Wood-Fired Pizza Oven Mistakes

7 Wood-Fired Pizza Oven Mistakes: [Expert’s Tips to Avoid]

When it comes to cooking pizza in a wood-fired oven, it’s easy to get carried away by the romance of the flame and the mesmerizing glow of the embers. However, there’s more to it than just tossing in a few logs and letting the heat do its magic. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced baker, we’ve all made mistakes that can make or break a perfectly good pie.

From not allowing enough time for the oven to heat up to building the oven on an uneven surface, using the wrong type of wood, or using too much wood, the list of mistakes is long. But don’t let that deter you! With the right knowledge and a little bit of know-how, you’ll be whipping up wood-fired pies that are not only delicious but a work of art.

I’ll guide you through the most common wood-fired oven mistakes and how to avoid them. Whether you’re looking to up your pizza-making game or simply want to know how to keep your oven in tip-top shape, I’ve got you covered.

Let’s get to the point:

7 Mistakes to Avoid When Making Pizza in Wood Fire Oven

As someone who has been passionately baking pizzas from scratch since her college days, I have made my fair share of mistakes while baking in wood-fired ovens. In this article, I’ve compiled a list of the most common mistakes people make while baking in wood-fired ovens.

Mistake #1: Not Curing the Oven Properly

Why That’s a Problem:

Not properly curing your wood-fired oven can lead to several issues. This leads to hot spots and cold spots, making it difficult to achieve a consistent bake. Moreover, a lack of curing can also make the crust stick to the cooking surface.

For those who don’t know what curing means, it’s simply the process of removing moisture from the clay to prepare it for cooking. This involves heating the oven to high temperatures over a period of time (up to 4 hours over the span of 4-5 days).

Solution:

With my own oven, I went through the 5-day curing process! On day 1, I kept the temperature steady at 60C/140F. On day 2, the oven hit 100C/215F. On day 3, it was 150C/300F. On day 4, I cranked up the heat to 200C/400F, and finally, on day 5, I went with 250C/480F.

Now, this worked for my oven. But since each oven is different, you might have to play around with the heat a bit to get the right results.

Mistake #2: Using the Wrong Type of Wood

Why That’s a Problem:

This is another common pitfall to avoid when using a wood-fired pizza oven for the first time. Using the wrong type of wood can lead to a variety of problems, making your baking experience far from ideal. If your wood-fired oven is creating way more smoke than it should, it’s most likely the wood.

To avoid these problems, I prefer sticking to natural hardwoods, such as oak, beech, or hickory. These woods are perfect for wood-fired ovens because they don’t release any harmful chemicals when they burn, and they also emit less smoke compared to softwoods. 

Besides that, here are a few other things to keep in mind while choosing wood for your outdoor oven:

  • Avoid using greenwood (fresh wood) as they contain a lot of moisture. Excess moisture can lead to excessive smoke, longer cooking times, and more ash in the oven.
  • Avoid softwoods. They are not dense like hardwoods and can easily break apart, producing more smoke during the cooking process.
  • The bark of some varieties of wood can also release a lot of smoke and ash when burned. If you’re using the right type of hardwood and still experiencing a lot of smoke, I’d suggest removing the bark from your wood.
  • Woods high in sap or resin content are more likely to produce excessive smoke due to the combustion of these genetically volatile substances.

Solution:

Seasoned, kiln-dried hardwoods such as oak, maple, or cherry are the best options for wood-fired ovens as they burn more cleanly and produce-long lasting fire. Cleaner burn means less smoke, ash, and other harmful particulate matter.

Problem #3: Using Too Much Wood And/Or Kindling

Why That’s a Problem:

You need to be mindful of the amount of wood and kindling you are using when starting a fire in your wood-fired oven. Too much fuel can lead to a number of problems, including fire hazards, temperature regulation issues, and an uneven bake. Let me elaborate on why:

Adding too much wood to the wood-fired oven can have a number of consequences. First and foremost, it can be a fire hazard. When there is too much fuel in the oven, the fire can become too large and intense, potentially causing damage to the oven itself or even posing a threat to the surrounding area.

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That’s not it. Having too much fuel in the oven can make it difficult to regulate the temperature and maintain an even cook. This can result in inconsistent cooking, with some areas being over or undercooked.

Starting the fire with a massive amount of kindling can also be problematic. That’s because kindling is designed to help get the fire started, not to provide ongoing fuel. If you add too much kindling at the beginning, you run the risk of smothering the fire, making it difficult to get it started or keep it going.

Solution:

Keep a close eye on the amount of wood and kindling you’re using for heating. Not only does this help you be more eco-conscious, but it also prevents any unwanted buildup of ash inside the oven.

When starting the fire, it’s best to opt for larger pieces of dry wood, as smaller pieces tend to burn faster and can create more ash. Use the small pieces later on, as needed, to maintain a steady temperature.

Problem #4: Not Building the Fire Properly

Why That’s a Problem:

When it comes to building a fire in a pizza oven, one of the most overlooked factors is proper airflow. You might be tempted to pack the wood tightly together, but this can actually suffocate the fire, making it harder to get enough oxygen-rich air flowing.

And speaking of the wood, it’s important to give it the proper placement, too. Throwing the wood right into the fire may seem like the quickest way to heat things up, but it actually slows down the process.

Solution:

Here are some tried and tested tips on building and maintaining the fire properly in a wood-fired oven:

First and foremost, avoid packing the wood too closely.

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Two, place the wood a little farther away from the flame and let it soak up the heat for a few minutes before spreading the fire and putting the wood on top. This will ensure you have an evenly heated oven with plenty of air circulating to keep the fire burning strong.

And three, keep the ashes cleared while cooking to ensure a speedy burn. A pile of ashes under the wood blocks the airflow and slows down the burn. So, remember to periodically clear them away for an evenly heated oven.

I would also recommend using the box style or top-down method instead of the teepee method to build a fire. The latter, in my experience, produces more smoke and ashes.

Problem #5: Not Allowing Enough Time for the Oven to Heat Up

Why That’s a Problem:

Rushing the heating process by not giving your oven enough time to get hot enough is another common mistake. Inadequate preheating will both delay the baking time and result in uneven browning. In the worst-case scenario, the top will be baked way before the crust is cooked through.

Solution:

Wood-fired ovens take up to an hour (or longer on cold, windy days) to come to the right temperature. Be patient. That’s the only “pro tip” you need in this case.

Problem #6: Not Using a Thermometer to Monitor the Oven’s Temperature

Why That’s a Problem:

I hate to break it to you that the built-in temperature gauge on the oven may not always be the most accurate way to measure the heat inside. Why, you ask? Well, there are a few reasons.

Firstly, these gauges often don’t take into account the heat distribution throughout the oven, which can be uneven. This means that just because the gauge says the oven is at a certain temperature, it doesn’t necessarily mean that all parts of the oven are at that temperature. 

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Secondly, these gauges can get affected by outside factors like wind and humidity, which can impact the readings.

Solution:

I would strongly recommend investing in an infrared thermometer to check the temperature of the cooking surface. You may not need it anymore once you get accustomed to the quirks of your oven. I use mine to this date. I enjoy erring on the side of caution.

Problem #7: Not Cleaning the Oven Regularly

Why That’s a Problem:

Wood-fired ovens, for the most part, are self-cleaning. That’s because the high temperature simply burns off all the food spillage and kills any germs and bacteria on the cooking surface. 

However, ash and soot can accumulate over time and create a build-up within the oven. This not only affects the appearance of the oven but also interferes with the cooking process by hindering the proper flow of heat and air.

Solution:

Here’s how to clean a wood-fired oven correctly after each use:

  • After each cooking session, give the ash time to cool down before removing it from the oven. Then use a metal brush/plastic spatula/peel to sweep it into a metal container for disposal.
  • Sweep the chimney pipe and cap regularly to prevent soot buildup. If it has already developed soot stains, use a hard-bristled brush to remove all the tar and carbon. This process demands a lot of elbow grease. If the stains are too stubborn, you might not be able to get rid of them completely.
  • For the oven floor, use an oven brush or your pizza peel to scrape the burnt bits. If you want to be more thorough, wrap a damp cloth around your pizza peel and give the surface a good wipe. 

To remove tough stains, make a paste of equal parts of baking soda and water. Dab some of it on a damp cloth and rub the target area with it. Wipe it down with another damp cloth. Finally, wipe off the excess water with a kitchen towel, and you’re good to go. 

  • Wipe the exterior of the oven with a damp cloth as well to get rid of the soot stains and ash. 

P.S., Do Not use any cleaning products on the external dome of the oven without reading the manual first. Certain kinds of solvents found in certain cleaning products may not be suitable for waterproof sealant and heat-resistant paint used on some ovens.

Parting Words

Cooking with a wood-fired oven can be a rewarding experience, but it’s important to avoid the aforementioned mistakes for optimal results. By following the expert tips mentioned in this post, you’ll be able to make the most of your wood-fired oven and enjoy perfectly cooked pizzas and other dishes every time. Happy baking!

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