Choosing, Curing and Burning Wood
The type of wood you burn will depend to a large extent on where you live. The species selection and predominance of medium-hard (such as poplar) or hardwoods (such as oak) vary from the North American west coast to the east coast, and from the south to the north. Avoid burning sappy, oily woods, such as red pine, and never burn laminated woods like plywood, pressure treated woods, or anything that has been painted, chemically treated or glued.
You can also burn construction off cuts from 2x4s or even broken up pallets for kindling, but the most important rule to follow is that everything you do burn must be dry and seasoned.
The best woods to burn in your Forno Bravo oven are hardwoods such as oak, maple, ash, beech and birch, or fruit and nut trees, including apple, almond, cherry, pear and pecan. Fruit woods not only burn well, they are also fragrant. Some of the best-known wood-fired pizzerias swear by apple. Hardwoods weigh almost three times as much as softwoods, like pines, fir, cedar and spruces, so they give off more heat (BTUs).
Some softwoods (white, yellow pine, white cedar) are acceptable when split and allowed to season to reduce sap content. Extremely oily woods (red pine) are not recommended; they will impart unpleasant flavors to the food, create far too much smoke, and deposit soot in your chimney and can darken your oven enclosure. Plus, they add little heat to your oven when it comes time to cook.
Your wood should be dry and aged for six months to a year so that it will burn well, and produce the heat that your oven needs. If your wood is green, it will burn poorly, and produce a lot of smoke – which can soot up your entry arch. Damp wood will also not bring your oven up to heat the way you want. If you are not certain whether wood you have purchased has been properly seasoned, look for tiny radial cracks cross the sections. Alternatively, you can purchase a wood moisture gauge.
If you cut your own wood, try to do it in the off-season, when the sap is in the roots. It should be given about six months to a year to dry properly. You will know it’s ready when the cut ends have darkened and a series of "checks’ or cracks have appeared across the ends. Remember, split wood will always dry faster than larger pieces left in the round. As a general rule of thumb, the wood you burn should be no larger than about 3’ in diameter. Split wood catches faster and burns brighter than wood in the round.
If you are stuck with a load of damp wood, or your wood has been rained on, there is one trick to help dry it out. Each time you are finished cooking with your oven, place the next day’s wood inside the oven. Doing this will bake out the moisture using the previous fire’s retained heat. Even if you are doing low heat cooking overnight, you can still dry your next load of wood the next day. It really works. Be sure to leave the oven door open slightly to let any gasses escape from the oven chamber.
You can store some wood below your oven floor, but the size is somewhat restricted, and it might be best reserved for kindling and your wood supply for the next few firings. Depending on how much you use your oven, you might consider building a simple woodshed with a weatherproof roof. The floor should have enough gaps in it to allow for the air movement that will assist curing.