Purchasing a woodfired oven may prove to be the best buy you make this summer
Inspired by more than 3000 years of European cooking mastery, the woodfired oven has evolved to be the latest must-have for your outdoor entertaining space. Woodfired ovens allow you to dine alfresco style and entertain your guests with ease. Just stoke the fire and you can throw together a veritable feast — crispy breads, sizzling entrees, sumptuous mains, delectable desserts and more.
The secret to the unique woodfired oven cooking process is in the way the different elements — the heat, smoke and wood — interact. For the uninitiated, there are two basic woodfired cooking methods. The first is called Pizzeria. With this you leave the door open with wood burning on one side of the oven and cook on the oven’s surface. If you were cooking a crusty focaccia or pizza, the radiant heat from the oven crisps up the dough and adds the right amount of sizzle to the topping.
The second method, Panificio, involves firing up the oven and when it’s at the optimum temperature you close the door until the food is cooked. So when cooking a succulent roast, the outside browns to perfection and then as the oven begins to cool the meat slowly melts inside, giving it a mouthwatering, smooth texture.
Mastering woodfired ovens
So how does the clever backyard chef become master of the woodfired oven? “Experiment — play around with wood, play around with firing styles and play around with smoke. Using different timbers will give different flavours to the smoke,” says Doug Hocken, co-owner of Clayworks Woodfired Ovens in Melbourne. “All these things allow you to develop your own unique woodfired oven cooking style.”
According to Doug, your culinary prowess will know no bounds once you master the art of cooking with a woodfired oven. “I whipped up a Jamie Oliver orange zest bread-and-butter pudding in mine recently — and it was better than my Mum’s! I had to ring up Mum and say I’d knocked her bread-and-butter pudding off the top shelf.” With the current surge in popularity of woodfired ovens, there’s a virtual plethora of styles and shapes to choose from. You can buy a complete woodfired oven, partially build your own and purchase selected prefabricated components such as doors and stands, or you can make it a complete DIY project.
Choosing the best for you
Before you part with your hard-earned cash it’s important to do your research, says Rob Cusenza, manager of Al Forno Wood Ovens in Adelaide. According to Rob, for maximum efficiency the oven should be conical or dome-shaped with the right door-to-oven size ratio. “The door needs to be around 60 per cent of the height of the oven. Too large and too much heat escapes; too small and it won’t allow enough oxygen in to fire the wood up,” he says. Choosing a woodfired oven that has the flue positioned on the outside allows for optimum performance, as does sourcing ovens made of dense, weighty materials. “Lightweight materials might be easier to transport and install, but they don’t store the heat,” says Rob. After you buy your woodfired oven (or build it from one of the many available DIY kits), it’s important to “cure” or “season” it correctly, as the materials used in its construction retain a small degree of moisture. This involves slowly building up heat over a few days using a small fire. If you don’t “cure” your oven, you run the risk of it cracking.
A wide variety of foods
A woodfired oven can be used to cook virtually anything you would cook in an ordinary oven. The difference is you have the benefit of that authentic woodfired flavour and all the fun of cooking outside. Everything from roasts, bread, pizzas, vegetables, baked fish or turkey can be cooked in a woodfired oven. And with the combination of smoking and baking techniques, you can be sure the result will be very flavoursome.
Pizzas are the most popular meal cooked in a woodfired oven, which isn’t surprising when you consider it only takes two or three minutes to cook a pizza to perfection once the oven is at the required temperature. And with pizzas being so easy to prepare, you can whip one up for an impromptu lunch or a quick dinner.
Whatever your food preference, be it Italian, Mediterranean or Indian, a woodfired oven can cater to a wide range of meals. For an authentic Italian dish, why not roast some eggplant and capsicum in your woodfired oven to create a fabulous antipasto plate?
If Mediterranean food is more your thing, you can cook some succulent kebabs in your woodfired oven. Or if you prefer the sweet aromas of Indian food, why not make a tasty Tandoori chicken?
Soaking up the atmosphere
The benefits of a woodfired oven extend beyond the wide range of foods you can cook and the enjoyment that comes with cooking them. A woodfired oven doesn’t require the same cleaning and maintenance as a barbecue and the fire’s glow is mesmerising, adding to the ambience of your outdoor room and essentially making it a talking point for dinner parties.
Most woodfired ovens are built-in and you’ll have to exercise care with placement, design and construction, as well as with practicalities such as venting. It’s common to have a woodfired oven integrated into an outdoor kitchen, but you can also have a stand-alone woodfired oven. They make a great focal point in outdoor rooms and, given their size and presence, can be used as the centre around which everything else is positioned.
In addition to built-in woodfired ovens, you can also buy ovens that are set on wheels or are self-contained and can be placed on a suitable bench surface. The advantage of these is that you can take them with you if you decide to move and, because they are mobile, they can be positioned where needed and stored away when not in use.
Whether you opt for a modular unit or a custom-designed built-in one, you’re sure to benefit from having it as part of your outdoor setting. In addition to cooking meals and providing an inviting ambience, a woodfired oven can also be used as a heating solution during the cooler months. What better way to spend a chilly night than huddled around a woodfired oven, wine in hand, enjoying a tasty and flavoursome dish?