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How to Cook Pizza in Your Outdoor Pizza Oven

  • 7 min read

Wood-Fired Pizza!

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 home chefs before you, you’ll be churning out delicious wood-fired pizza in no time.

The best way to survive the learning curve is to find a recipe you like and then practice until you get the hang of it. You can start off with an easy and delicious traditional Neapolitan-style pizza, which is a classic Italian favorite. 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 with 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 when it comes to pizza bases!

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.

Pizza dough balls

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 pizza 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 does 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!

Fire up the oven

Your wood-burning 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 kitchen oven. When firing your oven up, use small pieces of kindling to get a blaze going before switching to medium-sized cut logs. For best results, use dry hardwood in your outdoor pizza oven to get the optimum temperature without lots of smoke.

Depending on how big and well-insulated your oven is, preheating can take anywhere between 20 to 60 minutes. A brick oven will take longer to heat than a stainless steel oven.

You won't need a pizza stone or a baking stone when cooking in an outdoor pizza oven. You will cook directly on the oven floor so you want to have the right temperature on the cooking surface. To get high temperatures on the oven floor, you can spread out a bed of hot embers where the pizzas will cook before pushing the fire to the back of the oven in preparation for cooking.

Get it crispy!

For pizza with a crispy crust and perfectly cooked toppings, high heat is required. This is where wood-fired ovens shine since they can withstand temperatures far greater than those of regular conventional ovens. A good Margherita needs a temperature of about 600 degrees Fahrenheit.

While the thermometer on most home 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. An infrared thermometer will provide more reliable results of how hot the inside of a pizza oven is and how hot the floor of the oven is with better precision that is common in most thermometers located on the side of the oven. 

How long it takes to cook your pizza will depend upon your oven’s internal temperature, and can vary from as long as 4 minutes to as quickly as just 90 seconds! Once your oven is up to the correct oven 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.

Pizza peel is a flat, wide tool that helps you move pizza pies around. Some pizza peels are better designed to transfer a pizza from the countertop to your pizza oven floor while others are better for turning the pizza while it's cooking in the oven. 

Pizza Peel to turn pizzas

The best pizza peel should be large enough for the delicious pizzas you are creating and have a handle long enough to protect your hands from intense heat. Metal pizza peels are essential tools when baking pizzas and usually, we have several in use during a pizza party.

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 floured surface of the peel in a quick forward and backwards motion.

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. Depending on the temperature of your oven, you’ll need to keep a close eye while your pizza cooks and 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.

Why is my pizza not cooked on the bottom?

There are several possible causes that could lead to your pizza being burnt on the top while undercooked on the bottom. The most common cause is improper oven temperature. If the oven is set too high, the top of the pizza will cook too quickly and burn before the bottom has had a chance to cook properly. Make sure that you carefully adjust the temperature of your oven so that the pizza will cook evenly.

Second, if using a conventional oven, you may also need to adjust the rack placement in your oven so that the pizza is closer to the heat source. If you are using an outdoor pizza oven, make sure the cooking surface has been preheated enough before cooking.

Lastly, too much topping may also prevent the bottom of the pizza from crisping correctly. Try using a lighter hand when adding ingredients and check your pizza sooner if it is overloaded.

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.

Here's an example showing a pizza peel used to remove the pizza from the pizza oven:

 

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!

You'll also get great tips for using a Pizza Peel Tool Kit.

 

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 outdoor pizza oven can do for you and your family!

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