Pizza ovens make for a wonderful addition to your outdoor kitchen, and go down a treat at any barbecue or dinner event.
What makes for the perfect pizza topping will cause a lot of debate (anchovies and capers, FYI), but what often goes overlooked is the type of fuel you should use for your oven. What you might know is that your choice of wood can heavily influence the flavor and quality of your pizza.
Get that and your topping right, and you’ll be considered the pizza guru.
So what’s the best wood for pizza ovens?
My top pick: Oak
To get the most out of our pizza ovens, we need to use high quality kiln dried hardwood. This is true whether you’re using a home outdoor pizza oven, or a commercial one.
The types of wood that work best are seasoned hardwoods like oak and maple. Hardwoods are useful for cooking because they are heavier and denser, which means that they burns at a higher heat, for a longer time.
As a side note, you can use soft wood, but you need to be very thorough with removing the sap and bark from it. Personally, I think this is more effort than it’s worth and still doesn’t guarantee results as good as hardwood. I’d skip softwood altogether.
What I particularly like about oak is that it’s really easy to get a hold of, and is really reliable. It always provides a strong, but moderate, amount of smoke to fuel your oven. It does this without ever overpowering the flavor of your food, but still manages to impart a beautiful amount of smokey-ness onto your pizza.
I recommend: Try this Red Oak firewood on Amazon
The best of the rest
If you want to try experimenting and branching out from oak, then there are some great choices out there.
Hickory is similar to oak in that it creates a smoky aroma, and the wood itself can burn at a high temperature for a long time.
Hickory however is stronger in flavor than oak, so it might prove too smoky for some. It might be best to consider what pizza toppings you are using. If you’re using ingredients that inherently lend themselves well to smokey flavors, then it could be a great match. For example beef, jalapenos, pepperoni.
However if you’re using ingredients that are slightly more delicate, like fish or light cheeses, then there’s a chance that using pure hickory could overpower the flavors of your pizza.
I recommend: Try this Weber hickory firewood on Amazon
This might sound a little strange given that apple very rarely (or in my case, never) appears as a pizza topping. However as a firewood it makes a great choice for pizza ovens.
Fruitwoods like apple are very popular with outdoor cooking, particularly BBQ smoking, because they can burn at high temperatures while adding a nuanced layer of sweetness to the food.
They can go really well with pizza toppings that feature a lot of cheese, like quattro stagioni.
I recommend: Try this Apple firewood by Camerons
This fruitwood is so similar to apple that in truth this could easily have been my third choice too.
Cherry wood also provides a sweet flavor, but this time a little deeper in flavor. It goes well with almost everything on pizza, but I particularly like it with dark meats, like pastrami or beef sausage.
I recommend: Camerons cherry firewood
Another fruitwood, but a little lighter than cherry. I think it goes great with poultry and pork better than it does with darker meats. It makes a great choice for toppings like BBQ chicken, or ham.
I recommend: This beautiful maple firewood on Amazon
Even lighter still, this time going well with fish as well as poultry. I recommend trying it with tuna or salmon (yes, some people have salmon on pizza).
I recommend: Smokehouse's alder firewood
Finally, a beautiful sweet but dark smoky flavor that provides an interesting alternative to more traditional pizza wood fuels. It’s not too dissimilar to hickory, but just not as intense. I recommend trying it with dark meat pizzas, as well as classics like BBQ chicken or pepperoni.
I recommend: Smoak's pecan firewood logs
Here are 3 important things to look out for...
The reason why pizza ovens have stood the test of time in restaurants all over the world is because they’re a cooking method that get the very best out of the food inside them.
Its thick walls and domed shape allow the clean passage of smoke around its interior, which ensures excellent heat distribution to provide the best quality of cook for your pizza.
I say all of this because if the wood you use is then cheap or bland, it will completely let the entire cooking process down.
Whichever wood you choose, ensure that it’s pure hardwood and not made up with any fillers. If a price seems too good to be true, then I’m sad to say that it probably is.
Avoid added chemicals
Because pizza ovens try to retain heat, it’s imperative to avoid the use of any fuel that’s been chemically enhanced in any way.
This includes laminated wood, plywood, glued wood, or pressure treated woods.
If you’re unsure if a piece of wood has been treated then the best bet is always just to throw it out.
Always buy specifically manufactured oak, hickory or fruitwood that you know is hardwood and pure.
Don't use charcoal
While mostly natural, never use charcoal in your pizza oven. The carbon monoxide levels in charcoal smoke are far greater than that of wood, which is dangerous in ovens.
It might burn hotter and it might smell nice, but pizza ovens are not designed to handle the heat or smoke that charcoal produces, and it simply won’t work with pizza.
Not to mention it won’t be any good for your health.