How to maintain a pizza oven

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Regular maintenance is important to maintain the quality of your pizza oven. The simple act of taking away the cobwebs on the exterior top of the dome is usually helpful enough in order to keep a pizza oven clean. As the heart for the baking or cooking of pizza is in the center of the oven, it is proper to keep this area tidy. Whatever dirt is retained inside the dome will affect the taste of the pizza.

Cleaning[edit]

There are two practical methods to clean a pizza oven.

Raking out the ashes inside the dome
As raking out the ashes inside the dome is impossible without the rake, you need to have one to start off the cleaning. This is done first by raking the ashes to the center of the oven. Then using a paddle, lift the ashes and slowly carry them out. Because cleanliness is the primary issue for maintenance, you should avoid dumping the ashes just anywhere in the backyard. When the ashes are becoming thinner and harder enough for the rake and paddle to handle, a two meter broom sweeper is usually sufficient. The process is repeated until the inside of the pizza oven is free from wood ashes and residues.
Brush and mop small debris
Brushing the floor of your pizza oven is a good way in eliminating hardened ash or dirt. With this you need brass or steal bristle brush. Brushes made from plastic are too soft for the task and will not be long lasting. Using a damp cloth attached to an extended stick, wipe the floor of the oven chamber. The cloth must be made of cotton in order to maximize absorption of the smallest dusts or ashes. If brushing the walls of the oven is possible this may also be done.
Flue and chimney
As with regular fire places, wood fired ovens will gradually create a buildup of soot on the walls of the oven and within the chimney. To improve airflow through the oven and out of the chimney it is necessary to periodically clean the chimney with a brush. A bristle nose brush can usually be used for this purpose.

Is it necessary to clean the hearth before cooking a pizza?[edit]

If there is black ash on the cooking floor of pizza oven the bottom of pizza may be dirty and bitter in taste. In the pizza oven wood is burnt to generate the required heat and naturally the wood eventually converts into ash. Ash of a previous cooking cycle may be mixed with the pizza dough which results in bitter and smokey food. For removing ash or coals a square nose aluminum shovel is usually sufficient. After removing the ash or coals you should brush over the oven hearth properly using a bristle brush and consider final cleanup with a wet cloth. Before cleaning the hearth you should be careful because the oven hearth remains warm for several hours. Always wait for the oven to cool fully before beginning any intensive cleaning.

Cooking Oils[edit]

Due to the high heat of the oven and the open flame, it is not important to remove oils from the cooking of roasts or steak. Unlike conventional gas or electric ovens which require the use of chemicals to clean the oven of oils and buildup, wood fired ovens can be cleans of this material through simply running a fire until the contents are burnt off. Similar to barbeques, wood fired ovens benefit frm previous firings and may prepared foods may improve in flavour the older the oven.

Safety[edit]

When cleaning an oven an individual should look to wear gloves and a face respiratory mask to prevent the inhaling of wood ash or soot. Although no cleaning chemicals are used during the cleaning, the byproducts of the previous fire can be irritating to the lungs and eyes, and may even be carcinogenic.

Structure[edit]

Longevity[edit]

Oven in the ruins of Pompeii, Italy
The longevity of a pizza oven will depend upon the construction method and the material used. In general the deterioration of an oven will occur to the softest and thinnest material first, whereas the thinker and harder material will last the longest. In addition the environmental conditions the oven is exposed to will have an impact. For example soft wood exposed to moisture will degrade quickly whereas hard wood protected by moisture will last a very long time.
Material Longevity
Stone Long
Brick
Tile
Concrete
Mortar
Hard wood
Soft wood
Paint Short

To maximise the longevity of an oven it is recommended that the material used be strong and resilient like stone. Fragile materials like paint and soft wood will be damaged by water and sunlight quickly, and will need to be replaced often. An oven which is primarily built of stone or brick and uses the minimum amount of high quality mortar will last the greatest amount of time.

Movement[edit]

Movement will additionally cause damage to an oven overtime. As an oven heats up and cools down the materials will expand and contract. This constant movement may lead to cracks forming. For this reason it is recommended to minimise mortar where possible. For example in the hearth it is recommended that no mortar be used partial because of the large temperature fluctuations. The movement cannot always be avoided and so part of the builder's strategy should be to create a barrier for movement within the oven to protect the outer walls. Generally this is accomplished through a soft insulation layer. The movement of the inner oven walls will not be transferred through the soft insulation, and so the outer structural walls maintain integrity. An oven in which longevity is considered will last a very long time.

Cracks in the Oven Surface[edit]

A common problem with pizza ovens built with either cob or brick is the establishment of cracks in the oven exterior surface. Generally these cracks are superficial and will not affect the structural integrity of the oven. Resolution of the cracks may either be performed through applying some fresh material into the cracks to create a uniform surface, or establish an entirely new exterior.

Cob Oven Cracks[edit]

For cob ovens cracks can be easily removed by taking some wet clay and applying it to the surface. Prepare the oven surface first so as to ensure the new clay does not flake off.

  1. Wet the surface of the cob oven with a spray bottle and water. Allow the water to penetrate slightly so the the surface will accept new wet clay.
  2. Prepare some wet clay of the same colour and consistency to fill the gaps.
  3. Apply some wet clay to the wet surface of the cob oven with your fingers. Press the new clay into the existing cob so as to create a good bond.
  4. Smooth over the surface either with your fingers or a rubber or silicone smoothing tool or similar.
  5. Allow the surface to dry slowly. If the clay dries too quickly the potential for cracks reforming increases.

Brick Oven Cracks[edit]

Cracks in a brick constructed pizza oven may indicate a lack of structural integrity due to poor design or due to the rapid escaping of water in the oven walls when a the oven was last brought up to temperature. First identify if the cracks are cosmetic or if the oven structure will need to be reinforced to as to prevent further failure or a safety risk. If the cracks are superficial create a new mixture of mortar or grout and fill the oven cracks. If the cracks are on the inside of the oven you will want to use mortar created with fire clay.