The types of woods to use to burn in your outdoor pizza oven can often be a rather overlooked subject, but the reality is, it can and will have a huge effect on your cooking.
It’s important to remember that your pizza will be cooking in a close enough proximity to your chosen wood that it can have an affect on the taste of your pizza.
There are in fact a number of advantages to choosing the right wood to burn including not only taste, but also smell, and even the maximum temperature the oven could reach.
The best type of woods to use by far are hardwoods - these woods will burn hotter, for longer and most importantly—will burn cleaner—helping your food cook faster and improve the overall taste.
The most popular hardwood to use is oak.
Oak is the popular choice for good reason—it’s easily accessible, reasonably priced and burns a lot hotter than other woods will.
Apple wood also burns hotter than most woods and as the name would suggest, it can add an additional beautiful fragrance to your cooking.
Apple wood, however, is slightly harder to come by than oak and as a result comes at a slightly higher cost.
Other woods that can add an additional fragrance and flavor to your food include almond, cherry, hickory, plum, pear and pecan—these are also known as fruit woods, and they can add beautiful, lighter and sweater flavors to your cooking.
Maple and ash are also very popular despite ash being softer than the other hardwoods.
Despite its softness, it is still considered a hardwood and is cheaper and more readily available that maple.
It’s important to bear in mind that the type of wood you choose to burn in your outdoor oven will also hugely depend on the availability of different woods in the area in which you live.
Despite hardwoods being the best wood for your outdoor pizza oven, you can still use softwoods—you just need to ensure that you cure the wood property to reduce water and sap content.
If you do decide to use a softwood—removing the bark can help to reduce the moisture and sap content.
There are, however, still several cases against using softwood, with some pizza oven users refusing to use it all together.
Even if you do remove the bark, softwood will still be moister than hardwoods and therefore will not burn as hot nor as long, creating dirty ash and soot as it goes.
Softwood can also leave behind creosote—creosote is a carbonaceous chemical that’s formed by the burning of the wood.
Which materials are best to use to light your outdoor pizza oven?
In order to get your fire started a little easier, there are additional materials that can be used.
Paper is a common material used—but try not to use too much as it will cause excess ash—use just enough to create a flame under the wood when necessary.
A popular technique here is to build a pyramid of wood and kindling over the paper.
If you have a slightly smaller outdoor pizza oven you may also be able to use wood chips and pellets as kindling.
These are generally better suited to portable ovens though—for larger ovens they simply won't be able to give enough heat necessary to cook your pizza to its best.
Woods that should certainly be avoided are processed woods such as particle board and plywood that have been either laminated, pressure treated, stained, glued or even painted.
Any sort of chemicals that are used in a wood will just get infused into whatever your cooking once burned
Not only that, these chemicals will be lingering in the air as you cook, and that’s never pleasant!
Whichever wood you do choose, it’s very important that it is cured and dried properly—even the best of the best wood will not work as well as it could if it’s not sufficiently dry, and in some cases, you may not even be able to get get the fire started.
Wood that is air dried can often take up to two years to dry sufficiently!
The most common method for this is store your wood in a weatherproof storage shed with adequate ventilation.
You could also purchase a kiln, specifically made for drying wood, or -
Kilns for drying wood can be very costly, so why not try putting wood in your oven once it’s in the cooling stage. This will kiln dry your wood ready for its next use!
Can you use firelighters in your outdoor pizza oven?
To accompany your paper and kindling you can also use firelighters, however, they must be natural firelighters to avoid releasing any unwanted chemicals.
Try to also avoid wax and sawdust firelighters as these could leave an excess amount of ash and dust that can leave an unwanted taste and texture to your pizza.
When using firelighters it’s important to remember that these should only be used to simply establish your fire.
These must be used in company with your kindling as firelighters will not keep a sustained fire by just themselves.
What size wood should I use in my outdoor wood fired oven?
Once you’ve got your fire going with kindling, and maybe even a natural firelighter, keep adding kindling for about 10 minutes in order to get your fire up to a heat hot enough to burn the larger logs.
After about 10 minutes or so, move the fire away from the center of the oven and towards the back and side of your oven using the pizza rake, and then place two or three larger logs on the fire.
These should need to burn for around 15-20 minutes before your oven reaches an optimum heat for cooking the best possible pizza.
Depending on the size of your oven your wood can be anything from approximately 12-18 inches in length and approximately 2-4 inches in diameter.
As with which types of wood to use—the size of the wood you use can also have huge effects on how your fire burns—ultimately leading to how well your pizza will cook and taste.
Logs that are too thick may have a too high of a moisture content, this can lead to your oven either struggling to reach the optimum temperature or worse, not being able to achieve the correct temperature at all.
Another consequence of your wood being too thick is that it could lead to excessive levels of smoke before actually catching fire, this is due to it smouldering for longer than necessary.
Can you use gasoline in an outdoor pizza oven?
If you like having your eyebrows in one piece then It’s very important that you do not use any form of accelerant such as gasoline, paraffin or kerosene as these accelerants can cause the flames in your fire to burn far larger than you may expect and become very quickly out of control.
Not only only can using gasoline be extremely dangerous it will also add a very unwanted flavor to your food.
Any type of liquid accelerant can be absorbed into the porous texture of your pizza oven and then easily picked up by the dough.
Another cooking material that should be strongly avoided due to safety reasons is charcoal.
On the face of it, charcoal may seem like a good choice as it does burn hotter that firewood, however, this heat does not transfer well to the inside of your oven. And this is key.
This is because it does not produce a flame when it burns, and your outdoor pizza oven with retain heat in three main ways—hot coal transfer, thermal equilibrium, and flame reaction.
So without producing a flame your oven will be losing out on a key source of retaining heat which means it won't be able to reach a high enough temperature for cooking your pizza.
Another key reason charcoal shouldn’t be used in your outdoor pizza oven is because it produces high levels of carbon monoxide.
The levels of carbon monoxide can not be detected without the correct equipment making charcoal a serious safety issue.
And so remember, owning an outdoor pizza oven isn't about cooking food in a rush and cutting corners, It’s about going back to basics, taking your time and creating exquisite food, the taste of which exceeds that of anything you’ve cooked in your conventional oven.
As with most stages of cooking with your outdoor pizza oven—experimentation is key.
Think about what you cooking and think about what flavors could complement, and get experimenting.
But be sure to follow these basic steps—
Hardwoods burn hotter, longer and cleaner than softwoods.
Certainly don't overlook fruit woods—these can add an array of beautiful flavors to compliment your cooking.
And last but not least—stay away from any wood with any form of chemicals, paints or glues and definitely, under no circumstances, use gasoline or any other types of accelerants.