In addition to pizza, brick ovens roast and bake a wide range of foods, including meats, poultry, fish, stews, vegetable dishes, pastries and breads. There is, however, a certain skill level involved in using these ovens, and the learning curve can be somewhat high.
Brick or wood-burning ovens tend to have a traditional appeal since many pizza restaurants have historically used such units. This equipment provides theater in the front of house since visible hearths and flames add a measure of drama and visual appeal. Because the brick interior ensures excellent heat retention, this oven type provides faster cooking times than some alternative pieces of equipment.
The ovens feature an insulated cavity that utilizes wood or coal for heating. Brick or stone blocks retain and disperse heat evenly for consistent results. While traditional Italian oven interiors use volcanic rock or stone, the majority of this equipment employs adobe, refractory fire bricks or refractory concrete that is heat-resistant to hold onto thermal energy. Because these ovens tend to be extremely heavy, this equipment is custom manufactured.
A big benefit of the ovens’ construction is the units can withstand high temperatures and 24/7 use. Brick ovens can reach cooking temperatures as high as 500 degrees F to 800 degrees F. The coal bed is typically as hot as 1200 degrees F, and temperatures can rise 100 degrees every 3 inches from the floor to the top of the dome. Because there generally is no door, there is natural convection in these units.
These ovens come in different configurations to meet a variety of production requirements. Cooking cavities generally range from 9 feet to more than 40 square feet. It’s the cooking surface size that determines the oven’s capacity. For example, a cooking area of 10.2 square feet can accommodate six 12-inch pizzas, while a larger area of 28.9 square feet can hold 15 of the same size pizzas; larger ovens can accommodate up to 240 pizzas per hour. Oven walls are generally 40 to 60 inches thick.
Modular units are available with either concrete block or steel frame assemblies. While this type of brick oven is designed for preexisting operations where it would be difficult to bring in large equipment, preassembled ovens are easy to install, require less space and are lighter in weight. This type also can be easily assembled. Some come with expanded clay for use as a natural insulating material around the oven and with refractory cement for grouting and setting floor pieces.
Preassembled and downsized brick ovens are designated for use in restaurant layouts that are small and/or irregular in shape. This oven type generally offers interior cooking spaces ranging from 230 to 640 inches in diameter. When not preassembled, brick ovens can be built-in or freestanding. Units with negligible external heat transfer can be decorated in almost any way and situated in the back or front of the house.
Brick ovens are not typically utilized in urban settings or large buildings as this equipment usually needs a special variance. For this reason, gas/wood combination ovens or all-gas units make more sense for some operators.
Some models offer a variety of burner and fuel configurations. Any or all of the radiant burners can be omitted to accommodate wood. Brick oven manufacturers recommend using only seasoned hardwoods with a moisture content of 20% or less with these units. Softer woods, such as cedar and pine, will cause residue buildup throughout the oven’s exhaust system.
Various accessories are available that enhance the oven’s appearance, simplify use or expedite cleaning. These include design artwork, custom facades, chargrills, viewing windows, doorway extensions, granite or stainless-steel hearths, custom oven-mounted exhaust hoods, spark arrestors, spray filters/flue scrubbers, stainless steel or glass doors, built-in digital/analog thermometers, high-temperature fans, internal spotlights, and wind cowls.
Brick oven options include a ledge near the cavity door that provides additional workspace and a box for storing wood. A metal dolly can provide a safe way to move and store wood ash. Also available are digital or dial temperature gauges, moisture meters, tools sets, granite shelves, stainless-steel flue adapters and custom finishes.