The first step to an awesome wood fire pizza party, is inviting the Fire God! Getting a good fire will put lots of heat into your oven’s wall efficiently, allowing for hours and hours of cooking even after the fire is out.
What is a good fire?
When the Fire God is happy, you can observe it dancing in the oven. The flame should very clearly whirl, roll and lick the oven wall before heading for the door.
When the fire first gets going, a lot of soot would be produced, making the inside of the oven black. Once the fire gets properly hot, the carbon will burn off, and there should be no more smoke. This should happen within 30 minutes of the fire going.
How do we get a good fire?
A common mistake people make (I did!) when starting out with their wood fire oven is stuffing it with WAY too much firewood. However a fire needs plenty of room to breathe. There should always be space between the firewood and the oven wall.
Remember to never over stuff the oven with firewood, or have firewood touching the oven wall. This cuts air circulation off, and therefore chokes the fire. The fire may seem fierce, but you may find it coming straight out of the door, rather than whirling around and licking the oven wall. Use a hoe to make sure there’s a good gap between the firewood and the oven wall to help the fire breathe. If the fire is not breathing well, the temperature will not get high enough for the soot to burn away quickly.
Once your fire is looking healthy and dancing away happily, you can walk away and prepare for an awesome pizza party. Just check on the fire every half an hour or so to make sure there’s still enough wood in there and the fire is still dancing.
How long should I fire?
My oven, Big Bill, takes 2 hours to get a good amount of heat into the wall for a pizza party + plenty of cooking after wards. Our pizza parties usually last 3 hours or so. Afterwards I would use the remaining heat to bake for another 3-4 hours, not counting slowly cooking some meat overnight.
If I’m not expecting a pizza party, 1 hour of firing would allow me to cook for 3-4 hours, followed by slowly cooking meat for an extended 6-8 hours.
For more details on clay oven cooking, check out my journals under Big Bill the Clay Oven.
Is a door useful for firing?
From my experience, I don’t think the door is necessary at all within the first hour of firing. A few times when the condition was really windy, I had put the door on ajar, but found doing so significantly lowered the fire temperature and reduced the heat stored in the oven wall. So my advice is not to use a door during firing (unless you have some fancy oven design where the doorway is not the only air intake).
A door is useful when, after sufficient firing, you are still waiting for pizza eaters to turn up to your party, or you need more time for your bread to rise. I’d put the door on ajar in these situations. But really, a door is mostly useful for baking. Without a door, a wood fire oven simply cannot be fully utilised for extended baking and cooking with the heat stored in the wall. For more info on oven door, you may like to read the Door to your Clay Oven.
Keep your Fire God happy and have awesome times with your oven!