All pizza chefs out there know that having a pizza oven at home is a worthwhile investment. A homemade pizza is a perfect treat on summer days when your kids are all at home or during chilly date nights. Instead of ordering takeout, you can make restaurant-style pizza in your backyard using a charcoal pizza oven.
Cooking pizza with charcoal is a great way to add some earthy, delightful flavor to your pie. It can also help you cook the pizza at the right temperature to avoid overcooking or undercooking.
If you have invested in a charcoal pizza oven and had it installed in your house, you have to know how to use it properly to make the best homemade pizza you can cook. This post can inform you about how to make your charcoal pizza work better and ensure that your pizza ends up exactly how you like it.
Why Use Charcoal?
With so many other fuel types you can use out there, why charcoal? Well, there are benefits to using charcoal for cooking. For one, it’s the best material to use if you want your pizza oven to reach high temperatures. An average charcoal-fired pizza oven can reach 800-1,000 degrees, making them perfect for cooking a cheesy pizza. To compare, a typical wood-fired pizza can only reach 650-850 degrees. A gas grill may achieve this level of temperature, but you won’t get the authentic smoky taste that charcoal can provide.
What Types of Charcoal Can You Use?
When cooking in charcoal ovens, here are the types of charcoal that are suitable to use for cooking pizzas:
1. Lump charcoal
This is a popular option, especially for Ooni charcoal pizza ovens. Lump charcoal can generate long-lasting heat, allowing you to cook several pizzas in the oven. It’s also great to use with wood-fired pizza ovens.
2. Charcoal briquettes
Charcoal briquettes look like wood pellets, but they are black. They burn slowly, so you can let them simmer for hours until they reach the optimal temperature for cooking. These types of charcoal are also great to use in a charcoal grill. They are smaller and easier to work with than lump charcoal, and it’s also available in bulk, making them a cost-effective option.
3. Coconut shell charcoal
This type of charcoal is more sustainable than timber-based charcoal because trees don’t need to be cut down for it. It also performs well and maintains higher temperatures for more extended periods of time. It even burns hotter than charcoal briquettes, helping you cook pizza faster.
4. Anthracite coal
Though it’s not technically charcoal, anthracite coal is used for heating up coal ovens. It produces less smoke, burns slower, has fewer impurities, and has a higher carbon content than other types of coal. The high carbon content makes it a great alternative to charcoal. This works well for pizza ovens made of ceramic or brick.
How to Cook Using a Charcoal-fired Oven
1. Ignite the charcoal briquettes and then distribute them evenly in a single layer across the oven’s base.
2. Once the charcoal is lit and the oven has reached its desired temperature, cast aside them aside in either direction. Blow away the excess ash to clear the cooking surface of the oven. This allows the oven to reach its desired temperature quickly and prepares the base of the oven to cook the bottom of the pizza evenly.
3. Insert the pies. Depending on the thickness of the crust, it will be cooked within minutes because of the high heat. You can bring the pizza closer to the burning charcoal, so it chars the same way as if it’s cooked in a wood-fired oven. You can also use a fan near the air inlet to increase the temperature and remove excess ash from the charcoal.
Tips for Cooking Pizza with Charcoal
Here are some tips to keep in mind to help you get the best results with your charcoal-fired pizza oven:
1. Know how much charcoal to use
The amount of charcoal to put inside the oven depends on what you want to cook.
Since you want the charcoal pizza oven to get really hot to cook a pizza, it’s recommended that you fill the charcoal drawer half to ¾-full to reach the optimum temperature. This amount of coal can already help you reach the required pizza temperature.
Using too much charcoal would be wasteful and can make your oven even hotter than how you want it. The higher the temperature, the more charcoal it will need – but if you need to regulate the temperature (like in cooking a pizza), use less charcoal. You can always add more if it needs more heat.
2. Let it heat up first
The charcoal will burn at high temperatures, but it won’t instantly reach your desired level of heat. Give it time to burn, especially if you’re using a lot to increase temperature. Check the packaging to determine how long the charcoal needs to burn before you can cook.
3. Use wood with charcoal
The usual mistake beginners make to just use charcoal. Because when you only use charcoal, your oven doesn’t get the desired heat, lowering the quality of your finished pizza. Pairing it with another fuel source like wood can help the oven maintain hot temperatures. Also, ensure that you won’t run out of wood because when that happens, the temperature of your pizza oven drops very quickly, which is not suitable for your pizza crust.
With a charcoal pizza oven, the best type of wood to use with charcoal is wood chunks or blocks instead of chips or pellets. The latter types of wood won’t burn long enough, which causes the temperature to drop fast.
4. Choose the correct type of wood
It’s important to know what type of wood to choose while using a charcoal oven because the temperature that burns the wood varies according to them. A few do burn hotter than others and also affect the smoke flavor. Ultimately, you need to try out multiple types of wood till you find the option that works as you want it to.
The most recommended kinds of woods for pizza ovens are fruitwoods like apple, cherry, almond, and pecan. Hardwoods like oak, maple, ash, and walnut are also recommended because they are primarily free of impurities and burn slowly. These types of wood can also impart a distinct flavor to pizza as it cooks.
5. Use a pizza stone
If you have a charcoal pizza oven, you can easily cook on its grill as long as you use thick dough. However, you don’t require a pizza oven at all, as you can cook pizza on a charcoal grill grate or even directly on a charcoal grill. If you need the best results, you should use a pizza stone. A good pizza stone may be pricey, but it is an excellent investment and is helpful for making high-quality pizza.
Pizza stones allow for a higher and more consistent temperature overall. There are different stones out there, including pizza stones that can be used on a barbeque grill. It’s also more efficient than working on the grill directly.
6. Change the internal temperature
Charcoal pizza ovens are ideal for casual pizza bakers, giving results that are way better than a traditional oven. However, the results aren’t always as good as they could be. One problem is that these pizza ovens have a huge amount of air at the top, where hot air moves over the pizza. In the end, you get a perfectly cooked pizza, but the top isn’t as crispy as if it’s cooked in a regular electric or gas oven. A pizza stone won’t fix this issue as well. But there are different ways you can improve this to get a nice, crispy-crust pizza:
1. Cover the insert with aluminum foil.
Try covering the top surface of whatever insert you use with aluminum foil. Doing this will decrease the amount of air circulating at the top, helping the pizza cook faster. It’s easy to do, but you will see the difference in pizza quality.
2. Use a double cooker technique.
You need to give yourself two separate grates in your charcoal grill instead of one for this idea. With this concept, you’re putting a cooking grate on top of the insert. For the double grill outcome, you can cook on both grills with the lid of the charcoal grill off. But this is only applicable to grills.
If you’re using a pizza oven, you must put a pizza stone onto the top grill and plug all the gaps with aluminum foil. Ideally, use a pizza stone the same size as the grill, but you can do as best by plugging up the gaps. Once you’re done, put the lid back on and use your charcoal pizza oven normally.
7. Use the right pizza recipe
Sometimes, you do everything right, follow all instructions to operate your pizza oven, and even then, your pizza doesn’t end up as you expected. The issue might be with your recipe and not with the oven.
There are multiple recipes for pizza dough, including those that use wheat flour options. Keep trying new recipes – this may include changing up the dough recipe you are using or just giving a try to some new toppings. Along the way, you will discover what works with your pizza oven or grill.
8. Be patient and keep trying
Usually, the first pizza you bake will never come out as a perfect one. This is because the oven takes time to heat up to a stable temperature, and you have to be a seasoned baker to monitor and control the temperature progression. You can become a pro as well; just keep experimenting.
You will have the perfectly baked pizza in no time. After all, the best pizzas are the ones that come out right before the coals die down.
At the end of the day, charcoal ovens bring out the best flavor in pizza. It keeps you from using lots of oil and spices just to bring out unique flavors. If you’re looking to attain a slightly smoky flavor of the meat, vegetables, and other pizza toppings, a charcoal pizza oven might be the perfect option for you. Just be sure to follow these tips for cooking in a charcoal oven to get the best results.