During a recent pizza-making session I had the opportunity to use a few charred oak barrel staves that are used in the aging of Maker’s Mark 46 Bourbon. As soon as the stave ignited, I was amazed at the amount of aroma that was released from the wood. Even more impressive was the amount of butterscotchy vanilla and toasted oak flavors that where able to be tasted in the finished pizza. I always assumed, due to the shorter cooking time, that the subtle smoke flavors of different woods wouldn’t influence the finished pizza that much.
While I’ve been burning a combination of oak, apple and cherry wood and following Forno Bravo’s wood recommendations (see link below), I never thought twice about manipulating the smoke flavor of pizza like I have with meats, grilling and barbeque. As noted, always use hardwoods in your Forno Bravo oven.
Rarely do we have the opportunity to taste test the different woods in a single cooking session. I compiled a list of different woods that are typically used with pizza making as well as longer smoking / cooking methods. I hope you find it useful.
Oak is king. It burns slow, it burns hot, and it imparts a wonderful strong smoke flavor. Because oak is stronger, and it typically lacks a distinct flavor, adding a fruit wood is a way to balance its strength and add some sweetness.
Fruit woods like apple and cherry burn hot and slow as well, but their smoke is soft and sweet in flavor. Eating a cold piece of pizza the next day is a great way to taste the individual smoke characteristics.
Peach, plum and fig woods are regional and not always available, but all three add a very delicate sweetness to your cooking with moderate high heat. These woods can also have a floral character when they have not been sitting around for too long.
Hickory is a big boy. Intense meaty smoke is one of its benefits, but like anything too much of a good thing can overpower and leave you feeling like you took a bite from your ash bucket.
Pecan is an awesome nut wood. High heat, long burn and a nutty richness are the glorious trinity here. Be leery; too much can lead to a bitter aftertaste. I’ve smoked with pecan shells in the past and briefly considered trying it in the Forno Bravo but decided it was not worth the effort.
Almond wood is mild and it imparts a nice nutty sweetness; however, it has a very light ash and it can quickly cover your pizza masterpiece.
Walnut wood is scary; if you can even split it into smaller pieces, it will blow your smoke top with bold, bitter, heavy flavors that are good for bbq but not for pizza making.
Alder wood is prized for its cool burn and sweet, delicate flavor. Typically it is used for smoking fish. Too delicate for the pizza oven, its flavor is over shadowed by high heat wood you would be burning.
Just like grapes that go into making wine, as well as other fruits, vegetables and foods, the individual growing areas, soil and climate conditions of the trees, the “terrior” influences the final flavor of the wood being burned. Simply said, oak grown in California will have a different flavor than oak grown in Georgia.
My recipe for pizza-making wood burning:
Oak, oak, oak and a touch of pecan.
Burn it down to the coals.
Add cherry and/or apple wood.
Cook your pizza.
If you are in Kentucky and happen to find yourself on the Bourbon Trail, swing by Maker’s Mark Distillery and pick up some charred barrel staves and have fun. It goes without saying having a few sips of the Maker’s 46 will round out the flavor experience. Hope you enjoy.
Until next week, feast well.