You’re hosting a summer cookout with your outdoor pizza oven. All your favorite people are there, and they’re absolutely loving the wood-fired masterpieces you’re dishing out. The pies have a subtle flavor that’s equal parts smoky and sweet, and they’re all perfectly cooked.
The cooking experience has been just as enjoyable for you. The wood fit perfectly in your oven and lit up right away with one match. The long hot burns it produced made evenly heating the pies a breeze, and best of all, there were no black billows of smoke stinging your eyes.
How can you make this dream a reality? You must choose the right wood, which requires following five simple rules.
What are those rules? We’re glad you asked. Let’s count them off:
1. It Has to Be Kiln-Dried
Here’s an example of faulty firewood logic: If you’re cooking in an outdoor pizza oven, then you should use any old wood you find outdoors. Wrong! Using wood that you chop down and dry outside in your outdoor pizza oven is a recipe for disaster. As we will see, kiln-dried wood is a much better alternative.
Green Wood Sucks
Let’s say you want to prove you’re a rugged individual and chop up a bunch of wood to prove it. Good for you! We’re very impressed. Just don’t use that wood in your outdoor pizza oven.
That wood is what we in the business call green wood. It has over 60% moisture in it and who knows what else. Green wood is very difficult to light and produces a ton of smoke, making it completely unworthy of your top-quality pizza oven.
Seasoned Wood Isn’t Much Better
Now before you say anything, we know what you’re thinking: Obviously I wouldn’t try to cook with wood I just cut down. I’ll let it dry for a while first!
It’s a good thought but still not a great idea.
What you’re describing is seasoning. It’s the process of leaving wood out to dry that has been used for centuries. But here’s the dirty little secret about this time-honored tradition: it doesn’t work very well.
The problem with seasoning is there are too many variables. You must leave the wood out to dry for months at a time until it gets to the ideal burning level of below 20% moisture. In that time, pests, mold and other unsavory things can get in and corrupt the wood. Worst of all, seasoning rarely gets the wood down below the 20% threshold!
So, like green wood, seasoned wood can also be a pain to ignite and a smoky mess to burn.
And here’s another dirty little secret: most of the wood you find at grocery stores and hardware stores is seasoned wood. So, what’s someone who wants a superior outdoor pizza cooking experience to do?
Kiln-Dried Wood Has the Lowest Moisture Content
Enter our savior: kiln-dried wood.
Kiln drying is modernity’s answer to the wood drying problem. Rather than letting it sit around and hoping it’ll get dry enough, kiln-driers have mastered the art of achieving perfect dryness.
They do this by putting the wood in a dry kiln, which sucks out the moisture in a matter of days. This controlled environment guarantees the wood will come out under that 20% moisture threshold.
You’ve gotta love modern innovation!
Perfectly Dry Wood = Easy and Clean Cooking
What does less than 20% moisture mean? It means your outdoor pizza cooking just got a lot more enjoyable!
The wood is so dry that you won’t have to fuss around with trying to get it started. All you’ll need is one match, and then voila! The fire rises.
Excess moisture is also what can make outdoor pizza oven wood so smoky. It produces those black billows because the flames must work harder to combust.
So, by eliminating the excess moisture, kiln-drying vanquishes the smoke problem.
We should also mention that the drying process also kills a lot of other things you don’t want in the wood you cook with, including insects, mold and pesticides. The wood comes out pristine and completely safe to burn.
For all these reasons, breaking this rule would certainly be a smoky and frustrating crime!
2. Hardwoods Only
Making a wood-fired pizza in the great outdoors is a special event. Most of us don’t just fire up the oven any old day of the week (if you do, more power to you). It’s an activity reserved for get togethers, holidays and celebrations of the highest order!
Therefore, the type of wood you use should match the magnitude of the occasion. So, which type of wood will you choose: a robust hardwood or a delicate softwood?
Hardwood, baby! It’s not even a question.
Not only does the name hardwood sound stronger, but it is also scientifically proven to produce the hotter and longer fires you need to make great pizza.
The key difference is hardwoods have more substance to burn than softwoods. Because of this, they give the fire a lot more to burn for a lot longer.
So, when choosing between a softwood like pine or redwood and a hardwood like oak, hickory or maple for your party, go with the one that will blow your guests away. Go with a hardwood.
3. Size Matters
You can have the best kiln-dried hardwood in the world, but if it doesn’t fit in your oven, what’s the point? That’s why the third most important rule for outdoor pizza oven wood is to get optimally sized wood. The best size for you will depend on the type of oven you’re working with.
Go with Six-Inch Extra Split Wood for Portable Outdoor Ovens
The portable pizza oven is so hot right now (pun intended). If you’re one of those trendsetters that got an Ooni, Bertello, Cru or Gozney Roccbox oven, then you know how small that opening is. Clearly, full-sized firewood ain’t going in there!
So, what’s a tiny oven owner to do? You could get some full-sized kiln-dried wood and start chopping it up into smaller pieces, but who wants to go to all that effort?
A much better option is to get wood specifically designed for portable pizza ovens. We’re talking six-inch extra split wood.
Six inches is the ideal length to fit inside your portable oven’s small opening. And extra split wood has a diameter of one-to-two inches, which is the perfect size for producing rolling flames to cook your portable pizzas.
You won’t have to jam six-inch extra split wood into your oven. Instead, you can add as many pieces as you need to cook your pizza well. A handful of pieces should do it for most portable ovens. However, you may need more for larger ovens like the Gozney Dome or Ooni Karu 16. Just make sure you can leave at least six inches of space between your wood and the pizza as you cook it.
Full-Sized Outdoor Ovens Deserve 16-Inch Wood
One of the nice things about outdoor pizza ovens is they can be huge! So, you may have decided to go all in and get a full-sized dome oven to take advantage of all that outdoor space. Good for you! Now don’t skimp on the wood.
A full-sized oven needs a lot of wood to effectively cook pizzas. Therefore, you’ll want to go with 16-inch wood to ensure your wood-fired pizzas will be spectacular!
Having said that, we don’t want you to force the issue. You know your pizza oven best, so if you suspect 16-inchers might make things a little cramped in there, go with your gut.
There are alternatives to consider, like eight-inch wood. This size typically works best for indoor pizza ovens or smokers, but it could also work for a mid-size outdoor oven as well.
The key is to not overcrowd your oven. You want to have plenty of space for your wood and pizza to exist in harmony. A good rule of thumb is to keep at least six inches of space between your wood and the pizza. Whatever size of wood allows you to do that while effectively cooking your pizza is the best size for you.
4. Find Your Flavor Through Experimentation
All this is well and good, but we’re forgetting one important thing: flavor! The best outdoor pizza oven wood will not only cook your pizza well, but it will also enhance the taste.
The question is what taste are you going for? Do you want a pizza that’s sweet, savory, smokey, fruity or a little bit of all the above? The right type of wood can help produce the mouthwatering flavor you’re looking for.
Here are some of the best woods to try and the flavors they’ll produce in your pizzas:
- Oak – an ideal option for a mild, smoky flavor
- Ash – recommended by Italian pizza manufacturers for its neutrally flavored smoke
- Sugar Maple – adds a mellow, smoky taste reminiscent of maple syrup
- Hickory – strengthens a pizza’s meaty flavor
- Cherry – produces a unique mild and fruity flavor for a smoky but sweet pizza
All these woods are good on their own. However, some real magic can happen when you combine them! For example, blending oak, cherry and sugar maple produces the perfect balance of mild, sweet and fruity taste. So, don’t be afraid to experiment with the wood for your outdoor pizza oven. Your taste buds will thank you!
5. Safety First
Once you’ve cracked the code for the perfect pizza oven wood, you’re going to want to use it again and again. That’s only going to happen if you’re smart about how you store your wood and use your oven. So, be sure to follow these safety best practices.
Practice Smart Wood Storage
As we mentioned above, kiln-dried wood has the perfect amount of dryness for cooking. You can keep it this way by storing it properly.
If you have six-inch extra-split wood, then you can use the small size to your advantage. Consider storing it in your kitchen or pantry along with the ingredients you use for your pizza. Indoor storage is ideal for keeping any moisture or invasive pests from ruining your wood. It can also help to keep your six-inch wood inside a resealable container. At Hot Box Cooking Wood, we sell our six-inch extra-split wood in resealable boxes to help make storage easier.
It’s also ideal to store larger kiln-dried wood indoors if possible. You’ll want to find a climate-controlled space and stack the wood in a way that allows air circulation around all sides and between the pieces. For more tips on storing kiln-dried wood the right way, check out this handy guide from our friends at Lumberjacks.
Use Your Outdoor Pizza Oven Safely
A great way to ruin your pizza cooking experience is using your oven unsafely. So, to keep the good times rolling, we wanted to leave you with a couple of quick reminders:
- Be aware of local burn restrictions. These restrictions are in place to protect public safety, so if you’re going to cook pizza outdoors, doublecheck to make sure you can do it legally.
- Be mindful of what’s above you. You may have noticed that your pizza oven has a chimney on it. Anything above that chimney is going to experience a constant stream of hot air. So, make sure you don’t use your oven under an overhang because it will definitely char the overhang and could even lead to a fire.
Remember, only you can prevent pizza oven fires!
It’s Time to Get the Best Wood for Your Outdoor Pizza Oven!
Let’s recap. The best wood for outdoor pizza ovens is perfectly sized kiln-dried hardwood that produces amazing flavor. And the best way to keep that flavor coming is to use the wood safely.
Seems simple enough, doesn’t it? But where does one find such wood?
Hello, we’re Hot Box Cooking Wood. And we don’t want to brag, but our wood has all the qualities we described above. Feel free to check it out and get it delivered to your home with free two-day shipping. And if you enjoy our wood, please let us know about it by tagging us on Instagram @hotboxcookingwood!