Cooking with a pizza oven is an investment, especially if you’re a beginner. Purchasing an oven is only the tip of the iceberg. You’ll also need to learn how to cook with it as well as which firewood is most effective.
Can’t you use any wood in a pizza oven as long as you have a good supplier? Many suitable options compete to be “the best.” As subjective a quandary as this is, we can definitely tell you a little bit about the most likely contenders. No matter what your go-to flavor is, your wood needs to be dense, moderately dry and squeaky clean.
What Makes the Best Wood the Best?
Again, multiple types of wood can be the best. All must meet the following criteria, though we’ll point out specific species later in the blog.
Organic, Not Treated
“Treated” wood includes laminated wood, painted wood and all wood with extraneous chemicals on it. Don’t use broken furniture as kindling! If the chemicals don’t become toxic fumes that enter your lungs, they’ll create explosive, erratic flames. The best way to avoid contaminated wood is to know that your supplier doesn’t cut corners.
Hardwood, Not Softwood
Fires with the highest heat require firewood with the highest density. The denser a log is, the more wood there is to burn. That’s why you’ll need hardwood, which always has a lot more density than softwood.
Hardwood is also more effective in terms of limiting contamination. Unlike softwood, hardwood species don’t contain as much sap or produce as much creosote. For hot, clean cooking, hardwoods are a requirement.
Kiln-Dried, Not Seasoned
Now that we’ve established why hardwood species are infinitely more potent than softwoods, we can talk about how these hardwoods should be prepared.
“Seasoning” is a popular process during which firewood is left outside to dry for several months, but this technique is far from the most effective one.
Kiln-drying is a more involved process that significantly reduces firewood’s moisture in no more than two days. During this process, vendors heat firewood in kilns to achieve optimal dryness. The remaining firewood is much easier to light and keep alight.
Damp, Not Petrified
As important as dryness is, there’s such a thing as too little moisture. The level of moisture inside the firewood should be between 15% and 20%. Excess dryness is as likely to bring about creosote and smoke as excess moisture. Excessively dry logs may demonstrate chaotically high temperatures for short burn times, which isn’t good for cooking.
How to Use Pizza Oven Wood in Any Pizza Oven
Like cast-iron skillets, pizza ovens develop their own flavor profiles over time in response to the environment, the pizza’s ingredients and the type of wood you use. As you continue to use your pizza oven, it’ll infuse its own unique cocktail of flavors into every new pizza it makes.
Regardless of the pizza oven you use, you’re going to need about five small chunks of wood to get a fire going, after which you can add another chunk every 20 or 30 minutes.
What Type of Wood for Pizza Ovens Is Best?
There’s plenty of information regarding the best wood for smoking and grilling, but not many remember to explain what should go into pizza ovens. Surely, you can’t let pizza fall by the wayside in the world of food!
The type of firewood you use can make a significant impact. Here are a few suggestions for types of species to use.
Local woods are the most realistic options, but oak is usually best. It’s common and effective for cooking many different dishes because it doesn’t have a lot of intrinsic flavor.
As the densest hardwood, oak provides the perfect amount of heat for the most time. It also pairs well with other woods. No matter what beginners cook, we always recommend oak.
More specifically, if you swap red oak for white, you can expect more flavor and less smoke, but we digress. If you have enough experience to go for flavor instead of even cooking, we have plenty of other recommendations.
Sugar maple is another effective hardwood. The subtly sweet notes of maple syrup are great for topping-heavy pizzas with thick layers of crumbled sausage and savory veggies. With 100 unique subspecies, maple is probably available near you. As with oak, you’ll enjoy good, even burns thanks to high density.
Also similar to oak, ash provides high heat without overwhelming a dish’s flavor. More importantly, its burns are consistent and persistent, providing constant heat for several hours. In comparison to other kiln-dried firewood, it’s easiest to light, too.
If this is your first time making wood-fired pizza, and you’re using ash, you have nothing to worry about. You can even throw in some mesquite or fruitwood without needing to keep a close eye on the fire.
All fruitwoods, including apple, cherry, peach and plum can complement toppings with hints of the respective fruits. Because fruitwoods don’t produce as much heat as more conventional hardwoods do, you might benefit from combining fruitwood with oak. This will kill two birds with one stone in the sense that the oak will keep the oven from undercooking the pizza and keep the applewood from overwhelming the pizza’s other flavors.
Apple actually owes its incredible popularity not only to its flavor and aroma, but to its hefty heat content in contrast against other fruitwoods. Apple is also suitable for poultry, but if you’re making an anchovy pizza, for example, you might want to use peach wood to complement the salty, fishy flavor of anchovies. The only conceivable downside of applewood is that it likes to “pop,” which might get some ash on the outskirts of your pizza, so make sure the wood and the pizza aren’t too close.
Highly popular in the world of barbecue, hickory provides some of the highest temperatures that may even burn food, so we don’t usually recommend hickory to beginners. However, a pizza is different from ribeye: Pizza requires high heat for a short amount of time, so hickory doesn’t really push the boundaries of making pizza. Otherwise, hickory burns for as long a time as oak, and you’re welcome to pair the two to keep flames manageable.
Master grillers often compare hickory to mesquite because both hardwoods exhibit strong flavors and stronger flames. Due to its chemical makeup, mesquite produces more smoke than other forms of wood without yielding excess creosote, but its uses go beyond smoking. The hot and quick burns mesquite yields can certainly go to town on a pizza, but mix it in with other woods just because it might overpower the flavor of the pizza.
The Best Pizza Oven Wood in Chicagoland Is within Reach
Whichever flavor’s your favorite, remember the bottom line: Pizza ovens need high heat and clean wood to make great pizza for a long time. Flavor is a secondary piece of the puzzle. If you’re making wood-fired pizza for the first time, use conventional hardwoods like oak and maple. With enough practice, you’ll certainly graduate to fruitwoods and heavy-duty hardwoods.
If you’d like to know where to buy pizza oven wood, we’re big believers in wood-fired cooking at Lumberjacks. We provide cherry, apple, oak and hickory for all sorts of culinary adventures, including grilling, smoking, barbecuing and making pizza! If you’re looking for the best kiln-dried cooking wood as well as a variety of flavors, we’re happy to help. Please call us or drop us an email to start your cooking wood order.