Congratulations! You’ve finally joined the elite ranks of backyard chefs who bring traditional, timeless cooking right into their own homes with a wood-fired pizza oven. You’re truly one-of-a-kind, and you’re probably dying to get started with your awesome new oven.
However, you might be scratching your head a bit about where to actually begin. No problem; your first foray into wood-fired cooking can be a confusing time, but with these tips and tricks gleaned by countless generations of pizza pros before you, you’ll be churning out delicious wood-fired pizza in no time. Here’s a guide on how to cook the perfect pizza in your wood-fired oven.
Prepare your dough
The best foundation for good pizza is a good dough. There are plenty of options, including purchasing pre-made dough, but our personal favorite is to create your own! It’s easier than you might think; most of the time you spend making dough is actually just waiting for it to rise. For a simple pizza dough recipe, you can follow along this one from our recipe blog posts; we recommend using a fine bread flour, like the famed Caputo 00, which creates a remarkable Neopolitan-style crust that rivals what you’ll find in renowned pizzerias around the globe.
Half the fun of making your own pizza is adding personal twists, which you can start doing at the dough phase. Try creative additions like herbs, an extra dash of olive oil, or recipe variations like focaccia dough. The sky is the limit!
Once your dough has risen, stretch it out into a roughly 12-14” in diameter circle with your hands, a rolling pin, and some tender love and care. Coat your hands in a dusting of flour while you do this; we’ll explain why in a bit.
Add your sauce and toppings
While the dough is a pizza’s foundation, toppings are a pizza’s centerpiece. You can stay within the time-tested lines of traditions and craft a delicious Margherita, or get experimental and try toppings as diverse as banana peppers, tofu, chicken, jackfruit, avocado, kimchi, or the highly controversial pineapple.
Pizza sauce is usually based on tomatoes, with a traditional recipe of crushed tomatoes, olive oil, and sea salt usually doing the trick. However, there’s no constraint on creativity when it comes to sauce, either. Barbecue sauce, alfredo, beet sauce, or even pesto are all perfectly suited options to your pizza.
Spread your ingredients (sauce first, of course!) over the top of your finished dough, arranging them how you’d like: Pretty shapes, evenly spread, or tossed anarchy are all fine choices. After your ingredient ensemble is complete, it’s time for the real show to start!
Get it crispy!
Your wood-fired oven will need a bit of time to preheat before you can start cooking, though this duration is considerably shorter than what you might expect in a regular, in-home oven. When firing your oven up, use small pieces of kindling to get a blaze going before switching to medium-sized cut logs.
For pizza with a crispy crust and perfectly cooked toppings, high heat is required. This is where purpose-built pizza ovens shine since they can withstand temperatures far greater than those of regular home ovens. A good Margherita needs a temperature of about 600 degrees Fahrenheit.
While the thermometer on most pizza ovens is sufficient for getting a rough idea about how hot things are inside, some extra peace of mind can be found by using an infrared temperature gun, which provides a snapshot of exactly how hot the inside of a pizza oven is without the lag in precision that is common in most oven thermometers.
How long it takes to cook your pizza will depend upon your oven’s internal temperature, and can vary from as long as 10 minutes to as quickly as just 90 seconds! Once your oven is up to temperature, you’ll need to actually put your pizza in the oven.
The key is the peel
Remember the flour that went on your pizza dough? This is where it becomes important. We don’t advise throwing a raw pizza into your oven with your bare hands, so a trusty pizza peel will be a valuable investment into your outdoor baking arsenal. Since dough is a bit sticky, you’ll need something to keep it moving freely on the peel. Another sprinkling of flour on your pizza peel will keep your pizza from clinging to the peel, which can result in some tragic consequences due to its hampered momentum, like pizza on your patio’s concrete.
Using a peel can take a bit of practice, and some hand-eye coordination, so our advice is to make sure your peel is a bit larger than the pizza itself in order to give yourself some room for error.
When placing your pizza in the oven, slowly move the peel into the oven, and then slide your pizza off the peel in a quick forward and backwards motion. You’ve probably used this technique in reverse when taking pizza out of the oven with a flattened cardboard box or peel. We also have a short tutorial on how to use a pizza peel here if you think you might need a little more practice.
Turn or burn!
Evenly-cooked pizza takes a little bit of effort, requiring some turning inside the oven to ensure the edges receive equal amounts of crisping. For pizza with extended cook times, you’ll need to practice a bit of diligence. For example, your pizza may cook unevenly inside an oven with its fire to one side, necessitating the use of a turning peel to keep your pie rotating inside the oven.
We’re big fans of a pizza popper/turner because of its masterful design and ease of use. This nifty tool allows you to give your pizza occasional rotation inside the oven until its edges are a consistent golden brown. How long it takes to cook pizza in your oven can depend on the stability of your oven’s temperature and the dough you’re using.
What goes in must come out
After your pizza has cooked to a delicious, golden brown crisp, you’ll need to take it out of the oven. You’ll need your peel once again, this time sliding it underneath your pizza and then lifting it out of the oven. Here’s where a steady hand is key, to avoid an errant pizza deciding now is the time to spread its wings and fly.
If you think the opportunity to add flavor has come and gone, think again! Even after your pizza comes out of the oven, you can give it even more creative twists, garnishment, and flavor. Try adding things like crushed or chopped basil, balsamic, red pepper, or grated parmesan for an extra boost.
Once the final touches have been added, and your pizza has cooled for a minute or two (it will be very, very hot!) all that’s left is for you to slice it up and serve it! Pizza makes a great standalone meal by itself, but for larger groups, the inclusion of a side dish or dessert makes it into an event worth remembering. The best part? You can cook all kinds of other food in your oven, not just pizza. Try serving up your pies with roasted vegetables, focaccia bread, or even peach cobbler for dessert, all of which cook up amazingly well in an outdoor oven.
Cooking in your very own wood-fired oven is a skill that takes some effort to master, but with a little dedication and a whole lot of love, you’ll quickly learn the ropes and be on the way to wood oven pizza mastery. In the following video, Jeff shows how to use wood fired oven tools to prepare the fire and oven for his Margherita pizza.
The Margherita pizza is the oldest pizza recipe known to history, with a name honoring the Queen of Savoy and a tradition that dates back to at least the 1800s. Like most timeless classics, there is a reason it’s stuck around so long. Enticing flavors of marinara, mozzarella, and basil make this pizza a real treat, and we’re very proud to offer you the video instructions that show you how to make pizza Margherita in your own wood-fired oven!
If you don’t have a wood-fired oven of your own, and you’re feeling inspired, check out our full collection of wood-fired residential ovens.
If you need assistance, shoot us an email or give us a call; we’d be more than happy to show you what your own home pizza oven can do for you and your family!