Tell me about wood-fired pizza ovens

My 16 year old son has developed a hobby making pizza. He’s really into it, making his own herb crust, and talking about making his own sauce from scratch instead of jarred pizza sauce. The final product is very good, but he still feels like something is missing.

I suggested if anything, it may be that ordinary ovens just don’t get hot enough. So he wants (me) to buy a wood-fired pizza oven, now that spring is around the corner. I’ve actually thought about getting one myself in the past.

Those pizza ovens, especially the Ooni brand, can get pretty pricey. I found this ‘Stoke’ brand one, which, on sale for $255, is about as much as I’d want to pay for something that might go the way of a pasta maker (use once or twice, then forget about it until you sell it at a garage sale). It says it gets up to 900F in 15 minutes and cooks a pizza in 2 minutes. Does this one sound like it would do the deal?

Wood-fired, not pellet-fired, is the way I’d want to go. I have tons of seasoned hardwood on hand, including more apple wood than I could ever use for smoking in my lifetime.

What about smoke flavor-- does a wood fired pizza oven impart smoke flavoring, or is the smoke separated from the pizza chamber? Not that smoke flavor would be bad, but it would make for a different pizza experience.

900F is the right temperature, perhaps even a little bit too hot. Two minutes is about right too for a thin pizza, and a pizza should be thin and not like the pizza hut monsters, IMHO. This is wrong, this is better. And when you are at it, yes, you make your own dough and your own sauce. It is easy, it takes more time than effort.
Smoke should not be a problem, the taste does not really come through if you use any wood without resin. Pine and cedar are not good, apple should be.

They both look awful to me. Good pizza looks like this. Sourdough and wood fired.

Granted, yours looks better. I like the charred bits.

Me too, something I can’t achieve at home as I don’t have a pizza oven, so following this thread with interest…

As something of an amateur pizzaiolo myself, I’d say that if the OP’s son isn’t making his own sauce, and experimenting with different flours and hydrations for doughs already, there’s no need whatsoever to go to the trouble to get a wood fired oven just yet. There’s a LOT of ground to cover in ingredients and/or technique before needing to get away from your own oven.

Better to get him a good baking steel at this point- it’ll give you MUCH better crust results than a stone or sheet pan. I’ve got one, and it makes fantastic pizza at 550 F in our home oven (and we DO experiment a LOT with flours, hydrations, sauce ingredients, cheeses, cured meats, etc…)

Baking Steel Review (

The whole idea is that a big dense sheet of steel can gather and retain heat, and thereby not cool off so much when your pizza goes on it.

Historically, wood fired ovens have basically been a chamber where you start a fire and get it good and hot, then once everything’s heated up, the baker either pushes the ashes to the back, or pulls them out of the oven, and the radiant heat from the oven itself bakes the bread/pizza/whatever, and not the actual combustion of the wood directly. As such, a certain amount of mass is critical.

Typically wood-fired pizzas are cooked at extremely high heat (say… 900F) for short periods of time, like 1-3 minutes. There may be a smidge of smoke flavor probably mostly from the ashes on the cooking surface, but the big deal with the wood fired oven is the really high, really short cooking time. I would be skeptical that the small oven in the OP’s link would actually retain enough heat to cook a pizza in that manner.

Thanks for the great tips, bump! Will definitely look into getting a baking steel.

Can you share more info about this? What’s the best flour to use for pizza dough? I’m not even sure what’s meant by different hydrations.

But then, I’m not much of a baker. My son has been doing online research for the best dough prep. He gets very involved with it, but he’s just using ordinary flour so far.

Pizza sauce is the area I think I can help him with the most. I think he feels a little daunted by the sauce making but I make a mean spaghetti sauce, so I’m sure I can help him in that area.

Oh man…

My wife’s the dough girl, but put simply, there are a LOT of flours - there’s regular all-purpose (AP), there’s bread flour (higher protein), there’s special high gluten flour, there are all sorts of Italian flours - Tipo 00 is the most famous, but there are multiple mills and multiple flour blends as well.

And the hydration is the ratio of water to flour - it’s usually in baker’s percentages, which means that if it says 60% hydration, it means to add 60% of the weight of the flour in water. So for a recipe with 1kg of flour, a 60% hydration dough would have 600 grams of water added.

The hydration is important because it affects the wetness of the dough, which is important depending on what your baking setup is.

Personally, I like the book 'Elements of Pizza" by Ken Forkish for explaining a lot of the underlying pizza theory.

FYI, sauce is easy. We either use the sauces in the book above, or we use the Kenji Lopez-Alt NY style recipe from Serious Eats. Sometimes we blend the onion into the sauce with the stick blender- it’s less sweet and more savory that way.

I think the BEST wood-fired pizzas are made from:

San Marzano Tomato from Mt. Vesuvius
Fresh Bufala Mozzarella
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Fresh Basil
Caputo Blue wheat Flour
Capicola sausage

Toss it all into a wood fired oven for 1.5 minutes or so at 900 degrees

Delicious in its simplicity!

I admire anyone doing this at home in their own wood-fired ovens.

Really? Unless there’s something magical about American pizza sauce, then standard sauce is basically a tin of tomatoes with variations on a little olive oil, garlic and basil/oregano, maybe a pinch of chilli flakes. Like many italian foodstuffs, it’s the simplest sauce in the world. Here’s a simple version.

Yes, really. He’s gotten into baking, with the homemade pizza dough and making pretzels before that, but he doesn’t really do any cooking yet. So he doesn’t feel confident making his own sauce yet, simple as it may be.

Also, as any cook knows, sometimes the ‘simplest’ recipes are the most difficult to pull off.

This is a dumb question but has your son eaten wood-fired pizza? Is that the type of pizza he is actually setting out to make?

I ask because I love pizza but I really dislike wood-fired. I’ve never had one that wasn’t charred, as a feature. I do not like the taste of charred pizza dough and TO ME it ruins the whole thing.

I am completely aware that this is a feature and many people love it (the wood-fired pizza places do just fine around here). I just want to make sure that your son loves it too, and doesn’t go from “Oh boy I’m getting my own pizza oven!” to “Oh crap all my pizzas taste like an ashtray!”

I’ve in the past gotten into pizza a bit and had a pizza stone 1 in thick and across the entire oven. It worked well and I had some amazing results. However I also have had amazing results with a convection oven with really no other accessory. I’ve never used a wood fired oven however but I don’t see a reason to at the prices they are. Plus the convection oven does so much more, so it might be a consideration having a multi-tool instead of a one-tricker.

Not a dumb question at all. My son does have a low tolerance for food he thinks is burned, that I would consider “deliciously toasty”. So that’s a good point to keep in mind.

The pizza steel that bump recommended sounds like a good interim step, so I may go that route rather than the dedicated pizza oven.

If you go the steel route (or ceramic stone) you can do a credible 900 degree pizza experience on a gas grill, too (which you may already own). We’ve got a Weber 4 burner and with about a 15 minute pre-heat cooks a pizza in a couple of minutes. In fact, it’s easy to get too much char if you’re not careful. Lightly topped is the way to go for high-heat pizzas or else they char before the toppings are cooked.

Has it tried using a grill? I’ve found grilling pizza comes pretty close to the taste of a wood fired pizza – a nice crispy crust with a little bit of char, without needing to invest in additional expensive equipment.

The technique I use is: Preheat your grill. Roll out the dough, place it on the grill, and close the lid. Grill it for about 2-3 minutes, until the bottom is slightly charred and the top is starting to bubble. Remove the crust from the grill, flip it over. Brush the cooked side with olive oil and add your sauce and toppings. Put if back in the grill, close the lid, and grill for another 2-3 minutes until it’s done to your liking.

He’s a strapping young lad–have him build his own oven! People are out there building wood fired pizza ovens for under a hunnert bucks, so if he gets tired of his pizza fad you’re not out much aside from materials cost. Plus, consider his bragging rights!

See if there’s a pizza in your area that bills itself as “Neapolitan” pizza and, if so, take him there.

A pizza stone or steel is an excellent purchase. So is a dough docker to help keep bubbles from forming.

Hmmmmmmmm, I have thought in the past about building a DIY combo outdoor fireplace / pizza oven. Father-son Spring project?

The easiest sauce is this one (from that “Elements of Pizza” book I mentioned), and it works very, very well for pizzas with flavorful ingredients (it’s a supporting actor, not a lead).


This is the sauce I now use almost exclusively, the only variation being whether I use a food mill or a blender to make it, for different textures. It takes about two minutes to make.

MAKES about 750 grams (3 cups), enough sauce for seven 12-inch pizzas

  • 1 can (800-gram/28-ounce) whole peeled tomatoes
  • 8 grams (1½ teaspoons) fine sea salt
  1. Pour the entire contents of the tomato can into the blender. Add the salt. Pulse on the lowest speed setting very, very briefly, just until the tomatoes are blended.
  2. Pour the sauce into a sealable container. I use a quart-sized deli container with a lid. Label the container with the date and refrigerate what you don’t use.

Forkish, Ken. The Elements of Pizza: Unlocking the Secrets to World-Class Pies at Home . Potter/Ten Speed/Harmony/Rodale. Kindle Edition.