go out and allow the embers to maintain temperature levels.

Getting your wood-fired oven to the right temperature level starts with making a small fire and gradually adding dry wood to it until you reach the exact temperature level you need or slightly higher. You can always use the oven damper or door to cool the interior temperature down if things get too hot.

For lower temperatures, you do not need as much wood as you do to make pizza. For instance, if you want to bake pizzas, you will want to start a small kindling fire and keep adding wood until you reach 700°F+. The amount of wood you need will depend on the type of wood you’re using, the environment you’re cooking in, and how dry the wood is.

Another difference between wood-fired ovens and the oven in your kitchen is the time it will take to reach the right temperature. While regular ovens can heat up in a matter of minutes, the process of gradually adding more wood to your fire is more time-consuming. While a Fontana Forni pizza oven and a regular indoor oven will reach 450°F in roughly the same amount of time, getting to the 700°F+ mark will take around 30 minutes. In comparison, traditional ceramic wood-fired pizza ovens take two to four hours to reach those same temperature levels.

Once you reach the right temperature, you will also need to wait for the fire to die down to embers before cooking, which can take anywhere from 20 to 45 minutes depending on the type of wood you are using.

To maintain your desired temperature while cooking, you’ll also need to add one piece of wood to your fire every 15 minutes or so. It’s also important to remember that opening and closing the oven door will cause temperatures to gradually drop so keep an eye on your oven’s temperature reading as you go. The only exception to this rule is roasting or slow cooking, which will likely need you to keep the oven door shut, preventing any heat loss.

Strategic Wood Placement for the Perfect Cook

Just like you can control the settings on a regular oven you can adjust your pizza oven’s “settings” by moving embers around the inside of the oven.

Pushing embers into a pile can create a hotter spot for searing nearby while making other parts of the oven cool enough for baking. For long, even cooking, spreading the embers out across the floor of the oven before pushing them toward the oven walls can help ensure your oven is evenly heated.

When starting your fire, your best option will be to do so on the right or left side of the oven, as the heat will follow the contour of the oven’s dome-shaped roof, circulating from left to right or vice versa.

Avoid starting the fire at the back of the oven as this will simply result in heat following the contour of the roof to the mouth of the unit and escaping whenever you open the oven door.

It’s All in the Wood

Kiln dried oak wood from Fontana Forni

The maximum temperature your wood-fired pizza oven can reach and its ability to maintain even temperatures over time depend on the type of wood you use. Wood that isn’t properly dried will produce more smoke due to the moisture within, and as a result will burn more slowly while generating less overall heat.

It’s important to be aware of the differences between softwoods and hardwoods. Softwoods (like pine and birch) have a high resin content, so they burn quickly and will produce a lot of smoke soot and creosote. By contrast, hardwoods (like oak, apple, maple, and cherry) have a lower resin content and burn much cleaner and longer.

What you’re looking for to make cooking in your wood pizza oven a breeze is high-quality kiln-dried firewood. Not only is kiln-dried firewood completely moisture-free, making it easier to light, but it also burns at much higher temperatures than other types of wood. Kiln-dried wood is also far more dense than air-dried wood or naturally dried wood, so it can burn longer at significantly higher temperatures.

At Fontana Forni, we stock ultra-premium kiln-dried oak wood. Thanks to the density of this wood, it burns longer than other alternatives, making it the perfect choice for any type of pizza oven cooking. Each package of wood you order on our website is enough to make 15 pizzas, making it easy to gauge how many packets you’ll need for whatever you plan to cook.

Kiln-dried wood has almost no moisture in it, which also ensures it produces much less smoke. This is important for baking breads, desserts, and pizzas, when you may not necessarily want to add a smoky flavor to your dish.

Recipes for Wood-Fired Pizza Ovens

Now that you understand how wood-fired pizza ovens work, let’s take a look at some recipes you will want to try out as soon as you get your new outdoor wood-fired oven!

Wood-Fired Pizzas

Man loading a pizza into a wood fired oven

Preheat the oven by starting the fire. You want the oven air and floor temperature to reach roughly 700°F before baking your pizza. While the oven is preheating, remove your pizza dough from the refrigerator. You want to let the dough set out and rest for two hours as it comes up to room temperature.

After resting the dough, sprinkle flour on a countertop and lightly dust both sides of the dough. Gradually stretch or roll it out to the desired shape and size. Next, add pizza sauce and spread evenly over the dough, leaving about one-quarter to a half-inch of dough around the edges. Add a light layer of cheese, then all of your favorite toppings.

Once your pizza oven has reached 700°F+ degrees, carefully launch the pizza into the oven at a slight angle (10-15 degrees) using a pizza peel. You will need to rotate the pizza every 30 seconds or so, as the side closest to the heat source will cook faster than the opposite side. Continue doing this for an even bake. Your pizza should be done in about two to two-and-a-half minutes.

Wood-Fired Meats

Preheat the wood-fired oven and bring it up to 550°F. You want to make a fire in the middle of the oven. Once the fire has gone out and the embers remain, place an elevated grilling rack over the coals and shut the door. Allow the elevated stainless-steel rack to preheat for about 10 minutes.

Add your favorite meats like steak, hamburgers, brats, chicken, or fish to the top of the grilling rack. (You can also cook on cast iron or carbon steel cookware.) Allow to cook for several minutes before flipping. For instance, for a medium steak, cook on each side for three to four minutes.

For roasted meats, you want to preheat the oven to around 400°F and then maintain a temperature between 350°F and 375°F. Roast the meat how you normally would in an oven-safe pan or cast iron pan.