Spec Check: Pizza Ovens

Although operators most commonly use pizza ovens to prepare pies, they can also use this versatile piece of equipment to cook other foods, including seafood, meat and poultry. Pizza ovens are designed to withstand higher temperatures than standard ovens.

Pepproni Pizza, Pizza OvensBrick-lined ovens, which are also suitable for cooking thin crust pies, can pair stainless steel exteriors with brick interiors. Operators can choose from wood, coal, natural gas and LP gas models. Convection heat in the dome reflects to the pizza's top, while the stone hearth bakes the crust. These units offer a consistent cooking environment and better moisture retention in the crust. Reaching temperatures as high as 1,000 degrees F, brick-lined ovens can take up to an hour to heat up, but cook a pizza in less than 2 minutes.

"Wood-fired pizza ovens can be custom built, built in place or purchased preassembled," says Chip Norwood, CEO of Norwood Appliances, a Boone, N.C.-based service agent. "Masonry pizza ovens are typically wood-fired and built in a standard size from a kit."

Deck ovens provide similar results to wood-fired ovens, creating traditional thin crust pies at a lower cost and without the added maintenance. After about an hour of preheating, these units' decks, the area where staff place the pizzas, can maintain temperatures as high as 700 degrees F for both gas and electric units. These units cook pizzas in approximately five minutes.

Because the oven size will affect heat recovery rates, operators should consider volume when purchasing a deck oven. For example, operators can choose to double stack units that hold 4 18-inch pies, creating twice as much capacity in 30 inches of space. Multi-deck units can accommodate 8 16-inch pies in spaces 41 inches wide by 27 inches deep. Operators can use a 50-inch-wide model in high-volume operations to hold 16 16-inch pizzas. While gas deck ovens have burners on the bottom to radiate heat, electric units also have a top heating element for baking and broiling.

While some schools of thought say conveyor ovens are slower and better suited for smaller scale operations others contend that these ovens can handle high volume by transporting large numbers of pies in quick succession. The versatile nature of these ovens allows them to bake almost anything. Operating as hot as 700 degrees F, conveyor ovens don't require preheating and can cook a pizza in about 5 minutes. Countertop radiant heat units, which use heating elements above and below the conveyor belts, and full-size impingement ovens, which work by forcing hot air through nozzles above and below the conveyor, are available. "Conveyor ovens are most often used by pizza chains," says Norwood.

Conveyor ovens' advantages include the ability to adjust cooking times and speeds for more consistent results. Also, these simple-to-operate ovens require no preheating or recovery time and operators can stack units to save space.

Restaurants looking to save money, cooking time and energy use may want to consider pizza convection ovens. These units operate like traditional convection ovens by utilizing a fan that circulates hot air within the cooking chamber. Gas and electric models cook at lower temperatures than other pizza ovens, averaging about 450 degrees F to cook pizzas in about 5 minutes. Although these units have virtually no heat recovery time, like traditional convection ovens, pizza convection ovens can take up to 15 minutes to preheat.

Specifying Considerations

Here are seven key factors operators should address when specifying a pizza oven:

  • Assess how many pizzas the operation expects to cook at one time. Higher volume operations may require at least two ovens.
  • Estimate the pizza sizes, as the pies' diameter will determine the oven size an operator requires.
  • Understand what utilities are accessible in the location where the operator plans to place the unit.
  • Determine the most appropriate type of fuel. While most areas in the United States allow wood-burning ovens, these ovens are prohibited in parts of New York. Wood also is pricier in places like California versus states on the East Coast. In addition, if the cooking location is in a high rise or a building that can't be properly or cost effectively vented, an electric oven may be the only option.
  • Wood-fired pizza ovens with greater mass will heat more evenly and consistently, while lighter weight units will require more fuel.
  • Understand the venting requirements. "Years ago, people didn't think pizza ovens needed to be under hoods, but with the exception of countertop pizza ovens, gas and electric units require both hoods and fire suppression systems," Norwood says. "And operators need to make sure the oven fits under the hood properly."
  • Operations with limited staff experience should consider a conveyor-type pizza oven, which is easier to use and offers more consistent results.

A Service Agent's Point of View

Service agent Chip Norwood of Norwood Appliances offers a few thoughts on specifying pizza ovens.

Operating costs can increase significantly if pizza ovens are not properly maintained. This includes greasing bearings, cleaning air intakes, checking gas pressure and removing debris from fingers.
Wood-burning pizza ovens require an experienced user, since cooking with these units is more of an art. The pizza will constantly need to be turned and checked, unlike in a traditional conveyor oven, which is more consistent.

Conveyor ovens are more energy efficient than in the past, with better insulation and burner heat transfer.

Common Specifying Mistakes

When specifying a wood-fired oven, take into consideration the staff experience, as the user needs to know how to deal with hot and cool spots. Experienced labor also is required with deck ovens.
Wood-fired ovens also require more attention during the cooking process and need to be constantly attended to so that proper temperatures are maintained.

Because heat recovery can be an issue with deck ovens, purchasing the proper size will ensure service speeed is not affected.

When possible, it's better to size up to a larger oven to ensure volume can be accommodated and service is not compromised.

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