Choosing your Wood
No oven will operate efficiently without proper heat, so selecting the right wood is very important. All fuel must be dry to burn effectively.
Wood gives off energy when it burns, measured in British thermal units (BTU or Btu). Every species has a different heat value, softwoods being at the low end, and hardwoods at the high end. The lower the BTUs the less suitable for wood fired ovens. Avoid pine and fir as they are they emit resins and are too soft to form embers, unless using small pieces of pine to start the fire. As a general rule softwoods aren’t suitable for wood fired ovens. Hardwoods such as red and white oak which are ideals as are some fruitwoods such as cherry and apple.
Starting a Fire
Firstly, gather the fuel for the fire. You’ll need 4 or so sheets of newspaper, and good amount of kindling (thin dry twigs), and 16 to 20 pieces of firewood of about 1 or 2″ in diameter.
Form a wood stack 3 pieces high, by placing two pieces of firewood parallel to each other, at a distance equal to a little less than the length of the shorter piece. Add two pieces in opposing direction, forming a square, then add a further two pieces, again in the opposing direction.
Loosely crumple separate sheets of newspaper and place in the center of the wood stack. Add the kindling to the paper. Now, if there is room, place pieces of firewood on the stack on all sides.
Using a long match, a gas firelighter or a taper, light the paper. Pay attention to ensure the paper properly ignites the kindling, and blow gently to add oxygen if necessary. Once the fire is strong adding 2 or 3 pieces of wood to the top of the stack. The aim is to get a good bed of coals.
Getting Ready to Cook
Once the wood has burnt use your space to push the bed of coals, either to the rear of the oven, or to one side. For pizza-making your fire should always have live flames to cook the surface of the pizza. It also provides light! Experience shows the correct temperature is from 650 to 900F. That’s a big spread – but a lot depends on the type of wood and how long the fire burns before cooking.
Use a brush to sweep the ash away from the cooking surface, then use a fairly moist rag or mop to wipe off the residual ash. The oven is ready!