It is important to get the oven hot. If you are making your own oven remember to incorporate a temperature gauge in its design.
Often large roasts and casseroles are best left in the oven overnight, allowing the meat to cook slowly.
We have compiled some recipes for you to try in your wood-fired oven. Click on the link above.
Firing Your Oven
Build your fire in the middle of the oven, set back about 8" from the oven door, using 7-9 sticks of dry kindling, One to two odor-free, non-toxic fire starters and two to three pieces of dried medium or hardwood. The flame should reach the center and front of the dome, without reaching too far out of the oven opening. Once the fire is established, add more wood and wait for about 20 minutes.
At this point, a small spot at the center of the oven dome should start to turn clear (or white), and begin expanding toward the outside of the oven. This "whitening" is the sign that dome is reaching the desired cooking temperature of 482c. It happens when the carbon accumulated on the oven dome starts to burn off.
Once the whitening has started, begin building the fire toward the walls of the oven by adding pieces of wood on either side of the fire. This will store necessary heat across the entire cooking floor, and evenly spread the heat across the cooking dome. Within a few minutes, you will see the whitening spreading across the dome to the sides.
After roughly 45 minutes, the entire cooking dome will have turned clear, and the cooking surface has reached the desired 343c for cooking pizza.
Managing dome heat for fire in the oven cooking is basically simple. When the dome of the oven is whitened, it is maintaining the high temperatures you want. When the color begins to turn black, you need to increase the fire.
You can learn to test your cooking surface temperature using flour or by putting your hand inside the oven and counting; or you can learn the characteristics of your oven by trial and error
After some time, you will be able to feel the heat of your own oven, and will just know when it is ready.
Finally, don't be afraid to experiment, and don't be afraid to really fire up your oven to see how it performs at high heat. If your oven is not hot enough, or does not have enough retained heat, it will not perform well.
It's often a good idea to make some extra dough, and plan on cooking a few flat bread appetizers before the serious cooking begins, just to get the feel for how your oven is cooking.
Fire in the Oven Cooking
You might have seen an wood-fired oven in a restaurant where the fire was set in the back of the oven, as opposed to the side, but there are two good reasons to place the fire on the side. First, the shape of your wood-fired oven and its vent and chimney are designed to draw cold air in from the bottom to the oven opening, and exhaust hot air out the top. With a fire on the side of the oven, you will draw in cold air, which is quickly heated, and moved, over your food in a circular motion. You can actually see the air circulation pattern after you have a good fire going.
The fire on the side approach also lets you more easily see how your food is cooking. For example, a pizza needs to be turned once or twice, as the side of a pizza facing the fire cooks more quickly. By making it easy to see when a pizza, or any other food, is ready to be turn, the side fire makes more sense.
To keep a live flame in the oven while you are cooking, add a new piece of wood to the burning fire as the previous piece burns down -- it should be about every 15-30 minutes. By keeping the fire burning, you are maintaining the 650F cooking surface and 900F dome temperatures required for fire-in-the-oven cooking.
After you have fired your oven and have begun cooking, keep a live flame going at all times. The heat from the fire is reflected down on your food, and continues to replenish both the dome and cooking surface heat reserves.
The most practical method for testing the balance of the heat of your oven is to keep checking your pizzas and flat breads. A pizza should cook in three minutes or less, and achieve a crisp, brown crust, and a melted, bubbly top at roughly the same time. If either side is out of line, you can make adjustments by letting either the dome or hearth of your oven cool, or heat up.
Retained Heat Cooking
After you have finished your high heat cooking, you oven is ready for retained heat cooking. Brush out the hot coals, and close the door. Over the next hour or so, the temperature inside will fall to where you can cook bread and roast meat, and later cook stews, soups and beans.
One good strategy is to cook high heat food, such as pizza, an internal grill, hot vegetables, or even roast chicken (covered with foil), then use the retained heat for hearth bread, and even quick bread for the next day's breakfast.
If you are going to be roasting meats and vegetables using only retained heat, remember that you need to store significant heat in your oven before you start roasting. Make sure you do a serious trial-run before you commit a roast to retained heat-only cooking.
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