Pizza operations typically utilize deck or conveyor ovens. When producing Neapolitan pizza, though, operators turn to wood-fired ovens. All three ovens operate in vastly different ways.

 A staple in the fast-casual pizza segment, conveyor ovens do not need attending and also cook fast and consistently. These units are suitable for high-capacity operations.

In contrast, deck ovens provide results similar to wood-fired ovens, creating traditional thin crust pies without the added maintenance. After about an hour of preheating, these units’ decks, where staff place pizzas to cook, can maintain temperatures as high as 700 degrees F using either gas or electricity.

Wood-fired ovens come in different configurations 
to meet a variety of production requirements. These ovens can roast and bake a range of foods, including meats, poultry, fish, stews, vegetable dishes, pastries and breads as well as pizzas. Some wood-fired ovens produce a pizza in as little as 90 seconds. Wood-fired ovens, though, require a certain skill level on the part of the operator, and the learning curve can be somewhat high. With visible hearths 
and flames adding a measure of drama, this equipment attracts attention in front-of-the-house applications.

What to Choose?

istock 476603868Deck ovens bake by means of conduction. Generated heat travels directly from a heated hot stone or deck to the sheet pan or food being cooked. These ovens operate at anywhere from 650 degrees F for gas up to 900 degrees F for wood-burning units.

Large chains typically choose conveyor ovens over deck ovens since deck ovens take longer to cook and tend to be more labor intensive. “Deck ovens are used most often for delivery or stand-alone pizza places as these units can cook several pizzas at once,” says Monica Thesing, senior equipment specialist at Rippe Associates in Minnetonka, Minn. “These can go up to five decks to increase production during peak periods.”

Operators need to manually rotate and closely watch product when cooking with a deck oven. Consequently, the person cooking needs to understand cook time and temperature settings. The results from a deck oven tend to be more custom than a conveyor oven due to the added time and attention. These units also provide a proofing option for making bread and other items.

When purchasing a deck oven, size and capacity are key considerations. Operators should determine the capacity and volume they require as electric and gas versions can come in one- to three-tier configurations. Other key considerations include ventilation requirements as well as hookups for gas and electric. Location may be an important factor since these ovens may be visible to customers in an open kitchen. Surrounds are available to improve the aesthetics of this equipment when it’s used in the front of the house. “With deck ovens, it’s nice to have a window in the door to check on the pizzas,” says Thesing.

Wood-fired pizza ovens are all about the show and flavor. The wood-burning oven ventilation requirements differ from gas ovens. In fact, a wood-fired oven requires a hood that’s separate and exclusive from those used with griddles and fryers on the cooking line. Not only does the duct and fan system need to be separate from all gas equipment due to the combustible products but spark arrester filters are also required.Also, some jurisdictions have more restrictions for these units due to pollution requirements. In these cases, operators may still be able to utilize wood-burning ovens but will need added filtration or air cleansing systems to remove the smoke. This can make the ovens more costly to purchase and operate.

Other factors to consider with wood-burning ovens include space for wood storage, the type of wood the operation will use and how to safely dispose of ashes. “Wood-fired pizza ovens also require paddles for use that are typically available separately,” says Thesing.

Conveyor ovens come with their own set of considerations. Because these are open ovens, the units expel heat into the atmosphere, which impacts the kitchen environment. Also, conveyor oven fans operating on high create a lot of noise. For these reasons, where the operator intends to place the conveyor oven is critical.

Kitchens with space limitations may specify ventless models, which eliminate the need for an exhaust hood over the oven. This option is only available on smaller electric units, which can affect volume, and it’s important to confirm that local codes allow use of ventless ovens.

Conveyor ovens are versatile when it comes to capacity since operators can opt to add decks to accommodate higher volumes. The exhaust hood should not have to change if ovens of the same size are added since the size of the hood is based on the size of the oven, not the height and/or added decks. “With conveyor ovens, there are variations of belt sizes that correspond with pizza sizes,” says Thesing. “These ovens also can have dual belts for those offering different types of pizza, such as individual sizes and deep dish. This allows both types to be baked simultaneously since the belts can be set at different speeds.”

Cleaning and Maintenance

istock 994452266Pizza restaurant operators should invest in a planned maintenance agreement to ensure the deck oven´s design specifications are met and for the purpose of inspecting its condition.

When cleaning deck ovens, use a brush to remove food residue from beneath oven doors. Thoroughly scrape deck stones, and polish the exterior with stainless-steel cleaner. Given that doors play a critical role in maintaining consistent production, regularly inspect the hinges and gaskets. Doing so can help prevent temperature or baking inconsistencies brought upon by poorly sealed or loose doors.

Operators should not slam deck oven doors or place items on top of open doors. Occasionally, operators will need to verify the oven still maintains the set temperature by using a calibrated internal thermometer. As for the service life, some deck ovens will last 20 to 30 years, but on average, this equipment has a 10- to 15-year life cycle.

Care and maintenance can vary greatly with conveyor ovens. Flour is the enemy of conveyor ovens, as is oil and grease. These factors can do a number on cooling vents, motors and fan guards. If cooling fans aren’t working properly, this can cause high temperature issues that impact more expensive oven parts, like motors and temperature sensors.

Service technicians will check and repair electrical components, clean air vents, adjust combustion blowers on gas units, and check belts and bearings.

Depending on the volume, operation and environment, break down and thoroughly clean a conveyor oven on a quarterly basis. Staff can use soap and water with scrub brushes to clean conveyor belts and components. When reassembled, check the bushings on shafts and brackets for damage and excessive wear and tear. Conveyor ovens have a service life of up to 30 years but generally average about 20 years.

Maintenance for wood-burning ovens differs from conveyor and deck ovens. But like other ovens, improper cleaning causes most problems for wood-burning units.

Flue pipes need to be cleaned by a chimney sweep or hood cleaner that specializes in solid fuel cleaning quarterly to prevent flue fires. For solid fuel ovens, ash mitigation is necessary. The wood ash and coals stay hot for a long time, so if a shop vac is used for cleaning, it could start a fire. Staff need to scoop embers into a fireproof container.

Most wood-burning ovens have both gas burners and solid fuel. Regularly clean gas orifices and check gas pressure. In the cooking chamber, an inexperienced cook will just scrape off the deck and push debris to the back and into the burner chamber. This will clog up the burners and ignition system. The debris needs to be removed. A damp cloth should be used to wipe down the cooking deck surface every day to keep carbon from building up.