What kind of wood to use
Hello, this is my first time in this forum and I've read through the instructions on buillding my own Pompei oven, and it seems like the project for me this summer. My dad always does contracting work and so he may even be able to help.
I just wanted to ask what kind of wood one burns inside the oven? I would think anything that doesn't give off a smell (like pine!) but is there a kind of wood that's readily available say in Home Depot or Lowe's that's specially for this? :confused:
The wonderful world of wood-fired cooking awaits. :)
You can burn most woods, other than pine, fir or cedar, which are sooty, sappy and don't put much heat in the oven.
Oak is good, and fruit and nut are really nice -- almond, apple, walnut.
What about mesquite? Would this give a flavor to the pizza/bread?
Mesquite...Oh yeah :p
In order for wood to impart flavor into food, such as when smoking meat in BBQ cooking the fuel must be burned at a low temp to create smoke. When I'm doing "Q" such as pulled pork, ribs or even a bird my temp ranges from 180-225 maybe 250. At those temps wood, wet or dry will smoke tons. Much hotter and you will lose the smoke.
So.....when you are stoking your pizza oven you initially get smoke until the fire gets hot and you are on your way to those 700 degree temps you want for cooking pizza. At that point you have no smoke, and unlikely will gain any true smoke flavor. If you do, you might have a hard time distinguishing Mesquite from Oak.
Most serious barbecue cooks here in Texas, (or in any part of the country where "Q" is king) won't use Mesquite. At the proper BBQ temps, Mesquite imparts a harsh smoke flavor to the meat. Mesquite is good for a hot fire though and therefore a good candidate for getting that masonry up to temps for cooking pizza, just don't count on (or wish for) smoke flavor from Mesquite while it's burning red hot.
Although I have not used a wood fired oven yet, to get a smoky flavor to the pie, I'd stoke the oven to temp with Oak, Hickory and perhaps even Mesquite if it was all I had. Then just before throwing the pies in I'd start a smaller fire with a fruity wood such as Apple or Cherry or maybe use Alder or more robust Hickory. Be careful not to overpower the pie with smoky flavor though, you might end up masking all the different ingredients with a similar flavor.
Instead try smoking the ingredients, particularly those such as chicken, but even veggies in the oven while the wood is still smoking. Cook them half way then take them out and put them on the pie before you are ready to cook at the proper temp. You'll have the wonderful smoke flavor as an ingredient, rather than every ingredient tasting like smoke.
Sorry about the speech, just my $.75 worth. :o
It's been reported that the absolute best wood to burn is FREE WOOD! (Of course, treated and plywood are not ok!) A friend of mine with a Scott-style oven uses lumber scraps, since he lives in a subdivision where they're still building homes. I've heard of people using old pallets, too.
Here in Austin, I just got hold of a literal windfall of free oak and pecan thanks to last week's storms. I wish I had more room, I'd have firewood to last me years!
I plan to burn the "trash" wood down to coals first to heat the oven, then throw on some pieces of good hardwood while cooking.
When (if?) I run out of free wood, I'll probably order a mix of oak and mesquite. As a previous poster said, here in Texas, oak is for smoking and mesquite is for grilling.
I agree that at pizza temps and times, you're not going to get much smoke into your pizza from the fire. Use smoked provolone, bacon, tomatoes, peppers, etc.
I mostly use Pecan...and when I can't get that I go for oak or third choice hickory. As Stuart noted - I'm a little hesitant to use mesquite. Although it does burn hot, I am paranoid about a bitter taste. Probably overly paranoid - but when you have a bunch of people staring at your oven waiting for pizza, I don't want to gamble.
As for sources - almost every good grill store will carry a nice stash of wood. Barbecues Galore usually has good wood - although the logs are kind of big. Academy Sports actually has really good wood in their barbecue section. The logs are a little smaller (ideal for smokers so they say) - great for starting a fire but you go through a bag pretty quick.
One of the many things about living in the greatest state in the union (Texas) - is that almost every grocery store has stacks of wood (hickory, oak, mesquite, and pecan) from about April on to the end of the year.
I'm a little off to the side on this one, because I bake primarily bread. However, I agree entirely that the best wood is free. I'm writing a book called The Scavenger's Apprentice. I've used lumber scraps, broken up pallets and shrub trims tied into bundles. Truth be told, I'll burn just about anything to get the temp up. Recently, I was offered, and took, a very large pile of red pine that was cut when dead and stacked for two years. Now, this isn't the best for BTUs, it's oily, nor would it be any good for pizza (yeech), but it does burn bright and hot, so I start with it, then pile on hardwood, usually maple or ash. Where I live, it's amazing how many people planted ornamental semi-hardwood trees like white birch. After twenty years they self destruct, so I kindly fell them and take the wood. Too, the life cycle of hard maple is around 150 years, and many around here are one their way out. Same strategy applies.
The sappiness of soft woods does not concern me, because I'm looking for a white hot oven where all the sap and soot have been burned off long since. The only drawback with softwoods used exclusively is that it takes longer and more wood to get up to speed, but, then again, my high-mass oven benefits from prolonged firings. A mix of hard and soft is my route. In Quebec, the old timers used white cedar exclusively, but, then again, cedar is absolutely everywhere, and they had to clear it off farmland.
A Portuguese friend of mine does a lot of smoking of fish and sausage. His and his father's (etc, etc) smoking wood of choice is pear, followed by apple, followed by cherry. His sausages are dynamite (literally), so the wood must work.
Just a few observations.
Scavengers apprentice's apprentice.
Make friends with your local sawmill operator. Give him/her a case of beer and a pizza, and tell him/her to save you those priceless hardwood scraps.
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