A History of Pizza Ovens

It’s hard to imagine a time when there wasn’t pizza readily available whenever you wanted it. Today’s modern conveniences have made it easy to get pizza with a simple phone call. It’s become a staple all over the world, whether you want to grab a slice on the go or order a pie for your whole family.

However, pizza has a rich history that goes far beyond the stainless steel pizza oven being used in many restaurants nowadays. Wood fired pizza ovens date back at least 4,000 years. While wood-fired ovens have changed in design and functionality throughout time, pizza has been around for centuries!

Let’s take a look at how the Italian pizza oven came to be, and how it transformed the way we enjoy pizza—even today!

What Is Wood-Fired Pizza?

Before we dip into the history of brick oven cooking, it’s important to know what makes wood-fired pizza so unique.

A wood-fired oven is heated just once, during the firing stage. This is different from most modern ovens you’ll find in homes today. The embers are moved around the oven, from the back to the front, and to each side. Because the oven is so well-insulated, it will remain hot for hours—sometimes even days! Once the embers have cooled, they are removed and the firing process begins again.

Baking pizza in this type of oven requires the dough to be placed directly on the hearth. It will get a crispy crust from the stone and can bake fully in a matter of minutes, thanks to the intense heat.

Brick Oven Cooking Origins

To discuss the start of brick oven cooking, we have to go back to Ancient Egypt, and even central Europe, where the earliest ovens were used in 29,000 BC. These ovens often had roasting pits and were used to cook mammoths.

In Ukraine, pits of hot coals covered in ashes were used in 20,000 BC to cook meats wrapped in leaves. The first notable bread-baking ovens were popular in both Greece and Naples, Italy. They were front-loading ovens that were often used as places for people to gather, socialize, and eat.

There were even brick ovens uncovered in ancient Pompeii, still in excellent condition. Because of the way they were made and their locations, it’s easy to make comparisons between this ancient city’s use of their ovens and the way people gathered—almost like modern-day pizza parlors.

Italy and Family Ovens

As brick ovens made their way to Europe during medieval times, they began to take the shape of what we know as the more traditional Roman-style chamber. They featured a domed chamber with a front-loading system and a front vent.

In Northern Europe, these ovens tended to be larger because they were technically owned by local lords, not private individuals or families. Because of this, the lords would charge the serfs for baking bread.

Italy adopted a slightly different system, and most ovens in the area were smaller and owned by families. This is where the brick oven pizza we know and love today really started to take shape.

Homes and farmhouses throughout the Tuscan region eventually all seemed to have brick or stone ovens, and many of them are still functional to this day.

wood fired pizza

The 18th Century Oven Split

During the Victorian era, different areas of Europe began to develop their own variations on the brick oven. The French Oven (sometimes called a White Oven) was developed with a firing chamber below the cooking surface. They were designed to cook large quantities of bread at one time for a higher production output. This is in contrast to the brick ovens that had been used previously, which often had the source of heat and the cooking surface in the same chamber.

During the Industrial Revolution in England, metal ovens began to become popular, especially when it came to home use. This, again, changed the way people cooked at home, and it certainly changed the way pizza was made both professionally and at home.

The Rebirth of Wood-Fired Pizza Ovens

Traditional wood-fired ovens have seen ups and downs in popularity for decades. After the surge in popularity of metal ovens, a sort of renaissance period took over in the 1970s, where people began to re-discover the beauty of wood-fired cooking. This caused a sudden popularity uptick in brick ovens once more.

Yet, by the 1990s, innovation and convenience began to rule once again, especially when it came to the pizza industry. Modern insulating materials made it easier than ever for restaurants and pizzerias to cut their cooking times significantly.

Today, different techniques and forms of technology are being combined to offer the old-world way of cooking pizza at home in a way that is easy, fast, and inexpensive. That’s why pizza oven kits are so popular!

people talking in front of a outdoor pizza oven

Outdoor Pizza Ovens for the Home

With so many innovations in the world of pizza ovens, it’s no surprise that more people want to experience freshly baked, perfect pizza at home.

Fontana Forni USA has made it easier than ever to bring your backyard pizza oven dreams to life. With ovens to fit different needs, spaces, and budgets, you can create an outdoor oven haven to bake perfectly crisp bread, pizza, and so much more.

Our outdoor pizza ovens use wood or gas and come in different sizes to fit almost any backyard patio space. If you’ve ever wanted a pizza oven in your own backyard, but weren’t sure if it was possible, contact us today! We’ll work with you to help you decide which home oven is right for you.

As you can see, the history of wood-fired brick ovens is incredibly rich and full of changes. Continuing the tradition of wood-fired baking is important to us, at Fontana Forni, and we hope you’ll take advantage of using this age-old method to create the best pizza you’ll ever taste.