Cleaning the hearth before baking

I have a question about wiping down the oven surface before you start your pizza. Is this a good idea to get a clean surface?

Also… any advice on non-toxic, green fire starters? Many of the DIY sites use wax or old candles or egg cartons.

Hi Betsy, and welcome to the BrickWood forum.

Once you’ve built your fire and have it roaring hot, you COULD clean the cooking surface. The most popular method would be a quick wipe down with a wet cloth (like a T shirt) wrapped around a peel.

Honestly though, brushing with your metal bristle brush will get the ashes swept aside. Your surface will be cleaner because of the high temperatures involved and you will be shifting your coals from side to side in the course of cooking. In short, a losing battle.

As for fire starters…officially you should not. Unofficially, a compressed-sawdust fire nugget—just one—will work fine without harming your oven or giving your food unintended and possibly toxic flavors. My advice is to try doing without first. The oven is designed to pull a draft and encourage a flaming hot fire in ways that a fireplace or fire pit is not.

Good luck with your build and hope you’ll keep us posted on your progress!

Thank you. I am cooking my first pizza today and will just brush the embers to the back and not use the wet T shirt. Grit can have taste.

It took me about 20 matches to light my first fire. But, all the DIY fire starters like the egg carton with various items loaded in and wax are very popular. I am drying orange peels. Paper works too. But, some people don’t like using newspaper. I am now collecting every twig I find!

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Brown kraft paper from shipping boxes is much better than newspaper in my oven. I make a “log cabin” out of kindling, and fill that with crumpled paper, then top it off with 2 medium logs. 1 match later, and I put the door over 80% of the opening to force a jet of fresh air onto the fire.

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I should point out that even the wax-based starters are generally petroleum based products (beeswax is an exception). Anything that leaves oils behind will end up in your food.

Lightning Nuggets are compressed sawdust held together with food grade paraffin wax that according to the manufacturer is “fully refined” so no oil remains in them. One burns for about 15 minutes and inside a “chimney” stack of kindling will help start your fire the right way.

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Do you have an opinion about dried orange peels?

Well, after looking through a lot of sources…I think they’d be fine. Some people contend that they would help with soot, but I really doubt the effect would be significant—a hot fire will consume any black soot left over from previous bakes.

I’d suggest a layer of small kindling as a bed for the orange peels, then a “chimney” around the bed. I think I’d want to keep them off the floor so that they don’t impart a bitter citric acid tang to your food.

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Excellent advice. I will update you as to how that goes.

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Another question… I have a lot of questions now. Is there a certain time in the fire process when it is best to start cooking your pizza? I tried my first one and I don’t think the oven was hot enough.

Yes there is, but since all fires are different it’s not something I’ve been able to set a timer to. What works best for me is to use an infrared thermometer. I own this one:

BT Meter BT-1500

A deck temperature of 900F is too hot for me. I end up carbonizing everything. 700-800F works really well. Below 600 I start moving coals around an adding more wood.

A good visual clue as the oven is warming up is to look at the soot on the inside of the oven. When the soot starts to go away and you can see your firebricks you know you’re getting close.

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Ok. The last part would be when the soot turns white… I don’t think I got there last time. I also think maybe my wood was not great. I just purchased almond wood and will try that.

That will also do it. My wood was just on the edge for my first few fires. One thing you’ll notice is that if you use the “good wood” to get your oven up to temp that you can mix in sticks of the other wood to maintain the fire. (Not exclusively, of course.)

I agree on the infrared thermometer; cheap and readily available. The kind you want has a top range >= 1,000 degrees F.

I have one. I am waiting for the stucco to dry and will fire it up this weekend. On one of the youtube videos I saw, the cook said he could do 4 pizzas without adding wood. That would be amazing.

Four pizzas sounds possible, two at a time. If your floor is hot enough it doesn’t take long for each pie to bake. (About 4-5 minutes vs. 11 in my home oven with a pizza steel and maxed out at 525 deg.)

I’m gathering you’re not in the snowy North, where apart from a few hardy souls we’re dreaming of March and April and the new pizza season.

Southern Cal. Sunny and high of 65. But, you know us, we put on down outwear if the temperature goes below 70.

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You have great building weather right now. Here in New England we correct that down outerwear threshold by a factor of -50. Anything above 40 is shirtsleeve weather this time of year.

That’s really ideal conditions for stucco, to allow it to cure properly rather than simply drying out. Are you planning to paint it, or is there veneering in your future?

We did color coat yesterday and will finish the base tomorrow. You are correct it is perfect stucco drying weather. I am very excited to post all the pictures.