Who Knew That Science Could Be so Delicious?
If you've ever had pizza that came directly out of a wood-fired oven, you’ll know that virtually no other type of pizza can compare. A pizza that’s been cooked in wood ovens seems to be better all around: from the depth of its flavor to the texture of its ingredients. As a bonus, these pizzas also cook a lot faster, which means less time waiting for pizza and more time eating it.
So, what exactly about cooking a pizza in a wood-fired oven produces such an amazing result? Let’s put our science goggles on and get to the bottom of it.
It All Comes Down to the Oven
As anyone who’s ever tried to cook a frozen pizza in the microwave will tell you, not all ovens (or heat sources in general) are created the same. The size, shape, and heat source of an oven can all play a significant role in how food inside it cooks, and that translates into all sorts of interesting science when it comes to pizza.
Wood-fired brick ovens produce such a unique result because they’re designed to generate intense bursts of dry heat. Many of these ovens are heated to more than 600 degrees, which is far hotter than almost any electric oven is capable of getting. Additionally, the high heat means that there isn’t going to be much moisture circulating while a pizza is cooking, preventing it from getting overly greasy or soggy.
Pizzas cooked this way are often in the oven for less than five minutes, which is a nice contrast to waiting for (what feels like) an eternity while you’re waiting for one to cook at home.
The brick undercoating of these ovens also plays an interesting role in how heat is dispersed through the pizza. Generally, the bricks underneath the pizza will release heat at a much slower rate than the surrounding air, causing the crust to cook slightly slower than the toppings. This means that wood ovens can cook the moisture out of a pizza’s sauces and cheeses without drying out or burning the crust!
Speaking of Ingredients, Let’s Talk Toppings
If you’re nursing a wood-fired pizza addiction like us, then you’ve likely noticed that these pizzas tend to be smaller and thinner than their comparatively massive delivery counterparts. Smaller pizzas allow for toppings to be more evenly distributed, and this has all sorts of tasty benefits once the science of wood-fired ovens gets involved.
Let’s start with one of the most important toppings: cheese. Whereas electric ovens can heat cheese to a temperature where it melts, most wood-fired pizza ovens will actually boil it. You read that correctly: in the span of two minutes, these pizzas are cooked at a high enough temperature for the cheese to boil. This means that moisture is directly removed from both the cheese and sauce, producing a richer and crispier final product.
It also means that your first bite of wood-fired pizza risks completely burning the inside of your mouth, but that’s a sacrifice we’ve always been willing to make.
A smaller size also translates to a better topping distribution and fewer soggy crusts. We’ve all felt the disappointment that comes from biting into a promising-looking slice of deep-dish pizza, only to get a mouthful of borderline raw ingredients that ended up piled on top of each other. Everyone should also be familiar with the disappointment of opening up a delivery box and seeing slices that were completely missed by the toppings.
Wood-fired pizzas address both these issues by spreading toppings out evenly across a smaller area. This ensures that they all cook evenly without leading to a soggy crust!
So, the next time you order a wood-fired pizza, take a moment to appreciate all of the complex science that went into it. And THEN you can burn the roof of your mouth by digging in!
What are some of your favorite pizza toppings? Share in the comments.