When your pizza oven is too smokey, this can be an annoying problem for you and your neighbours. The good thing is, these problems can probably be solved with some know-how. Usually you’ve made some beginner errors in lighting and building your fire, which can be fixed by following some of the tips below.
If you are thinking of buying a pizza oven but are concerned that it will be too smokey, then read on to get some more knowledge and alleviate your concerns.
To stop your pizza oven being too smokey follow these guidelines:
- Get the fire burning at maximum efficiency.
- Use the right wood type.
- Use seasoned or kiln dried wood with no bark.
- Use your oven to ‘kiln’ dry your logs.
- Light the fire with the “top down” method.
- Finish curing your oven – it will smoke more in the curing stage
Read on for the details in how to achieve these steps.
1. Get The Fire Burning Efficiently
Smoke occurs when the wood hasn’t been completely burned (called incomplete combustion). You have probably noticed that a very hot fire with red embers has very little smoke.
So a fire needs three things – fuel, oxygen and heat.
Fuel is the wood. The key is to not add too much wood for the amount of heat, otherwise the fire can’t combust it fully. If you add too much wood early on then you will get more smoke – build it up slowly.
Oxygen allows the fire to burn efficiently so make sure there is enough airflow. Stack your logs with space between them, and allow air to come from beneath.
Heat comes from time and more fuel. Your fire will smoke more at the start when it isn’t hot enough to fully burn the wood. So you should aim to have a nice big fire – don’t hold back with a small one as it is counter productive and will actually smoke more.
2. Use The Right Wood
As we’ve learned, smoke comes from wood that hasn’t combusted properly. You should therefore use the right wood in your fire.
You should get non-resinous hardwood such as ash, beech, maple or oak to name a few. They will burn slowly and at a high temperature. Resinous wood gives off more soot and smoke when it burns so should be avoided. Cedar and pine are some examples to avoid.
Splitting the wood will ensure it dries better, and burns better than whole logs.
3. Use Dried Wood
The extra water will cause the wood to not burn as well as it could. So if you have green wood, or wood that has gotten wet from the weather, this will smoke.
Wood can be naturally seasoned to reduce moisture content by leaving it for 6 months or so in a dry place. It can also be kiln dried for extra dryness.
Kiln dried wood has been placed in a warm kiln to reduce the amount of moisture held inside. It dries the wood more thoroughly than a natural seasoning, and so less water naturally means it burns better.
You can tell wood is not fully dry if it hisses when being burned. This is the moisture turning to steam and being squeezed out under pressure. You can remove any logs which are particularly loud if safe to do so.
Remove The Bark
Some bark will smoke more than others, so its worth testing your type of wood to see if it smokes a lot. If you get more smoke than you would like, then it’s worth removing excess bark as it can be a culprit.
It is quite a labor intensive process so I would address the other problems first and then come back to the bark if smoke is still a problem.
4. Use Your Oven To “Kiln” Dry Your Logs
A trick to help dry your logs can be using your oven as a makeshift kiln dryer with the heat from after you’ve last used it.
The day after you have used your oven, it will still retain residual heat from the previous fire. Ensure it is fully burned out and clean the ashes out. You can now pack the oven with logs and close the door. The heat will dry the moisture from the wood better than a natural drying process – kiln dried wood is said to have 10 to 20 percent less moisture.
Get into the habit of doing this drying technique after every time you use you oven, and you will have extra dry logs with less smoke, for no extra price.
5. Light The Oven With The Top Down Method
The old boy scout method of building a fire up like a tipi isn’t actually the best way to build a fire for efficiency and less smoke. This is called the bottom up method as you put paper and kindling at the bottom and then lay larger logs on top. You then light the bottom in the hope that the top will catch.
This actually just starts the top logs burning slightly with the small flames beneath – it isn’t hot enough to fully burn the logs so emits smoke.
The top down method is better. You stack the larger logs at the bottom, medium logs on the next layer and then kindling on top – with enough air gaps to allow oxygen. You light the top and then the fire burns downwards, and naturally burns smaller logs first by design to produce less smoke. It also requires zero maintenance as your big logs are ready and waiting to go up. Any smoke (which is unburnt fuel) from the lower logs actually gets burned in the hot flames above.
Watch the video to see how.
Some general things to remember when starting the fire:
- Recommend the “top down” approach described.
- Start with small logs and get larger.
- Use lots of kindling.
- Adding too much wood too early causes smoke.
- Aim to get glowing charcoal as quickly as you can.
- Don’t disturb the fire too early.
- Use a gas torch to get it started faster.
These steps should ensure you get a faster fire, which gets up to higher temperatures quickly and therefore burns more completely to give less smoke.
6. Finish Curing Your Pizza Oven
A new pizza oven won’t get to the high temperatures of a seasoned oven because it needs to be cured. It needs to be cured to drive the moisture out of the masonry.
Don’t worry if your fire smokes a bit too much at the beginning while you are curing the oven – this is normal as the fires are not hot enough yet. When you get up to maximum temperatures, the wood will be more completely burned, resulting in less smoke.
Cure your oven with increasingly large fires over a 5 day period until it is ready for maximum temperatures.
How Much Smoke Should Come Out?
It is normal for smoke to emit from the fire when it has just been lit. This is because the fire doesn’t have the high heat yet.
Smoke can last for 20-30 minutes before this clears up and eventually should be almost smoke free.
If you are thinking of buying a wood fired oven but are hesitant because of the thought of it being too smokey, you should be reassured that you can eliminate this fear with the correct steps. If you invest in the correct wood and use correct techniques to start and maintain the fire, then you should only get a small amount of smoke at the beginning.
Pizza Oven Smoke And Your Neighbours
Having a pizza oven in a residential area can be troublesome because of the smoke nuisance to nearby neighbours. In some areas there will be regulations on open fires and fire pits, so you will need to check with your local authorities on the laws. They might restrict certain timings, fuel, or it might be banned all together. It is better to do this before investing or building your own oven!
When placing the oven, keep in mind the location and how it might affect your neighbours. A good thing to keep in mind is the prevailing wind. You generally don’t want to have all your smoke blow into a neighbours open window, so don’t position it down wind.
Light your oven on a less windy day to avoid complaints. The wind will blow the smoke around your yard and into other peoples property. If the day is calm then the smoke will travel straight up.
It’s a good idea to talk to your neighbours about your plans and come to an agreement, before going ahead and upsetting people. At the very least you could invite them over for pizza.
There is no reason why your pizza oven should smoke too much if you use the right wood and learn to build a fire properly for efficient combustion. There will be a learning curve to getting it right, and your pizza oven needs to cure at the start, so expect some smokey fires early on.
You can mitigate this by not burning on a windy day, and letting your neighbours know your actions so that you won’t upset too many people.
You shouldn’t let the thought of too much smoke stop you buying or building your first pizza oven!