There was a time when pizza ovens were a specialist commodity in industry kitchens, is that still the case or have they become the norm? Zara Horner reports.

The basic principles behind modern pizza ovens have been around for thousands of years.

Nowadays these ovens require a signficant investment, but converts argue they are well worth it.

Designed specifically to cook large quantities of pizza and other foods that require high temperatures, modern pizza ovens come in many different designs, but a flat stone hearth beneath a dome is usual, designed to maximise heat retention and maintain higher cooking temperatures.

Whether they are constructed with brick, concrete, metal or ceramic, are rectangular or circular, the ovens are usually wood-fired with gas-fired and electric options, or a combination, becoming more common.

Often, due to the size and cost, manufacturers will custom-make the ovens to fit the space. Food viewing windows and back-up energy reserves have become something of the norm as well.

“Pizza ovens are a far more diverse cooking appliance than you may think,” expounds Stephen Trood director of operations/international sales and engineering at Beech Ovens which manufactures and distributes a range of specialty ovens, including churrascos, teppanyaki, shawarmas, tandoors and charcoal ovens, grills, fire pits, parillas and rotisseries.

“Pizza ovens are becoming more appreciated in a wider range of kitchens globally,” says Trood.

Beech Ovens specialises in feature cooking equipment for open kitchens, making the oven a showpiece.

“The main difference between a regular oven and a traditional pizza oven is the stone hearth,” Trood explains. “This is where the magic happens. The stone dome and floor create a perfect medium for cooking all sorts of product with the perfect combination of top and bottom heat.

“Getting the combination of floor heat to dome heat is the difference between a well-finished pizza and… not. The stone helps to balance the moisture in the dough and cook it crisply whilst retaining texture through the product.”

Mansour Rashidi, VP sales at Svenska, manufacturer of BakePartner pizza ovens PizzaMaster, agrees. “Chefs need fast-acting high temperatures to create the perfect pizza, and specialist ovens are the only way to go to achieve this. Our units bake pizza in just two to three minutes depending on the dough and toppings. Absolutely one of the most popular, tastiest dishes in the world.”

PizzaMaster offers one of the largest electric deck oven ranges with 85 different sizes and over 1,000 combinations. “While we are always striving for more energy efficiency and speed there haven’t been many changes to the way these ovens operate over the years,” Rashidi says.

“Our customers are looking for faster baking times, an evenly spread heat and ovens of varying sizes. Cost is always an issue, of course, but getting and keeping these ovens hot is the main ingredient, this heat rentention means less has to be spent on power. These ovens are relatively maintenance free, and have a long life – 10 to 15 years at least.”

Coming up, the company is looking to extend its range of software to increase display and touch functions.

Now and then

Beech Ovens’ Trood points to “some major advances” in the technology applied to both the way the ovens are made and how long they last. “Previously, ovens were made from a clay based material which, over a relatively short time, degraded to a point of collapse. We pride ourselves on manufacturing ovens that will last a lifetime. The materials Beech Ovens use have incredible heat retention qualities and far out-perform and out-last traditional materials.”

And it is this performance, and longevity that customers are looking for today.

Beech Ovens released a new range of ovens in 2018. The E-Series is designed to fit in tight spaces, “and tight budgets,” Trood points out. “These ovens come fully assembled in a range of different sizes and finishes – stainless steel or a choice of colours – and are a plug-and-play appliance sized to fit under a standard exhaust canopy or as a feature piece in a front of house kitchen.” At the beginning of this year, in response to “the major shift in gas regulation throughout Asia,” all the company’s equipment became available in electric options.

Doughing it right

Italian company Sudforni manufactures and distributes electric pizza ovens and hot counters – among other equipment. Perhaps unsurprisingly, administrator Alessandro Esposito, considers these units “essential, not only in restaurants where pizza is a menu fundamental, as they will increase the clientele.” A weighty assertion! Esposito says technology has had a big impact on these units with today’s electric versions designed to save energy, reduce costs and reduce carbon footprints, while touchscreen software increases functionality and ease of use.

“An excellent, delicious pizza depends mainly on a really good dough and good leavening. However, how the pizza is baked is equally important since it affects the baking speed and consistency of product,” Esposito says. At temperatures of 450 – 490 degrees, and with the perfect ventilation, pizza ovens bake pizza rapidly and evenly.

“Our customers are looking for high production capacity combined with reduced electric consumption,” Esposito points out. “Ease of maintenance and durability make pizza ovens even more attractive.”