How to Use an Outdoor Pizza Oven

How to Use an Outdoor Pizza Oven? [Beginner’s Guide]

If you’ve ever longed to recreate the magic of a pizzeria in your own backyard, then you’re in for a treat. In this article, I’m about to unveil to you the best-kept secrets of using an outdoor pizza like a pro. 

Here’s how to use an outdoor pizza oven to dish out professional-quality pizzas:

Give your outdoor pizza oven an hour to preheat before you start baking. Make sure to use a metal pizza peel. And most importantly, choose your fuel wisely. Dry, high-density hardwood or liquid propane are the most common fuel choices for outdoor ovens

For a more detailed discussion on outdoor pizza oven prep, cooking, and maintenance tips, keep reading. I’ll be sharing everything I’ve learned from my hands-on experience with you to help you become a better baker. 🙂

Firing up an Outdoor Pizza Oven – The Essentials

Starting the oven and maintaining the right temperature throughout the cooking process is actually 80% of the job. As someone who has been using a brick fire oven for nearly three decades, I would like to let you know that perfecting this skill takes time. 

No two ovens are built the same. So you need to be familiar with her quirks over time in order to know exactly what works for it. 

Now, outdoor ovens or brick ovens are fuelled by either wood or gas. Here’s a lowdown on how to prep an outdoor oven based on fuel type: 

Wood-fired Oven

Alright, folks, now let’s talk about firing up your outdoor wood-fired pizza oven. This step is crucial to ensure your oven reaches the desired cooking temperature. So, pay close attention!

Selecting the Right Wood:

I recommend using dry, high-density hardwoods for your fire, such as oak, maple, hickory, or fruitwood like apple or cherry. These types of wood burn hot and produce a pleasant aroma that can enhance the flavors of your pizzas. 

You can either wood chunks or pellets, depending on the type of oven you have. For portable wood-fired ovens like Ooni, I’d recommend pellets. You can also use a combination of charcoal and wood for better heat transfer and of course, better flavor. 

I’d strictly street clear of using softwoods like pine or cedar as they can create excessive smoke and impart an undesirable taste to your food.

Building the Fire:

Start by placing some small, dry kindling or newspaper at the center of the oven floor. This will help ignite the larger pieces of wood.

Arrange a small stack of medium-sized wood pieces, like twigs or small branches, around the kindling, creating a teepee-like structure.Light the kindling using a long match or a fire starter. Make sure you’re standing in a safe position and away from the flames.

As the fire grows, gradually add larger pieces of wood, building it up around the initial fire. Be careful not to smother the flames.

Controlling the Temperature:

  • You’ll notice that the temperature inside the oven will increase as the fire grows. To achieve the optimal cooking temperature for pizza, we want the oven to reach at least 700°F (370°C). The higher, the better. 
  • To control the temperature, you can adjust the airflow in your oven. You can do this by manipulating the size of the opening or chimney damper.
  • For higher temperatures, you’ve got to keep the oven entrance relatively open and allow more air to flow into the oven. This will stoke the fire and raise the temperature.
  • If you want to lower the temperature, partially close the oven entrance and reduce the airflow. This will slow down the combustion process and decrease the heat.

Preheating and Monitoring:

  • Preheating your oven is essential to ensure the cooking surface is hot and ready for your pizzas.
  • Allow the fire to burn for at least an hour to ensure the oven reaches the correct temperature. Keep an eye on the flames and adjust as needed.
  • Please do invest in a high-quality oven thermometer to monitor the internal temperature of the oven. Leaving room for guesswork is usually a bad idea in this case.
  • Remember, achieving and maintaining the right temperature takes practice. As you gain experience, you’ll become more comfortable with the process and develop a sense of timing. 

Gas-fuelled Oven

Most gas-fuelled outdoor pizza ovens are meant to run on liquid propane. The next option is natural gas. Using a gas pizza oven is relatively easier than operating a wood-fired oven. Plus, less cleanup and air pollution. What’s not to love?

So unless you have a knack for tending the fire and have a steady supply of firewood, and you are planning on slow-cooking meat and veggies in it as well, confidently go for a gas-powered oven. 

If you are going to use it exclusively for baking pizzas, you will hardly be able to tell the difference. That’s because pizzas don’t get enough time in the oven to soak up all the woody smoke. 

Anyway, here’s the simplified version of the entire process of prepping a gas outdoor oven for cooking: 

Check the Gas Supply:

  • Before anything else, ensure that you have a sufficient supply of gas, either liquid propane or natural gas.
  • Take a moment to check that your gas tank is properly connected and turned on if using liquid propane.
  • If you have a natural gas connection, verify that the gas line is securely connected and the gas valve is open.

Igniting the Oven:

  • Locate the ignition switch or control knob on your oven. It’s typically labeled as “Ignite” or “Start.”
  • To ignite the oven, turn the knob to the “Ignite” or “Start” position. This will initiate the gas flow.
  • If your oven features an electronic ignition system, press the ignition switch to create a spark that will ignite the gas.
  • In case your oven doesn’t have an electronic ignition, you can use a match or a lighter to ignite the gas. Hold it near the burner or ignition area while turning the knob to release the gas and ignite the flame.

Adjusting the Flame:

  • Once your oven is ignited, adjust the flame to achieve the desired temperature for your cooking.
  • Look for the control knobs on your oven that allow you to regulate the heat output. Turn the control knob clockwise or counter-clockwise to increase to decrease the temperature. Easy, right?

Maintaining the Flame:

  • Periodically monitor the flame with an oven thermometer to ensure it remains steady and consistent during cooking.
  • If, at any point, the flame goes out, turn off the gas supply immediately!
  • After turning off the gas, wait a few minutes to allow any accumulated gas to dissipate before attempting to relight the oven.
  • Lastly, follow the manufacturer’s instructions regarding the specific process for relighting the oven if the flame fails.
  • Now you preheat the oven for about an hour as usual. Gas ovens tend to heat up 10-15 minutes faster than wood-fired ovens, in my experience. 

Baking Pizzas in an Outdoor Oven

Here comes the moment of truth. While our oven is heating up, gear up to stretch/roll and dress the dough. 

Preparing the Dough:

  • Stretch or roll out the dough to your desired thickness and shape.
  • Place the rolled-out dough on a pizza peel or parchment paper dusted with flour or cornmeal to prevent sticking.
  • Add your sauce, cheese, and toppings. Make sure not to overload the pizza, as it may affect the cooking process.

Sliding the Pizza Into the Oven:

  • Once the oven has reached the desired temperature, it’s time to slide your prepared pizza into the oven.
  • To do this, position your pizza peel at the edge of the oven floor or a pizza stone, angling it slightly downward toward the oven surface.
  • With a quick and gentle motion, slide the pizza from the peel onto the oven floor or pizza stone. Bake for 1-2 minutes, depending on the thickness of the crust and oven temperature. It can take longer in certain ovens. So, solely rely on visual cues to determine the baking time. 

Rotating the Pizza:

  • As the pizza begins to cook, it’s super important to rotate it periodically to achieve an evenly cooked crust and toppings.
  • After about 40 seconds, use a long-handled pizza-turning peel to rotate the pizza by 180 degrees. This helps prevent uneven browning and ensures all sides cook evenly.
  • Once the pizza is cooked to your liking, carefully remove it from the oven.

Rotating the Pizza

Remember to exercise caution when working with the hot oven and tools. Use oven mitts or heat-resistant oven gloves to protect your precious hands.

Safety Considerations While Using an Outdoor Pizza Oven

Remember that you’re playing with literal fire here. So, make sure to follow the safety practices down to the last letter to avoid mishaps. 

#1. Placing the Oven on a Stable, Flat Surface:

It’s crucial to position your outdoor oven on a stable and level surface. This provides a solid foundation, minimizing the risk of the oven toppling or shifting during cooking.

Before lighting the oven, ensure it is securely placed on a flat surface, such as a sturdy table or a designated oven stand designed to handle its weight and size.

#2. Keeping a Fire Extinguisher Nearby:

Do I even need to elaborate on this point? This one’s a no-brainer. 

#3. Wearing Protective Gear:

Wear heat-resistant, Kevlar-inforced oven mitts or silicone/leather gloves to safeguard your hands and forearms while placing the pizza or adjusting the oven.

Wearing long sleeves and pants to provide an additional layer of protection against heat and potential sparks or embers.

#4. Ensuring Proper Ventilation:

Position the oven in an open area or ensure that there is proper airflow to prevent the buildup of potentially harmful fumes.

Taking Care of an Outdoor Pizza Oven

Like all things in life, outdoor ovens, too, require proper care. To clean your oven after each use:

Cleaning the Oven:

  • Allow the oven to cool down completely before cleaning.
  • Use a brush or scraper to remove any ash, debris, or food residues from the oven floor and walls.
  • For stubborn stains, create a paste using water and baking soda, apply it to the stained areas, and let it sit for a while before scrubbing gently.
  • Avoid using harsh chemicals or abrasive materials that can damage the oven’s surface.

Protecting Against the Elements:

  • To protect your outdoor pizza oven from the elements, consider using a weatherproof cover when the oven is not in use.
  • The cover should be specifically designed for your oven’s size and shape, providing protection against rain, snow, and UV rays.
  • Ensure the oven is completely cool before covering it to prevent heat buildup and condensation.

Inspecting and Maintaining the Chimney and Gasket:

  • Regularly inspect the chimney for any blockages or obstructions that may hinder proper ventilation. Do the same for the gaskets. 
  • Check for signs of damage or cracks and address them promptly to prevent further deterioration.

Regularly Checking for Cracks

Inspect the oven’s dome and walls for any cracks. Small cracks are normal and can be patched using high-temperature mortar. However, large or expanding cracks may require professional attention.

To Season or Not to Season Your Outdoor Oven?

When using a wood-fired oven, I’d strongly suggest seasoning it before the first use. This involves heating the oven gradually to allow the moisture to evaporate from the oven walls, creating a protective layer and enhancing heat retention.

The Bottom Line

So that was my two cents about how to use an outdoor pizza oven correctly. If you have any other tips or suggestions, I’m all ears. There’s one more tip before I wrap up this blog post.

Outdoor cooking is an experience worth savoring. So, make sure to have fun while baking pizzas in your brick oven and not worry too much about the technicalities. You’ll get the hang of them sooner or later. 

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