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Lighting a fire

Step 1: Safety First Before you dive in, make sure your oven surroundings are clear and safe. No flammable stuff nearby, and keep a fire extinguisher or hose handy. Gear up in heat-resistant leather gloves to shield yourself from burns.

Step 2: Prep the Oven Clear out any leftover ashes or debris. Ensure the oven floor is spick and span, ready for action.

Step 3: Wood Matters Grab enough seasoned firewood, along with kindling and a food-safe fire starter or newspaper. Aim for wood split into 5 to 6 inch pieces around 16 inches long. Toss in some 2 to 3 inch pieces for the initial fire and ongoing fuel after your oven is fully fired up. Check the wood’s moisture content – it should be below 15 percent. Use a digital moisture meter if you’re unsure. Hardwoods are the go-to; they burn hotter and longer.

Step 4: Lay the Foundation Pop crumpled newspaper or fire starter cubes in the oven’s center. Arrange kindling on top in a pyramid or crisscross pattern for a sturdy base. Leave gaps for airflow.

Step 5: Light It Up Use a long lighter or matches to set the newspaper or fire starter cubes ablaze.

Step 6: More Wood, More Fire As the fire catches and kindling burns, toss in more firewood. Start with smaller pieces, progressing to larger logs. Arrange them to keep that airflow going strong.

Step 7: Keep the Flame Alive Build a robust, sustained flame. Add bigger logs as needed to keep the fire going. It should generate serious heat, warming up the oven’s walls and dome. If the flame gets too ambitious and leaps out of the oven or up the flue, reign it in. Let the fire settle down.

Step 8: Heat Things Up Depending on your oven’s size, it can take 20 to 60 minutes (or more for a hefty bread oven) to fully fire up. Hit that sweet spot between 700°-900ºF for Neapolitan-style pizza. Check the oven dome and cooking floor in multiple spots using a digital infrared thermometer. You’ll know it’s game time when the oven dome clears up, and the soot from past fires turns transparent – a sign of carbon burn off.

Step 9: Fire Shift Once you hit the right temp, use an oven rake to shove the burning wood and hot ashes to one side of the oven floor. Then, use an oven brush to corral the remaining embers and ashes to that side. This helps clean up the cooking surface and spread the heat evenly. If you’re anti-ash on your pizzas, wrap your oven brush with a slightly damp (not wet) cloth towel and mop down the cooking floor. But play it safe; don’t let it burn.

Step 10: Temp Check Redux Give the oven a breather, cool it a bit, then double-check the temperature.

Step 11: Keep the Flame Alive As you cook your pizzas, keep feeding that fire. Aim for the top of the flame to roughly hit the top of the oven dome.

Want to try something different?

Top-Down Fire? Sure, Why Not Flip the script with a top-down fire. It’s the upside-down or feeding fire method. Larger logs at the base, smaller ones above, and kindling on top – it works in reverse. Here’s the drill:

  1. Lay down three to four large logs, around 5 to 6 inches in diameter, parallel with small gaps.
  2. Add a layer of slightly smaller logs, 3 to 4 inches in diameter, crossed perpendicularly.
  3. Toss on an even smaller third layer, about 1 to 2 inches in diameter.
  4. Top it all off with a mix of medium to small kindling.
  5. Place your fire starters or newspaper on top, light ’em up.

If you’ve stacked the wood right, the fire will burn down to the big logs without any fuss. It’s a hands-off approach for when you’re busy with pizza dough or playing host.