What’s the Best Wood to use for a Pizza Oven? If You’re Considering a Wood Fired Oven, Here Are Our Best Tips!
You’ve taken the plunge! You’ve decided to skip the baby steps and get right to the big guns of owning a pizza oven – A WOOD FIRED OVEN! This is arguably the best option for pure authenticity of old world Italian charm artisanal bliss, but it’s also the one that requires the most space, care, effort, time and money! If that’s not enough to deter you, then you’re my hero! Let’s get at it. Much is said online about how to make a great pizza, including ingredients for good dough and sources for all the other toppings, oven temperatures and so on. It seems there is far too little information about which types of wood are best and in what condition they should be in for optimal efficiency and efficacy. I hope to address many of those concerns here.
Aside from choosing the perfect outdoor wood-fired oven (which we can help you with!), one of the biggest issues is choosing the right type of wood to burn. It may not be as simple as you might expect or hope. Let’s explore a few important issues;
Most wood-fired ovens are constructed in such a way that you slap your pie right into the chamber where the fire and coals are burning. The catch, of course, is to be sure the heat affects the pizza evenly, but that’s a topic for another day. Because the wood itself is burning in the same chamber as your food, you’ll want to carefully consider what that fire is actually adding to your pizza.
What Wood NOT to Use
While it may be tempting (because it’s easy and cheap), please stay away from processed woods. By that I mean pressure treated, laminated, painted, stained or glued woods like plywood or particle board. In fact, if you suspect any chemicals have come within ten feet of it, don’t use it! Those chemicals get sucked into your pie immediately when it’s baking, so I think that settles that! Furthermore, who wants those chemicals floating around in the air so we can suck it into our lungs AND into our pizza? YUCK! Okay, so you get that, but here’s a tougher sell; Don’t use softwoods! Why? For one thing, it’s not going to burn as hot, and it will certainly not burn as long, which means you’ll have an initial inferno, then it’ll all turn to dirty ash and soot quickly. In addition, it’ll probably have sap (like pine or cedar) which creates a dirty soot and creosote. Aside from the fact you might be able to get it for free, there’s really no upside to using soft wood. Having said that, if you chop up some clean pine for initial kindling, that may be okay. Wood chips and pellets are also okay for kindling, but unless your pizza oven is specifically designed for wood pellets (which means it is very small and portable), then pellets and chips won’t provide the heat necessary to bake a pizza in an oven that doesn’t even have a door!
I would also stay away from charcoal as main heat source. In order to properly finish a pizza, there needs to be a direct flame to melt the toppings on your pizza and brown/crisp the top dough. Charcoal does not produce a sustained direct flame (usually no flame at all), so you’ll end up with a less-than-satisfying pizza which won’t be done on top, and most certainly won’t be evenly baked.
There is yet another type of wood to NOT use in your wood fired pizza oven (at least for now) and that is wood that is not fully dried or cured. Even if it’s the right type of wood, it won’t work well if it’s not perfectly dry. You may not even be able to get it started, and you’ll certainly have lots of smoke! Depending on how big or thick your pieces of wood are, it could take well over a year to dry sufficiently. After 2 years it will probably be as dry as it will ever get. Wood is best dried either in a kiln made for drying wood (expensive option) or in a shed or garage with good ventilation and a weatherproof roof/walls/floor. If you buy your wood in cords, it should be good to go.
Top 5 BEST Woods to Use (in North America – ish!)
If you haven’t figured it out yet, HARDWOOD is definitely the fuel of choice for your wood-fired pizza oven. There are a TON of hardwoods that would do the trick nicely, but the reason we have a top 5 is based on factors such as accessibility, cost, efficiency, and flavor.
Oak – this is probably one of the easier ones to find, and to buy at a somewhat reasonable price. It also happens to be among the top contenders of hot burning woods, so it’s a great choice.
Apple – this one comes in a close second because it also burns very hot, and has the added advantage of a wonderful fragrance and flavor. It would have made it to number one if not for the relatively high cost and it’s also more scarcely available than many other hardwoods.
Cherry – this wood is much like the apple so it’s a close 3rd. You can get some right away on Amazon, but you can also source it out locally, though it may be a challenge to find.
Maple – this is a classic wood that is great for so many applications. It’s also very accessible and available through most of the country. You can see some here.
Ash – though ash is a slightly softer wood than maple, it’s still considered a hardwood and it is even more available (and less expensive) than Maple, so it makes it into our top five list.
Other hardwoods offer an excellent option if you can find them. Some great woods are almond, hickory, pear, pecan, peach, plum, walnut, mesquite, beech and birch.
Pizza Oven Firewood [more tips and ideas]
Is there anything else you need to consider when choosing a type of firewood for your pizza oven? Well, I’m so glad you asked because there is! (surprise, surprise!). Here are some random thoughts related to firewood that you may keep in mind during your wood search;
I’ve been told that there is such a thing (though I can say I’ve never experienced it) as wood that is TOO dry. Yes, you read that right! Apparently, it can produce smoke and soot similar to wood that is too wet. I may re-visit this topic in the future, but for now, it’s way in the back of my mind waiting to be unpacked.
We discussed a bit about wood that is too damp and has not dried out yet, but how do you know what’s too wet? Well, we’ll know the wood is dry enough if you follow a few simple rules. Firstly, if you buy your wood, you’ll likely get a fairly dry wood that’s ready to burn. If you get your wood from a friend or somewhere where the wood is fresh, try to cut in the winter or NON-growing season (if you have the choice) since most of the sap and moisture is in the roots and not in the wood itself. Then, do your best to split or cut it into pieces about 16 inches long and 2-3 inches in diameter. Your kindling can be a bit smaller. It’ll be the correct size for burning and it will dry a lot faster than larger chunks.
When you finish a baking session, it’s a great idea to add enough wood for another session in the oven itself once the heat has diminished a bit. This will dry and prepare the wood for the next session. If your oven has a door, I’d leave it at least partially open to reduce the chance of a flare up fire in the drying wood and to let any smoke/gasses escape. If you’re a techno-geek type, here’s a good rule of thumb to finesse your burn; Make your wood for a single session 60% air dried with the remaining wood (40%) being mostly dried through the oven itself after a baking session.
One final thought: If you’re wondering about good places to get some wood, try places like firewood retailers, manufacturers that process wood (ie. Gun stock factories), local Parks and Recreation government authorities, tree cutting companies, friends or neighbors cutting or pruning trees or if you get lucky (like I did this week) you can stumble across a local, municipal town maintenance crew or hydro line crew cutting down a large tree at the side of the road. They usually don’t mind if you take the wood and in fact, it would help them out if you did! Just be sure to ask politely first! If nothing else works, we can direct you to a great premium Oak bundle supplier who’ll ship right to your door! Yes, I’m referring to an online option. And, if you don’t eat pizza every day, it may be your best option for the sake of convenience and quality.
I Have the Wood, Now What?
If you have a pizza oven that comes with its own wood storage area, good for you! Most ovens don’t have that option, so most of us are stuck with other options for wood storage. I’ve been storing wood for my fireplace for many years, so if you’re a newbie to wood storage, here are a few basic starter tips.
If you’re lucky, you can just stack up a few boxes of wood in the corner of your garage (since there’s so much extra space for that right?). the majority of us will have to settle for stacking the wood along the edge of our house! However, the ideal wood you’ll want to use will be dense and dry, which will make for a great pizza oven wood for direct flame and even better for heat-generating coal once the fire subsides. Keeping the wood dry in a wet environment can be a challenge to all of us who don’t have room inside for storage, or have a shed in our backyards. I’m kind of one of those people, and I have a whole lot of experience with storing wood. However, here’s a photo of one of my CURRENT storage situations! Yes, shame on me for this unforgivable excuse of a wood storage attempt. I’ve fallen into the trap that most people do when storing wood. I’ve not used an organizer rack, and I have not used a properly-designed weather protective cover. As a result, my stacks are starting to warp and wood is falling to the ground, while at the same time, my old tarp is ripping and deteriorating. To avoid this, I would strongly suggest getting a rack to organize your wood, and a weather resistant cover to make your life easier. There are lots of options online, and you can search and tweak as you please, but I really like the Woodhaven 4 foot rack (good all-around size for average wood inventories) and it includes the cover. The cover does not extend to the bottom of the rack, which will allow for natural drying even if the wood gets wet. You can also get a cover like this one to increase protection in extreme environments.
Is That It?
Well, I’m glad you asked! If you’re someone who wants everything “just so”, then we have a few more ideas that will help you avoid any unwanted surprises along the way. If you order wood online, the odds are less that you’ll need a hatchet or ax to shape and prepare your wood for burning. However, I get wood from lots of different sources, so I have 3 axes lying around the property (safetly hidden for the most part for obvious reasons). You can spend a fortune on fancy-looking units that look like they’re from an old Western flick, or you can stick with a basic tool that will do the job nicely. This ax is one of the least expensive options online, but I like it for our purposes here. Feel free to browse the other options that include camping and survival hatchet options and mauls that are specifically designed for splitting wood!
For those of you who like the idea of easy to split pizza oven kindling, but don’t like wielding an ax, this is the ultimate tool! It’s called the Kindling Cracker, and it safely and much more easily splits your small log chunks into kindling with just a heavy hammer.
Unless you’re getting your perfectly cut wood delivered right to your front door (which you would if you ordered wood online), you might have use for one of these carriers. I own two carriers in different styles for carrying large wood and smaller wood.
Are You Done Yet?
Yes, yes I am! I truly hope you’ve been entertained and informed on the subject of pizza oven woods, and I hope to continually add to and expand articles with lots more useful nuggets. Til then, please drop me a line if you have a favorite wood or accessory!