Wood fired cooking is becoming more popular as chefs and home cooks are increasingly using this ancient method of cooking to add some spices to their dishes. This “old-fashioned” cooking method certainly helps to create unique flavors that you just cannot achieve with other fuel methods such as gas or electricity.
So, how does food cook in these wood fire ovens? Putting pieces of wood in such an oven creates fire and heat, which is absorbed by the oven – this is what we called the firing stage. Depending on the wood burning oven style, building the fire to maximum temperature of more than 932ºF can take 30 minutes to three hours. Our advice is not to fire up the oven just for one type of food such as pizza, but plan a few dishes for one time cooking.
This way, the heat is re-generated to cook different foods you put in the oven. After you clear the coals and the oven starts to cool over a few hours, or even days (depending on the insulation of the oven and the temperature outside) and the temperature drops gradually, the retained heat can be used to cook multiple batches of food.
You need to plan the sequence of dishes you want to put in the wood fired oven, and at what intervals. You can start with the dish that needs the most heat, and leave the one that need the least amount of heat last. Use a suitable handheld oven thermometer to track the temperature inside, and add or remove pieces of wood to adjust the temperature suitable for the food.
To increase the temperature again (if you feel the current temperature is too low for your food), just add another piece of log. If necessary, you can also keep a small fire in the oven to help retain the heat in the oven.
The type of wood you use can also affect the temperatures of the oven. Most professional cooks use dry, well-seasoned hardwood such as oak, fruitwood, pecan, olive, avocado, walnut or almond. Don’t use charcoal or resinous woods such as pine or spruce, as they can affect the taste of your dishes.
Pizzas, flat breads and sandwiches can be cooked in temperatures of between 572ºF – 1000ºF by placing them on the very hot oven floor. Also, BBQ meat, chicken, and steaks can be cooked at higher temperatures (usually on a grill in the oven). Once the temperature cools to about 662ºF, you can throw in vegetables such as onions, eggplants, mushrooms, capsicums, tomatoes and peppers, or meatballs, ribs and chicken wings. Pastry items such as tarts, scones and muffins can be cooked at temperatures of between 482ºF to 536ºF, and bread, dough, gratin, fish, squids and scallops at between 212ºF to 392ºF.
You can use the remaining waning fire to cook desserts and certain cuts of meats that need to be very tender. These temperatures are only a guide, and the best thing you can do is to get to know your wood fired oven thoroughly, as different wood fired ovens work differently.
You can also place different kinds of food inside to achieve more than one style of cooking or recipe. Try to experiment placing your foods on different areas of the oven, for instance, the oven floor, or put foods into small heat pots or pans to roast, grill or boil.
Finally, when you cook in a wood fired oven, you can certainly create the most delicious recipes with healthy, authentic and creative dishes suitable for anyone. Not only that, it’s really fun too!
Pam Wiselogel, owner of Patio & Pizza, enjoys cooking and experimenting with new recipes in her wood fired oven. It allows her to enjoy valuable time making memories with friends and family. Find more tips & tricks on the Pizza Life Blog
Photo. Jean-Pierre Duretz