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Wood-Fired vs. Natural Gas Pizza Ovens: Which One Should You Choose and Why?

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The decision to buy an outdoor pizza oven is an easy one — many people would jump at the opportunity to regularly make piping-hot pizzas in their own backyard. But the decision about what type of pizza oven to buy — well, that’s a little more complicated. 

There are 2 main types of pizza ovens: wood fired and gas. Wood-fired outdoor pizza ovens are the result of thousands of years of evolution from the brick-style ovens used in civilizations throughout the world, perhaps most famously in Italy. Gas pizza ovens share the basic physics of a wood-fired oven — food cooks with conductive heat from the oven floor, radiant heat from the dome, and circulating convection heat created by the dome and the chimney. The big change is swapping gas for wood as the power source to get the high heat (around 800 degrees Fahrenheit or more) that pizza requires.

That change creates some key differences between the 2 types of pizza ovens. Understanding those differences, and what makes each kind of pizza oven unique, helps you determine which one is the best fit for you and your cooking style. If you’re ready to throw lots of backyard pizza parties, but not sure how to get started, here’s a look at both gas and wood-fired pizza ovens.Wood-Fired Pizza Ovens

Obviously, you can’t beat wood-fired pizza ovens for that authentic flavor that makes a pie taste like it came straight from Naples. Wood lends a smoky char to the pizza’s flavor profile, which harmonizes beautifully with zesty tomato sauce and creamy burrata or mozzarella cheese. It also adds snap and bite to the pizza crust, and enhances the taste of toppings ranging from pepperoni to bell peppers. 

Hardwoods are the best for creating high, clean heat. They should be dry, free of chemicals or additives, and cut into small logs that can easily be added to or taken out of the oven as needed to control the flames. Experienced cooks know that different types of wood — such as ash, oak, or apple — can impart subtle nuances of flavor into pizzas while they’re baking. The wood needs to be securely stored when not in use to prevent it from becoming damp and losing its dryness.

Baking pizzas in a wood-fired oven is a hands-on process. The fire needs to be built in the oven and carefully tended. You have to keep an eye on ash buildup on the dome (that’s a sign the oven is heating up properly) and then start to brush the ash onto the oven floor. The ash and embers act like coals on the heat-absorbing floor tiles to keep the temperature rising. They’re also the reason wood-fired pizza ovens heat up faster than gas ovens. Make sure the flames are burning cleanly and not too high to burn your pizza, or too low to leave it undercooked. You’ll refine this process over time to see what works best for your oven, but for a novice, the process may involve a little more labor at first.

One other note about wood-fired pizza ovens: Because of the ash and smoke generated, these ovens take days to cool down, and they must be cleaned thoroughly for optimal cooking. 

Gas Pizza Ovens

Gas-powered pizza ovens can be connected to natural gas lines or propane tanks, whichever is most convenient for your backyard. There are even grill-top pizza oven kits that you can use with your regular BBQ grill, but a gas-powered pizza oven is a worthy investment, especially if you frequently cook outdoors. 

Because gas pizza ovens eliminate the wood fire, they’re generally much simpler to operate — your effort is limited to just pushing a button to get it up to temperature. Some gas ovens may take longer to reach the ultra-high temperature pizza-baking needs because there aren’t any hot logs or ash to heat up the oven floor; the heat source is limited to the burner. However, you have more control over a gas pizza oven, and the heat may also be steadier than it would be in a wood-fire grill, where the logs have to be stoked and moved around. Some savvy cooks use the time it takes to heat up the oven to cook items other than pizza that need lower temperatures, such as bread or vegetables.

Of course, because gas pizza ovens lack wood, you don’t get that specific smokiness and charred crust. But manufacturers are selling smoker boxes that you can fill with wood chips and use in your oven to capture some of that flavor. Again, hardwood chips are optimal for a smoker box, and you can play around with different types of wood to see what flavors you can create.

Gas pizza ovens are also easier to clean than the wood-fired versions. The lack of ash means you don’t have to carefully clean the oven with a brush when you’re done cooking, and overall maintenance is much simpler. 

The Best Outdoor Pizza Oven for You

Ultimately, whether you purchase a wood-fired or gas-powered pizza oven is up to your personal preference. If you want to replicate authentic Italian flavors and have the time to devote to learning the intricacies of building and maintaining a fire, then a wood-fired pizza oven may be your choice. But if you prefer convenience and ease of use, a gas oven would be a good fit for you. 

Whichever option you choose, an outdoor pizza oven is a wonderful addition to your backyard. It’s unique and sure to be a crowd-pleaser when you start churning out delicious pizzas for your family and friends. While outdoor pizza ovens used to be ultra-expensive and limited to people with large incomes, nowadays manufacturers are selling them at various price points to make them more affordable. Plus, there’s an impressive selection of pizza oven accessories and tools on the market that make baking pies even easier. Don’t wait another day to find out for yourself how fun it can be to make restaurant-quality pizza at home. Talk with a reputable specialist in backyard grills and pizza ovens to find out what your options are and select the perfect oven for you — then get ready to start cooking.