Whenever I see a wood-fired pizza oven in someone’s backyard, I immediately come to the conclusion that they are true “foodies”. Being a foodie means you have a passion for delicious food and take great care to find the best places to eat, or take care to prepare perfectly prepared meals for family and friends. But, when someone takes time to build a clay oven in their backyard, that someone is committed to serving delicious wood smoke enriched food to their guests. They are the TRUE foodies and Austin, TX is the home for a lot of them!
History of the Clay Oven
Clay ovens can be traced back to ancient civilizations throughout the world. Traditionally, clay ovens were constructed from clay pots that were placed upside down over the hearth and coals. Once heated, dough was placed within for even baking since the heat radiated from the clay pot’s walls. Utilizing pots as ovens was very useful for nomadic civilizations, but once permanent homes started coming into existence, more efficient and larger clay ovens were constructed.
The first permanent living areas were also based in agriculture. With agriculture came the introduction of grains and seeds as staples for the ancient people’s diet; hence the introduction of the wood-fired clay oven as a bread oven. These permanent clay ovens were often made within the earth either in the ground or into the side of a hill or some kind of natural elevation. The surrounding earth acted as a natural insulator allowing the ancient cooks to maximize fuel (i.e. wood) and cook food at a slow and steady temperatures.
Today the most popular type of clay oven is the pizza oven. No wonder, pizza is one of the most popular food in America today. An average of 350 slices of pizza is eaten each second in the US according to Statistic Brain. Wood burning ovens aren’t just for pizza. Any food item can be cooked, including meats and vegetables.
Don’t let the name “pizza oven” limit your wood-fired cooking dreams. A pizza oven is just a wood burning oven after all, so anything can be cooked within it. How the temperature is controlled and the food cooks is directly related to the quantity and proximity of the burning wood flame.
There are three kinds of heat to consider when cooking in a pizza oven:
- High Heat
- Roasting Heat
- Grilling Heat
This temperature is used to cook pizzas, breads and appetizers. Since the temperature is around 800°F, these food items will cook quickly and can also be used to caramelize and quickly brown items.
Similar to a conventional oven, this cooking heat is used for cooking items through, while keeping juices that maintains tenderness in the food item. It’s recommended to cover with foil (meats and vegetables) or a lid (stews and soups) throughout the cook time. Food can be browned at the beginning when high heat is achieved, then the temperature reduced to the optimal roasting heat between 400°F and 500°F, depending on food item.
The pizza oven is brought up to high heat of 800°F, then allowed to fall to a consistent heat of 600°F. A cast iron grill is used to cook the food items, but not until the grill is placed on the floor of the pizza oven and brought up to temperature.
For all techniques, after the appropriate oven temperature are reached and maintained, the food items are placed close to or away from the open flame in accordance to recipe recommendations. Food typically cooks faster in a wood burning oven, so be prepared to enjoy wood fired food about 15 minutes faster than items cooked in an oven.
The appeal of the pizza oven is undeniable. However, take care when selecting the wood. It is important to only use appropriate firewood when cooking in a pizza oven. Anything on or in the wood will transfer to the food, so make sure to only use properly seasoned wood. Once you have the right cooking wood, be ready to enjoy appetizers, meats, vegetables, breads, stews and desserts to your heart’s desire. The foods that can be cooked in a pizza oven are limitless. It’s time to “think outside the pizza box!”
Benefits of the Pizza Oven
Besides the fact that everyone will want to be invited to your house for an alfresco meal, the wood burning oven in your backyard has 5 significant benefits:
- Energy Efficient; since the oven is wood burning there is no need for electricity or other fuels (i.e. gas/propane) while the heat is efficiently retained within the confines of the oven walls
- Food Cooks Quickly; high, steady temperatures can be achieved to sear or thoroughly bake food
- Enhanced Taste; wood smoke is naturally infused in the food, drawing out natural flavors and providing an additional depth in flavor
- Food Retains Nutrients and Antioxidants; since the food is cooked quickly at high temperatures (usually between 500-700 degrees fahrenheit), the beneficial elements are not “cooked out”, but rather “locked in”
- Enables a Variety of Cook Options; since it is an oven, anything that is cooked in a traditional oven can be cooked within a pizza oven including bread and meats
So go ahead and build a wood burning pizza oven in your backyard! Better yet, when remodeling your kitchen, make sure to leave space for a wood burning oven for open hearth cooking as well as added ambiance to your kitchen space. Embrace this “ancient” cooking method and satisfy your family’s need for delicious wood fired cooking.
Whatever food you plan to cook in your wood burning pizza oven, be sure to use the cleanest, most efficient firewood, seasoned firewood. Order online or call us at 512.387.7270 today. Austin area homeowners can kick back and relax as we do the stacking for you.