How to Control Temperature in a Wood Fired Pizza Oven

How to Control Temperature in a Wood Fired Pizza Oven

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Wood-fire brick ovens utilize a small fire to heat a relatively large solid oven. Since the oven retains the heat for a prolonged period, this kind of cooking is highly economical. Numerous pizza restaurants utilize wood-fired brick ovens primarily because they cook the pizza much faster and efficiently.

Whether you have bought one of the numerous manufactured versions available or built your woodfired oven from scratch it most likely has a door of some sort. The door’s primary function is to control air circulation. It can generally be used to do 4 things – allow air circulation, stop air circulation, accelerate air circulation, or inhibit air circulation.

So when you use it to ensure the oven retains heat you’ll do this by stopping air circulation. And if you use that door to push air through the fire you’ll do this by accelerating air circulation. Pushing air through the fire and retaining heat are secondary functions. Therefore, it is all about air circulation.

How Hot Does Your Wood Fired Oven Get?

a pizza cooking in front of burning wood

Before we look at how to control the temperature in your wood-fired oven, you should know how hot it may get.

At its hottest, your wood-fired brick oven can reach temperatures of 750 – 800 degrees Fahrenheit. And in case you are wondering, this can cook a tastefully thin, crispy-crust pizza in less than 90 seconds. Assuming you need to cook other items besides thin-crust pizzas, you can explore different methods of cooling the cooking surface of your wood-fired oven.

  • Open the Door

Although some might consider this a sacrilegious idea others think of it as necessary. If you want to cool an oven much faster, opening the door is an excellent way of doing it. Maybe you need to shift from browning into simmering heat. The best way to do that is by opening the door.

  • Adjust the Fire

Much like when you’re cooking on a grill, you could move the fire such that it isn’t as close to the food that’s being cooked. It is an excellent method of getting your brick oven prepared for a sear on a roast. It can also raise the temperature if you would like to do that.

  • Consider Moving the Food

First, it’s worth noting that this won’t cool down that cooking area at all. However, it will help to ensure that you are providing the food with less direct heat.

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Some may find this to be more comfortable than adjusting the fire. Specifically, one of the setbacks of this option is that a wood-fired oven is uniquely designed to retain heat. Although the heat might be less direct, the heat trapped inside the oven will remain.

  • Wait

Unless you are in a hurry to get things done, it would be best to just wait. After a brick oven reaches its peak heat, it can take approximately an hour to drop down to 550 degrees. Perhaps you want it cooler than this? Well, you should wait longer. And if time is of the essence, this might not be the best option for you. However, if time is crucial, you might want to stick with your gas or electric oven. You shouldn’t expect the food to be as good though.

How to Control Your Wood Fired Oven’s Temperature

a pizza that is ready to eat

  • Firing It Up

It begins with a correctly-built fire. Ensure that the door is left a bit open. The chimney damper should be set to completely open such that your fire gets enough oxygen. On the oven’s left side, tent a few small sticks around crumpled newspaper for kindling, put some bigger pieces over that structure and then light the kindling below.

After an initial smoking duration, the fire will catch, and the brick oven should start to warm. During this moment, partially close that chimney damper such that the smoke still escapes. Partially closing the chimney damper assists the oven to preheat much faster! You might have to add more wood—or more kindling—to prevent your fire from snuffing out before it can even stabilize.

  • Letting the Dome Heat Through

When it comes to successfully baking a pizza in your wood-fired pizza oven, true radiant heat is key. Typically, the oven’s dome reflects heat from that fire back down from a few directions simultaneously. In turn, this radiant heat melts the cheese and even cooks the toppings through. At this point, you will require to keenly monitor your fire and ensure that you are adding fuel at a considerable rate, neither building it up too far nor starving it.

  • Achieving and Maintaining the Ideal Temperature

If you are looking to achieve the right temperature for your oven, you must know the distinction between floor temperature and chamber temperature. Since heat increases, the chamber often reaches the expected temperature even before the stone floor heats.

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A good floor temperature when it comes to wood-fired pizza ovens is generally around 750° F – 850°, which provides a cook with just 1-2 minutes. A digital infrared thermometer is commonly used when it comes to accurately measure the stone temperature. It is crucial for obtaining consistent results in baking a pizza.

In case the stones are not hot enough, the pizza’s top will burn before the underneath dough can fully cook. And this is where the chimney damper becomes useful in helping to regulate the temperature. Typically, an open damper can make the internal temperature drop. A regularly closed damper will lead to the chamber maintaining a steady temperature (or an increasing temperature based on how powerful the fire is).

  • Using your Judgement & Trust your Instincts

Cooking with a woodfired oven is not an exact science, and this is one of the joys that comes with it. You need to use your senses, instincts, and experience to judge what’s going on as you cook and adjust things as needed.

If you have the door on or partially on and your food is cooking very fast take it off or consider opening it slightly more to let more air circulate. It will cool the cooking temperature inside the oven.

And if you’re cooking while the door is off and the food is taking relatively long to do what it’s expected to do place the door such that the air circulation is inhibited. It will cause heat to build up within the oven.
You must consider using your senses, and trusting your judgment. Enjoy the thrill of being the master of your oven!

What is Thermal Shock?

This is one of the frequently asked questions when it comes to wood-fired ovens. Thermal Shock is the procedure of fast heating a pizza oven surface to a certain degree that you shock it – the surface only knows to react by cracking. The same concept applies in reverse. In case a surface is extremely hot and then it cools down quickly, the same thing will occur.

Here are some quick tips for controlling your oven’s temp, while also avoiding Thermal Shock:

How can you prevent Thermal Shock in your wood-fired oven?

It would be prudent to heat the oven by placing wood slowly instead of stuffing your oven with wood to get a quicker result. Furthermore, when done using your oven, ensure that you close the door and chimney damper, to let the oven cool down slowly.

As you’ve learned, there are several techniques and tips you could use to control the temperature of your wood-fired oven. When to make necessary changes and which ones work well for different food will come the more you use your oven.