Let’s take some of the mystery out of cooking in a wood fired pizza oven. As the name implies, a fire is required as a source of heat for cooking. What’s unique is the way our ovens use this heat.
Your oven actually utilizes three types of heat to produce perfect cooking results.
First is the conductive heat offered by the Valoriani firebrick floor. Firebrick is renowned for its ability to store high temperatures. It holds heat like metal cookware yet has a porous surface ideal for baking.
Pizza and breads are placed directly on the floor to bake, this is well known. You can also use most any type of cookware in the same way you would cook on a stove top. The deep heat stored in the floor will transfer to the pan, and you can adjust the amount of heat by simply moving the pan in relationship to the fire. Get closer for high heat and move away for low heat.
Second is the radiant heat provided by the dome. The fierce energy of the fire is absorbed by the refractory clay dome with some of it being stored and some of it reflecting back. This heat radiates throughout the entire cooking chamber whether the fire is going or not, so you can cook with or without a flame.
The fire itself also offers radiant heat from red hot coals and the live flame. Like a fireplace or grill, the size of the flame will determine the intensity of the heat. The bed of hot coals under the fire will work to keep the floor heated.
Third is the convection flow of heat created by the shape of the dome, the placement of the fire and the nature of the flue (exhaust vent/chimney). This is easier to demonstrate for yourself than to explain; simply throw some kindling on a live fire and you will see the smoke spin around the dome yet stay 6″ off the floor and not spill out the mouth of the oven.
This convection flow offers high efficiency when heating and cooking. The heat circulates inside the oven rather than just being pulled out like a fireplace. It also creates an incredibly balanced cooking chamber without using a fan.
Once the dome and floor are saturated with heat, you regulate the oven with the size of the flame.
The task of heating an oven is a simple matter of burning wood down to coals and moving them around the oven using a three-step process. With a little practice this technique will bring an oven up to temperature quickly and evenly.
Once hot, everything inside the oven is determined by the temperature of the floor and the size of the flame. Simply add one or two pieces of wood when needed to maintain the cooking environment called for in your recipe. You will also find that your senses really come into play with open hearth cooking and it is easy to get everyone involved.