You can use a torch.
Enough kindling to light the fire.
The dome starting to go white.
The white spot growing.
All clear and ready to bake pizza.
Firing Your Pizza Oven
Build your fire in the center (left to right and front to back) of the pizza oven using 7-9 sticks of dry kindling, one to two odor-free, non-toxic fire starters, and two to three pieces of seasoned medium or hardwood. Alternatively, you can light your fire with a butane torch. It can be easier and faster than the traditional match or lighter. Try to avoid wax and sawdust fireplace starters, and they could leave a taste in your food.
Once the fire gets going, add 2-3 pieces of wood so that the flame reaches the center and front of the dome of your oven, without lapping too far out of the pizza oven opening. Use seasoned wood that is roughly 3’-4’ in diameter, and roughly 18’ long. Your firewood should not smolder or smoke before catching fire, and should burn easily and quickly. Once the fire is well established, continue adding more wood, and wait for about 20 minutes.
Heating the Dome
After about 20 minutes, a small spot at the top center of the pizza oven dome should start to turn clear (or white), and then begin expanding outward. This “whitening” is the sign that the dome is reaching the desired cooking temperature. This change occurs when the carbon accumulated on the oven dome reaches about 700ºF and turns from black to clear.
The photos show the top of the dome starting to turn clear, then the sides, and finally a completely clear dome, ready for wood fired cooking.
Once the whitening has started, begin building the fire toward the walls of the oven by adding pieces of wood on either side of the fire, and in the back. This wider fire will help drive the necessary heat across the entire cooking floor, and evenly spread heat across the cooking dome. Within a few minutes, you will see the whitening spreading across the dome to the sides.
Reaching Cooking Temperatures
Depending on the size of your oven, after roughly 45 minutes, the entire cooking dome will turn clear, and the cooking surface will have reached the desired 700ºF for cooking pizza; you will have also saturated your oven with the heat it will need for baking and roasting. Some people prefer to let the oven rest for 10-20 minutes after moving the fire to the side of the oven. Waiting is not required (you are can start baking pizza immediately,) but it does cool the floor a bit, reducing the chance of burning the dough on your first pizza.
- Some chefs prefer to bake a batch of pita bread before doing their first pizza (See a demonstration video by Peter Reinhart). Pita bread is quick to make, draws some of the heat out of the floor, can be used as an appetizer, and puts on a fun show for your guests with the way it dramatically puffs up in the oven.
- Let the oven temperature reduce overall in order to start roasting, or to bake other higher-heat appetizers.
- Alternatively, rake out your coals, let your oven temperature moderate, and begin retained heat baking, or add a Tuscan Grill over the coals for grilling.
- Click Here for details on different cooking styles you can use in your brick oven.
Fire Placement and Convection Heating
If you will be baking with a fire or hot coals, you should push the fire to the side of the pizza oven, not to the back. There are two good reasons for this. First, you can see the side of the pizza (or whatever you are cooking) and be ready to turn it when brown. It’s harder to do that when the fire is in the back. Second, your oven will cook better. Wood fired pizza ovens work by breathing in cold air through the lower part of the oven opening, heating it, and circulating it around the oven dome, and then exhausting it out the top of the opening. By putting the fire in the back, you are giving the cold air a longer path before it hits the heat source, which is both cooler, and less likely to create a nice circular convection pattern.
Watch the Top Down Fire Video to see an easy demonstration on firing your pizza oven.
Return to Manage Your Wood Fired Oven