Nothing compares to traditional wood fired cooking. Whether you’re slow roasting meats or firing up the perfect pizza, with a wood fired oven you can create flavours and textures that just aren’t possible with a conventional gas or electric oven.
But unlike a standard kitchen oven, you can’t just switch on a wood fired oven and set the temperature. Building the fire and achieving perfect cooking temperature can take some practice and a little know-how.
So let’s have a look at how you set up the oven and get ready to cook.
Before getting started, it helps to know a bit about the different cooking temperatures required for different types of cooking. Trying to slow roast pork shoulder in an oven set for firing pizzas will end disastrously. Similarly, if you’re trying to cook pizza in an oven that isn’t hot enough, you won’t get that crispy wood fired crust.
Below are the general temperature ranges you should use for different types of cooking in a wood fire oven.
|Type of food/cooking||Description||Temperature (℃)|
|Keeping food warm (without drying out)||Light warming||70-100|
|Slow roasting meats, simmering stews||Slow cooking||100-150|
|Cakes and scones||Light baking||150-175|
|General bread baking||Moderately hot||200-230|
|Fast cooking, charring, grilling||Very hot||320-350|
Building the Fire
Once you know what temperature you’re aiming for, it’s time to start building the fire. And for that you will need to make sure you have the right firewood.
Using 5-10 sticks of dry kindling, build a pyramid-like structure over some balled up paper or cardboard and a firelighter. Make sure you’re using cooking-appropriate firelighters that don’t give off smoke and don’t have any nasty chemicals. Build the fire in the centre of the oven to ensure even heat distribution.
Once the fire is established, add a few medium-sized pieces of wood. The fire should be big enough to reach the centre of the dome, but not so big that it reaches out of the opening. Let the fire burn for about 30-40 minutes (depending on the size of the oven), adding more wood as necessary until the desired temperature has been reached.
Positioning the Fire
Once the oven has reached the right cooking temperature, you will need to position the fire for cooking. Using your oven rake, push the fire to one side creating an open space in the centre of the oven floor. This will help to pull the cool air into the oven, circulate the heat and maintain the desired temperature.
Before placing any food in the oven, use your oven brush to clean the cooking surface to remove any ash or debris.
Try to position the fire on a different side each time you use the oven. This will ensure that the oven dome is subjected to even heat wear over its life.
Testing the Temperature
Before placing the food in the oven, you will need to make sure you have achieved the right cooking temperature.
There are a few different ways of testing the temperature of your oven. Some ovens will have a built-in thermometer that you can use to easily monitor the oven temperature.
Alternatively, you can use a hand-held infrared thermometer to accurately gauge the oven’s internal temperature.
If you don’t need a precise temperature reading, you can just throw a pinch of flour onto the oven floor. For the perfect pizza cooking temperature, the flour should burn and smoke within a couple of seconds.
Once you’re experienced cooking with a wood fired oven, you can use the hand test to check the temperature. Simply put your hand inside the oven and count how many seconds it takes to become uncomfortably hot. One to two seconds means a very hot oven, while about four seconds indicates a good bread baking temperature.
Maintaining Heat while Cooking
As the fire burns down, the oven will start to lose heat. In order to maintain heat, you will need to regularly check the temperature (every 15 minutes or so) and continue to add wood as necessary. Be careful not to add large pieces of wood as these can smother the fire and take a long time before they start to burn.
Wood fired ovens are designed to maintain large amounts of heat. That means that even once the fire has died down you can continue cooking foods that only require lower cooking temperatures.
With a little practice, you can not only get the perfect fire to generate the right cooking temperatures, you can cook a wide range of foods using the oven’s natural temperature range.
So get out there and get cooking!