Your brick oven is capable of an almost endless variety of cooking styles. With almost all types of cooking, you should bring your wood fired oven fully up to heat, then prepare it for the type of cooking you want to do by moving the fire and coals, and let the oven temperature reduce to the temperature range where you will be cooking. How long you fire your pizza oven depends on how much cooking you will be doing, and how long you want your brick oven to hold its heat. Remember that you can only take out heat from the oven that you put in. If you are going to be cooking a lot of pizza for a large party, or baking lots of bread or a large roast, fire your pizza oven longer. If you are making pizza for the family for a mid-week meal, you can fire your brick oven for a shorter time — typically, only until the dome goes white.
The main cooking styles are:
Fire-in-the-oven cooking (650ºF and up) is used for baking pizza, pizza-like flatbreads and certain types of appetizers, all of which cook in just a couple of minutes. The goal with this type of cooking is to completely fill the floor and dome with heat, build up a large-sized bed of coals, and maintain a large fire, where the flame reaches to the top of the dome. There are two ways to know that a pizza oven is ready to cook pizza. The first is when the oven dome itself has gone clear and no black soot is visible. At this point, you should move the fire to one side, while continuing to keep a large fire going, with the flame reaching the middle of the brick oven. Second, if you are using an infrared thermometer, the floor should read approximately 650ºF-700ºF. Pizzas are baked right on the floor next to the fire. Leave the pizza oven completely open, and add wood every 15-20 minutes to maintain a large flame.
Roasting (at higher heat than Baking)
Roasting temperatures (between 600ºF – 450ºF) are perfect for when you want to sear meats and brown vegetables or casseroles before covering them with a lid or with a liquid. These temperatures also work well for cooking a dish completely before the outside burns or becomes too brown. This temperature range is lower than for high heat fire-in-the-oven cooking but higher than for traditional baking.
In order to roast, first bring your oven up to pizza temperature, then allow it to drop in temperature and the fire to burn down, but not out. Push the coals to one side. The fully-fired oven, combined with a low fire, enables you to sear and brown dishes, and then continue cooking the dish for a longer period of time as the oven temperature slowly drops. Your oven should have no visible black on the dome, a medium sized bed of coals, and a small flame of 2″-4″ high. The door may be left off for short roasting times (under one hour,) or positioned inside the arch opening to help regulate heat for multiple hours of roasting. Add small pieces of wood as needed to maintain temperature.
Baking (at conventional oven temperatures)
Baking (500ºF and down) is used for baking bread, desserts, smaller roast meats, beans and legumes, and pasta dishes at conventional oven temperatures. After fully firing your oven, carefully rake out the hot coals and brush out the oven. If you wish, you can swab the deck with a damp, but not wet, towel. Your oven can now cook gently and consistently with the heat retained in the oven dome and floor, as the temperature falls. Using this type of cooking, you can bake either one fully-loaded batch of bread, or multiple batches of different types of bread in with smaller quantities. Read our Creating Steam page for more information on how to bake better bread. Close the door tightly against the oven opening to hold in heat and steam.
Read our Retained Heat Cooking page for more information on this type of cooking, including temperature recommendations for different dishes.
Your brick oven makes a great grill. By raking a layer of hot coals across the cooking floor at the front of your wood fired oven, and sliding a free-standing cast iron grill into the oven, you can enjoy grilling that sets seared grill marks, and seals in moisture for food that is crisp and not dried out. With heat from the grill itself, from the coals and radiating from oven dome above, the brick oven is a great BBQ.
Also, try experimenting with different pots and pans. A grill pan pre-heated in your pizza oven gives your food nice sear marks, and a terracotta pan and steel pan gives roast potatoes a different texture and flavor.
Read our Grilling Basics page for more information on this type of brick oven cooking, including temperature recommendations for different dishes.
Here are some additional tips and techniques: