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Managing Oven Temperature

Within the stainless steel pizza oven community, there’s a bit of buzz surrounding the “maximum” oven temperature and the quest to reach the magical 900ºF specified in the Verace Pizza Napoletana guidelines for baking ultra-fast, 60-90 second pizzas. It’s almost taken on a Spinal Tap “these go to 11” vibe, adding an element of intrigue. However, for those new to pizza oven baking and contemplating a purchase or DIY project, it can be a tad perplexing. So, let’s take a moment to shed some light on the matter.

Firstly, let’s acknowledge that 900ºF is scorching—seriously hot. Achieving a flawless pizza at this temperature in just 60 seconds requires considerable practice and skill, a feat mastered by seasoned pizzaioli. Now, when it comes to those small, portable pizza-making ovens, it’s a different story. Turn a knob, slide in the pizza, give it a quick turn, and voila, pizza’s ready. In reality, it isn’t that easy, and portable pizza ovens from Ooni and Gozney make great pizzas. But for some, it’s not the same as baking in a genuine pizza refractory oven.

Baking multiple 60-second pizzas simultaneously, the way Italian pizzaioli do daily, demands genuine expertise. Becoming a high-end pizzaiolo entails rigorous training and education—it’s a serious profession. In fact, many of these experts prefer staying in Italy, where the quality of life and food is excellent, family and community ties are strong, and the pay is attractive. Convincing a top-tier pizzaiolo to relocate to the US, other European countries, and Asia can requires a significant financial commitment from a restaurant to get a truly great pizza chef.

As a golden rule, it’s advisable to start with two to three minute pizzas in a 700-750ºF oven before venturing into the 60 to 90-second zone. This way, you’ll grasp how your oven operates, find the right balance between dome and floor temperature, master fire-feeding techniques, handle pizza proximity to the fire, finesse your turning peel skills, and smoothly manage cooking multiple pizzas simultaneously—placing, turning, moving, turning, removing, placing, turning, and so on. It’s a delightful learning experience.

For those contemplating a refractory pizza oven, hitting the 900ºF mark isn’t a major concern. Just ensure you opt for an oven with robust refractory materials and adequate insulation. Insufficient dome and floor insulation can lead to heat loss, requiring more effort in fire-feeding.

Now, if a stainless steel oven is in your sights, and you want to consistently cooking at 900ºF, delve into the thickness of the stainless steel in the dome, the type and thickness of insulation used, and the thickness of the cooking floor. While achieving 900ºF+ is possible (just keep adding wood to the fire), the critical question is whether the oven performs well at that temperature or becomes uncomfortably hot to the touch, making the entire experience less enjoyable.

You should also consider changing the standard baking stone that comes with either a portable pizza oven, small countertop oven, or a mid-size pizza oven with a Biscotto stone. Your oven will store heat better, made better high-temp pizzas and allow you to make multiple pizzas in a row.

Additionally, practical details come into play when engaging in 900ºF+ baking in a steel oven. Consider factors like potential deformation of the oven dome, metal fatigue, and whether the outer enclosure and oven opening might scorch, discolor, or bow.

In summary, if you’re genuinely aiming to become a highly skilled pizzaiolo who effortlessly crafts perfect 60-second pizzas in a well-managed 900ºF oven, a refractory oven might be the way to go. It’s the path to pizza perfection.