How to Light a Wood-Fired Oven

| The Hottest Trend in Cooking

One of the hottest trends in outdoor cooking right now is the wood-fired pizza oven. When it comes to pizza ovens, the most frequent question we are asked is “How do you start a fire in it?” This is such a great question!

Lighting a fire and cooking on a pizza oven is very different from other forms of outdoor cooking, so it’s important to first learn how the oven works. Once you understand how the oven works, the lighting process will seem much more intuitive and cooking on one will become much easier to understand for everyone.

| Understanding Your Oven

One of the easiest ways I’ve found to understand wood fire pizza ovens is to look at them as hybrids that use the active energy of the fire to heat the toppings and the stored energy of the refractory bricks and insulation to heat the dough from the bottom. In order to be able to heat from bottom, you first must “charge the battery” by heating up the refractory bricks that line the pizza oven floor.

This is done by placing your fire in the center of the oven and letting it burn until your base is at least 750 degrees Fahrenheit.  The closer you can get to 1000 degrees the better. Once the refractory tiles in the center of the oven are hot, you will then move your fire over to the left side of the oven. If your oven has a thermometer built into the front wall, we usually recommend placing the fire on the opposite side of your thermometer so that you are getting a better reading of the oven temperature rather than the fire.

 

Preparation

Preparing to start a fire will require some fire-starting material, kindling, smaller split wood, and then some larger split wood that will still fit inside of the oven when you have the door closed. We’ve found that using a hardwood such as hickory, pecan, or oak that has been properly dried works best as it provides the the most consistent heat while softer woods will light easier but will burn quicker and provide less heat.

Once lit, you can also play with smoke profiles by adding some softer woods such as apple or cherry. The main idea in the beginning is to create a bed of embers that will provide most of your heat and then you can use various sized pieces of woods to adjust the heat after.

Let's get it started on high


| Build a Cabin

Once you have proper fuels, the next important factor is airflow. The goal is to create a stack of wood with a dense center that can draw the air it needs once lit and use the rest of the wood as fuel.

The easiest way I’ve found to set up for successful lighting and burning of the fire is to place two pieces of larger split wood approximately 6” apart laying perpendicular to front of the door. This should be in the center of your oven floor.

Place fire-starting material and kindling in between and then lay more of your smaller split pieces horizontally across your base logs. You will then lay more kindling in between the smaller logs. After this you can place more larger sized logs vertically on top of what should start resembling the layers of a log cabin.

 

| Fire It Up!

To light the fire, we usually use a small propane torch with a trigger or button igniter to light ours, but you can also use a match or any other source of flame. Make sure to light your fire-starting material first and then that fire will contact and light the kindling, which will then contact and light your smaller and larger wood.

I’ve found that it helps to light the fire in a few places around the outside of your fire-starter and kindling at the bottom of the stack. Everything will then burn toward the center and it will all start to ignite wood higher on the stack and before you know it, you’ll have the perfect fire.

 

| Get It Hot

Now that you have your fire lit, your goal is to keep it going while using the coals to create enough heat to get your floor up to the temperature you need. Neapolitan pizza usually benefits from 750 degrees 1000 degrees while breads and some other meats may require a little less. Right now, we’re getting the fire up to 1000 degrees.

To cook at lower temperatures, you may want to consider refractory cooking as the oven cools down. Keep in mind that the floor is like a battery. You are currently storing energy in the center of the oven floor that you’ll be using to cook the bottom of your pizza, entrée, or side dish, so make sure that you keep the fire in the center long enough to heat your refractory bricks thoroughly.

 

| Move Your Fire

As the floor becomes hot enough to cook on, you’ll then want to move the fire over to the side of the pizza oven so that it can wrap over the top and heat the oven dome while also creating a convection current that will heat the top and sides of your meal.

This can be done using a rake peel to slide the fire to where you would like it. A rake peel is a specific tool used to move the fire that comes in the Alfa 4-piece pizza tool set. This set contains all of the tools you’ll need to make great pizza.

Once the fire has been moved, you’ll want to close the door to the oven until you start to see temperatures around 750 degrees to 1000 degrees at which point you will sweep away any ash from the center of the floor and then you are ready to start making delicious pies! All you have to do now is occasionally place a new log onto the fire using tongs, a turning peel, or a set of heavy gloves.

 

| This is Just One Way

The method described above is just one method of building a fire in your Alfa oven. You can also use wood grates to build the fire on top of. This is a grate that raises the fire off the deck about an inch to give the fire more fresh air.

While this will improve the fire’s ability to breathe, it can also lengthen the time it takes to heat your oven up and you may end up burning more fuel as less heat is retained in a bed of coals directly on the oven floor.

We recommend practicing both methods and deciding which works best for your recipes and cooking style. These ovens offer excellent ways to express your creativity, so feel free to experiment and discover new ways to “Wow!” your friends and family!


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