Understanding the differences of a regular oven and a pizza oven is key to making great pizza. There are many oven types out there from wood fired, electric elements, gas or commercial ovens. The main difference is the maximum temperature reached by these ovens.
I’m going to focus mainly on the differences and benefits of wood fired ovens in this article because they are in a realm of their own in terms of temperature.
Pizza oven vs regular oven main differences:
- Much higher temperatures at 900F/500C vs 500F/260C – this cooks the pizza in around 90 seconds to give a number of benefits.
- The texture far superior. There is a crisp crust but with a moist interior. Regular ovens dry out the crust from longer cooking, making it tougher.
- The flavor is improved from caramelization and the wood smoke.
- There is more browning giving a “leopard spotted” appearance.
- Hotter temperatures give faster rise or “oven spring” leading to larger crusts.
Coming up is some more information on pizza ovens, including using the right oven for the right pizza style. Also some tips on how you can cook great pizza in a regular home oven. You can get pretty close to the real wood fired effect with some know how.
My best tip for making pizza in a home oven is using a pizza “steel”. This adds intense heat from below like a brick oven would – I have this steel from Amazon which is significantly lower priced than the original brand, but works perfectly. Steel is more conductive than stone so transfers more heat, they don’t shatter and they are easier to clean. If it’s out of your price range then the 2nd best option is a pizza stone made from cordierite. To see a round-up of the most important pizza equipment then see my essential pizza equipment list.
Wood Fired Pizza Is Great
Pizza cooked in wood fired oven has a number of significant differences to one cooked in a regular oven. Because the oven is so incredibly hot, it cooks the pizza in extremely quick times. We are talking 60-90 seconds for a properly fired oven.
This just takes the whole science of cooking dough to a different level. It takes on a unique taste and texture that can only be achieved in this environment. Ultimately, the pizza comes out crisp on the outside, but pleasantly chewy and moist on the interior. The taste has a charred, deep flavor and aroma.
In Naples, the birthplace of pizza, there is a Neapolitan Pizza Association (the AVPN) which has a set of international regulations for the true Neapolitan pizza. It must be cooked in a wood fired oven at a minimum temperature of 905F/485C. The document can be found here and has great instructions, especially in a world of copy cat imitations and misinformation.
The Benefits Of A Wood Fired Oven
The flavor of the crust is unique. The high heat basically caramelizes the crust, adding a depth of flavor. The smoke in the oven adds a subtle smokiness to the pizza too.
The crust is better. It puffs up quickly from the steam in the intense heat. This keeps it nice and light and chewy. But because of this heat, the outer layer is still fairly crisp too. It gets this distinct brown spotted appearance which is very appetizing to look at.
The cooking time is much faster – 90 seconds compared to 5-10 minutes.
The toppings get perfectly cooked. They are charred if they are lean toppings like vegetables. The cheese gets browned and bubbled.
A pizza oven has so much mass and insulation in its thick walls that it stays hot for a long time. Adding a log every 20 minutes is enough to keep it at it’s highest temperatures. It retains its heat to continue cooking lower temperature dishes for around 24 hours.
Many other things can be cooked in a pizza oven, and you can make use of a variety of temperatures. From searing meat, baking bread or even slow cooking. Check out my article on 25 foods to cook in your pizza oven.
Different Temperatures, Cooking Times And Results
1-2 minutes (Neapolitan style)
If you have the oven at the hottest temperatures, this is where the magic happens and you get true Neapolitan pizza. Even a light drop in temperature changes the dynamic and the pizza will come out slightly different in texture and taste. The hottest pizza ovens seem to make the best pizza, it’s as simple as that. Often you won’t be able to pick this pizza up by the slice. It’s too wet and lacks a firm base because it hasn’t had time to dry out and firm up.
When the temperature drops slightly then the crust changes a little and it loses its puffy lightness. That’s why the Neapolitan regulations are so strict to have a temperature of 905F/485C. It’s still great, just a little different. This is the sort of pizza you get when your wood fired oven is starting to cool off slightly from the higher heats. You can also achieve this range in a home oven if you can get your cooking methods really hot.
6-15 minutes (New York style, home oven)
When you start cooking for considerably longer times then the pizza changes drastically now. The longer cooking dries the crust out much more. This is more of a New York style, where the crust is a little more chewy – still delicious, just a different style. The pizza slices can be picked up in your hands, and can hold itself under its weight. This is the style you will mostly get from a home oven.
Different Pizzas For Different Ovens
Remember that different styles of pizza are suited for different ovens and temperatures. Some just won’t work in particular ovens.
As we know, the Neapolitan pizza is strictly wood fired. The aim is to cook as fast as possible for a quick rise. You never add sugar to the dough otherwise it would brown too much. Oil is not needed either.
Another thin crust pizza, the New York style was traditionally cooked in coal ovens. It is cooked at a lower temperature and for longer, so has a smaller crust that has dried out a little more and is chewy. It usually has the addition of oil and sugar. This helps tenderize the dough and add browning in a cooler oven. It is well suited to the home oven with the right equipment because the cooking environment can be replicated.
Deep dish Chicago style pizza would not work in a wood fired pizza oven. It’s too thick and the exterior would burn before the interior had a chance to get going. You need lower temperatures and longer cooking times to cook it through.
You also have sheet pan pizza or skillet pizza which is slightly thicker and is suited for longer bakes. This is good for the home oven too.
How To Cook Pizza In A Regular Oven With The Best Results
There are a number of tools and methods to help you achieve higher temperatures in your home oven. These are all there to try and mimic the affects of the pizza oven which give such good results. You are never going to achieve the same temperatures as you can’t transfer enough heat – even at the top temps it will be around 540F/280C.
We essentially need high heat from below which will ensure the crust springs up and cooks quickly. We need the hottest ambient temperature too, to bake it right through and brown the toppings.
The first method is the common pizza stone. These preheat in the oven and transfer heat much like a brick oven floor would. The thicker the better for more mass and heat. Better still, is the pizza steel. These are stabs of steel which are also preheated in the oven. The steel works better because it heats up much faster. It then transfers heat to the pizza more efficiently because it is a better conductor. This drastically cut my cooking times when I started using one of these.
If you want the hottest, fastest cooking then have your stone/steel on the top shelf and preheat for 40 minutes. Then switch to the top broiler before the pizza goes in. This ensures extreme heat from top and bottom and you can expect the pizza to cook in around 4 minutes.
You can have the stone/steel in the center of the oven and leave out the broiler. This still makes perfect NYC style crusts and bakes over 7-10 minutes. The downsides with the pizza stone is the down time between pizza – you need it to heat back up for 10 minutes or so.
The second option is a way which mimics the texture of a wood fired oven the closest. You need a heavy frying pan, but ideally one with shallow sides. You can buy iron pans like this on Amazon – sometimes used for making crepes. Have the broiler preheating, but also have the pan preheating on the stove top at full temperature. Stretch your dough and drop it into the pan to start cooking the base. Add your sauce and toppings. Check the underside with a spatula and remove when it is leopard spotted brown – around 90 seconds – it will darken very quickly. Now put it under the top broiler, as close to the heating element as possible. The pizza will cook in around another 90-120 seconds. It comes out very delicate – needing a knife and fork to eat much like wood fired pizza. And you might even get a bit of charring.
What Pizza Oven To Buy?
The main decision is portable or static. If you build a brick oven then it will be set in place. There is a number of portable pizza ovens that are wood fired, or fitted with gas burners. They still get up to the top temperatures to cook pizza in 90 seconds.
The static ovens can be bought in precast sections of concrete which speeds up the build and skill required. Otherwise they are built with firebricks and insulation materials.
For more information then check out my article – a guide to buying pizza ovens.
Cost wise, portable ovens are considerably cheaper. There are a number of manufacturers that have gained popularity in recent years, such as the Ooni which can even be bought on Amazon. Static ovens can range from affordable to very expensive – you generally make a better oven from better insulation materials which add up the cost. Check my article on pizza oven costs for a good comparison of all types and builds.
Other Types Of Pizza Oven
Some of these are found in the home and some are in commercial establishments. They are the different ways pizza can be cooked.
A conveyor is used to prepare pizzas at one end and push them through a cooking chamber, coming out the another end. These purpose-built conveyor ovens can be convenient as they make it very easy to perfectly cook every pizza. However they cannot be used to create the same 100% authentic pizzas as the kinds of ovens that utilize stone surfaces and wood fires. They are often used by large fast food pizza chains for consistency.
Pizza Deck Ovens
Pizza deck ovens are made primarily for those with a budget or a lack of space for a proper wood-fired pizza. These ovens are stacked as “decks” made of stone, which is then heated by a gas or an electric burner.
This type of oven can reach between 400 and 600ºF, allowing for high temperatures, but not enough to compete with the heat of a wood-fired pizza oven. The use of the stone makes a difference in the authenticity in the pizzas produced.
Convection ovens are very similar to conventional. However, they use a fan to circulate the hot air rather than relying on the air’s regular flow. Good convection ovens contain a separate heating element that directs hot air and where it goes. This makes the heat inside consistent. They do a good job by shortening cooking time by a few minutes, and work well with a pizza stone or steel.
A regular oven utilizes two heating elements to cook food, the bottom for cooking and baking, and the top for broiling. Since it does not have an installed fan to direct hot air, pockets of hotter or cooler patches can exist in the oven. It can be used alongside a pizza stone or steel.
A pizza oven is a great investment if you are wanting to take your pizza cooking to the next level. You should now have all the information you need if you were thinking of buying one. There are some very affordable portable ovens now that can cook comparable wood fired pizza.
Even if you are cooking in a home oven, you can try some of the tips in this article to get close to the real thing. Get cooking!