When you fire up your pizza oven, it can be unclear when it is ready to start cooking your first pizza. It’s important to get it right – you’ve spent all that time getting your dough ready.
Here are some ways that you can tell when it is hot enough and ready for your first pizza.
- When the black soot on the oven dome turns white.
- Use an infrared thermometer to read 850F or 450C.
- When a handful of flour browns in 10 seconds when thrown on the oven floor.
Read on to know when it’s too hot, how to regulate the temperature, and how long it will take you to heat it up.
Knowing When Your Pizza Oven Is Ready
The temperature of the oven will determine what style of pizza comes out. A really hot oven will cause the dough to puff rapidly, and create a leopard-spotted dough, with a soft, steamed interior. This is the classic Neapolitan style.
As it gets cooler, the pizzas will be less puffy, and take on a chewier, breadier texture like a ciabatta. This is more of a New York crust (or something similar to a home oven pizza).
You can use the two manual methods of checking the dome color turning white or throwing flour onto the oven floor to watch it brown. But it’s pretty hard to tell, so you’re likely to end up with a few pizzas that aren’t that great – burnt edges, or tough crusts.
To get perfect consistent results, you need to get an infrared thermometer to accurately measure the temperature. You point the tool inside the oven, and take a reading of the temperature from a distance, without burning your hand.
This means you know for sure what the temperature is, and won’t burn your first pizza if it’s too hot. Similarly, you won’t start cooking when it’s not enough to make that soft Neapolitan-style pizza crust.
How Hot Should A Pizza Oven Be? (And How To Get It There)
Aim for 850F (450C), allow it to burn there for 20 minutes, and then start cooking, maintaining the temperature above 750F (400C).
If you build up the fire to be slightly hotter than you are cooking, it will make it easier to maintain a good cooking temperature over the cooking period.
This will cook pizzas in around 90 seconds. If you have the oven around 650F (350C) then you might wait around 4 minutes for the pizza to cook. This will change the dynamic of the pizza as mentioned above, to a dryer crust. The fast cooking ensures the crust has a lovely tender interior, yet a crisp edge.
Here’s a useful table I made to get an idea of cooking temperatures in a wood-fired oven. You can see the temperatures needed for different types of food.
|Style Of Cooking
|What To Cook
|Pizza, garlic bread, naan bread
|540 – 600°F
|280 – 320°C
|Steak, sardines, shrimp
|450 – 540°F
|230 – 280°C
|Turkey, Roast potatoes, whole fish
|400 – 450°F
|200 – 230°C
|Sourdough, pizza rolls, foccacia
|320 – 400°F
|160 – 200°C
cinnamon rolls, strawberry cobbler
|210 – 250°F
|100 – 120°C
|Pulled pork, BBQ ribs, stews
If you want some recipe ideas for other food to cook in your oven, I wrote an article 25 Foods To Cook In Your Pizza Oven. There is so much more you can cook inside which you don’t realize!
How Long It Takes To Heat Up A Pizza Oven
Usually, this would take around 1-2 hours. So plan ahead, and get it going early if you are hosting a party.
It can depend on quite a few factors. Environmental factors such as the weather, how dry is your wood, how long you last fired the oven, and how well you built the fire will influence the speed.
More moisture means the fire will burn less efficiently. Oxygen is important for fire also, so don’t close the door fully. The door can hold some heat, so try placing it half closed.
Some tips for speed:
- Use kiln-dried logs (dry out your own logs in your oven after cooking, while it is still warm!)
- Light with the “top-down” approach (smaller kindling on top to burn larger logs at the bottom).
- Use your oven regularly to avoid moisture.
Your Pizza Oven Can Get Too Hot
If the oven gets too hot then the crust will burn before it is cooked through. This can happen if you start pushing 930F (500C).
Throw in a handful of flour – it’s too hot if it catches fire or burns in 10 seconds.
The oven floor can be too hot where the fire has been built upon. The usual tactic is to build the fire in the middle, then push it to the side or back when cooking.
When you push the embers, it is a good idea to let the floor cool slightly before your first pizza. Leave it for 20 minutes before the first pizza, or use a throw-away piece of dough with no toppings to take the initial sting out of it.
The first pizza will often be extra charred with the fierceness of the heat, with the following pizzas cooking more evenly.
The patch of the oven floor where you just cooked a pizza will be slightly cooler. You can reuse this spot for the next pizza so that it doesn’t burn the base. The same goes for turning the pizza – turn it and make sure you put it back in the same place to avoid getting burnt bases.
Using dough with higher hydration percentages will allow you to cook at higher temperatures. Above 70% is a place to start and then up to 80% – it gets harder to manage the sticky dough as you get higher.
If you don’t know much about hydration then check out my article about Pizza Dough Hydration And Other Bakers Percentages. There is some info and some popular dough recipes.
How To Regulate The Temperature
Once the oven is running at a cooking temperature of 750F (400C), you need to maintain the temperature if you are making multiple pizzas.
Add an extra log every 20 minutes depending on the size of the log. I try and make sure I have a log on fire to have a flame licking up the side of the oven, to almost “grill” the pizza from above.
Should You Close The Door?
The door can retain heat, but it also prevents oxygen from getting to the fire. Leave the door open when cooking, so you can watch the crusts.
You can leave the door partially closed between cooking pizzas and initial firing. Close the door fully when the flames have died out (such as baking bread).
How Long A Pizza Oven Stays Hot For
This depends on 2 main factors: how hot you initially got your oven, and how well insulated your oven is. Remember that the oven door plays a big part in the insulation too.
A well insulated oven could have temperatures of 400F (200C) the next morning – perfect for baking a morning bread loaf. It might persist to 300F (150C) by early evening, allowing you to cook another meal.
Check out my post for things you can continue to cook inside the next day – 25 Foods To Cook In Your Pizza Oven.
Obviously, cheaper builds and ovens with minimal insulation will hold temperatures significantly less long. You can use materials like vermiculite or insulating blankets to improve the insulation considerably.
With these tips, you can hopefully build up some more skills with your pizza oven, and know when it is ready to cook.
All pizza ovens and the environment they are used are unique so it’s important to get a feel for your oven. With practice, you will know when it is ready, and when it needs more fuel.
You might have a few bad pizzas during the learning experience, but bad pizza is usually pretty good anyway!