You can test your oven’s heat in a number of places, including the dome face, the top of the hearth, the air circulating in the oven, and the refractory material behind the dome and cooking floor face. Each holds a number of clues for understanding how your oven is performing, and what you should do to manage it.
Managing dome heat for fire-in-the-oven cooking is basically simple. When the dome of the oven has completely whitened and stays clear, it is maintaining the high temperatures you want. When the color begins to turn black, you need to increase the fire.
There are at least four ways of testing the heat of your cooking surface:
— You can purchase a laser-guided infrared temperature gauge, which can accurately read high temperatures.
— You can learn to measure your cooking surface temperature using the flour test.
— You can learn to test temperature by putting your hand inside the oven and counting.
— Or, you can learn the characteristics of your oven by trial and error.
If you don’t enjoy high-tech gadgets, or simply want to learn how to “feel” how your oven is working, you can start by using flour to test the cooking surface temperature. Simply throw a pinch of flour into the oven, and count how long it takes to burn and smoke. A hot, 750ºF hearth will scorch flour in a few seconds.
I learned the “Mississippi” approach from my father when cooking on a Weber charcoal BBQ. Count the number of seconds, using One Mississippi, Two Mississippi, etc., that it takes for your hand to become uncomfortably hot inside the oven. One Mississippi is a very hot oven; Two Mississippi is also hot. Bread bakes well in a Four Mississippi oven. I still use this method more than any other.
After some time, you will be able to feel the heat of your own oven, and will just know when it is ready.
Finally, don’t be afraid to experiment, and don’t be afraid to really fire up your oven to see how it performs at high heat. If your oven is not hot enough, or does not have enough retained heat, it will not cook well.
If you are making pizzas, it might be a good idea to make some extra dough, and plan on cooking a few flat bread appetizers before the serious pizza baking begins—just to get the feel for how your oven is cooking.