If you’re lucky enough to own one, there are a few bits of kit that will stand you in good stead, improve your cooking and of course, keep you protected
So you’ve found yourself with a wood fired oven. Take note: with all that good dry fuel, you are going to need a few bits of specialist equipment that can deal with the extreme temperatures inside it.
I’m afraid regular oven gloves don’t really cut it for woodfired cooking. Thick leather welders’ gauntlets that come well up your forearms offer ideal protection, although it’s slightly frustrating that they usually come in a standard size of “massive”. Manufacturers take note: girls rather like fires too.
An infra-red thermometer is invaluable for gauging a picture of the heat inside your oven, by scanning it across the floor and walls to give an idea of hot and cool spots. Be sure to buy one that goes up to 500C-plus – some max out around 300-350C, which just isn’t high enough for a wood fired oven.
A wooden peel
This is used for making pizzas on and sliding them into the oven. Wood is the best choice for raw dough – it’s way more insulating than metal, so there is much less chance of the dough sticking as you manoeuvre the pizza into place. It’s also good for sliding bread into the oven to cook.
A metal peel
The metal version is better for turning and removing pizza and loaves, as it has a much slimmer profile, enabling it to slide easily between oven floor and food. It’s also quite a good choice for rotating lighter dishes and pans, although it will struggle with heavy cast-iron. I always build my fire on my metal peel at the entrance to the oven before sliding it into the centre, and I also use it for moving the fire around the oven once lit.
A hook on a pole
This is really useful for dragging roasting tins and heavy pots and pans out the oven, and also for prodding the logs about a bit. You can buy special coal hooks for this purpose, but mine is a little more makeshift – a brass hook that is meant for opening and shutting sash windows, fixed to the end of a slightly cut down broom handle.
A length of copper pipe
Cooking directly on the oven floor is known as “bare baking”, and a long length of copper pipe is invaluable for puffing away ash from the oven floor before you cook directly on it. Use a hammer to slightly squish the end nearest the fire for a more directional blow. It’s also great for giving the fire a little boost of air to get it going. All in all one of my favourite, and most simple, tools for the wood fired oven. A fan is also good for swooshing a bit of air on to a sulky fire – I have a wicker one I picked up for a euro in a Portuguese supermarket; worth every cent.
Cooking trays, pots and pans
Most cooking equipment you have for your kitchen can be used in your oven, just as long as there are no plastic or wooden handles. I shove my regular roasting tins and saucepans in without a worry – the thinner ones may warp a little at extreme temperatures, but they generally spring back again once cold.
Cheap and cheerful metal plates and platters, the kind you might find in an Indian restaurant, are good, as they conduct heat super-fast and therefore are great for flash-roasting or searing, or for resting whole veg for overnight roasting, or for quickly toasting spices in a coolish oven. They may also discolour, bend and warp a little, but no matter. For slow cooking, stoneware and terracotta are excellent choices.
Cast iron is a fabulous choice for slow braising and casseroles. It can crack under extreme temperatures, so I wouldn’t rest it directly over embers or shove it right into the intense heat of a raging fire, but for general roasting, baking and slow cooking under 300°C (570°F), it’s fine. Heavy-duty steel is another brilliant choice, as it’s virtually indestructible.
You do need to keep steel pots and pans well seasoned to protect them from rust. After use, wash gently – no fierce scouring – and dry well, then wipe over with a little vegetable oil and set over a high heat (or shove into your hot oven) to “set” the oil into a really thin, naturally non-stick layer.
If you want to turn your wood fired oven into a barbecue, you need a grill. You can buy special grills, but I improvise with an upturned “fish cage” meant for the barbecue.
‘The Ultimate Wood Fired Oven Cookbook’ by Genevieve Taylor (Quadrille £15) Photography by Jason Ingram