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Cooking Techniques

The Stone Bake Oven Company's Wood-Fired Cooking Techniques:

1 Introduction - what you can expect from your Stone Bake Oven

Welcome to the Stone Bake Family, our wood-fired cooking techniques section will help you abolish the mystery and misapprehensions of cooking in a wood-fired oven. Your Stone Bake Oven ensures versatile cooking techniques are possible with reliable results. You can alter temperatures, cooking styles and cookware to achieve varied cooking results, simply.

The Science

Lighting wood in the oven creates flames and burning embers. The heat produced is absorbed by the oven, and is re-radiated from the oven to cook food over a period of time. The curved shape and material characteristics of the oven dome encourages fast, even heating, whilst the high density of the oven floor ensures excellent heat retention for cooking over time.

The oven will heat up and over time start to cool, by using these phases of heat, one can achieve a range of cooking styles, and engage in more than one cooking style during one singular firing.

The Basic Rules

Add or remove wood to increase/reduce oven temperature, or alternatively move dishes towards the fire, or away from the fire.

Place pizzas and breads on the oven floor, or use it like a hob top, placing your high heat pots and pans on it to roast, boil, grill and sear.

Achieve different cooking styles by monitoring oven temperature, do so by gauging flame size, sooty deposits, where the embers are in the oven or by using a thermometer. Practice makes perfect.

2 Start Cooking In Your Oven

To start cooking any dish, always follow the usual firing up process described below, you can also follow pictures in your Oven Manual or watch a Stone Bake 'How To Light Your Oven Video.' Always bring the oven up to maximum temperature or before letting it cool down to roasting or baking temperature. This ensures even distribution of heat throughout the oven.

What You Need

Apart from passion and creativity (although it's not a must) you only need the following to start cooking in your Stone Bake Oven:

  • Kiln Dried Wood
  • Metal and Wood Pizza Peels
  • Protective Gloves
  • Thermometer for roasting and baking

Firing Up Process

  • Using dry non-treated wood, available for purchase from the Stone Bake Oven Company here, chop into chunky kindling around 3 inches thick and 10 inches long. (shop bought kindling may be too small for the oven).
  • Using a single sheet of scrunched newspaper, or a natural fire lighter, place in the centre of the oven and surround with stacked kindling, ensuring air can get to the wood for burning efficiency.
  • Light the newspaper in the centre of the stack, and as the fire grows, slowly feed the fire with kindling pieces, you can do this with a metal pizza peel or oven gloves.
  • If flames are protruding from the opening of the oven, wait before adding more kindling.
  • Do not remove any burning material from the oven.
  • Depending on the size of the oven (leave longer if larger), leave the stack to burn in the centre of the oven for 20+ minutes. This ensures the dome and the base are saturated with heat, essential for heat retention for longer cooking periods.
  • As the oven starts to approach a high temperature, add small logs and later on larger ones.
  • Your oven will approach its optimum temperature roughly 450°C, you can tell this by using an infra red thermometer available to buy from the Stone Bake Oven Company here, aim this at the oven floor, or observe as the oven dome will turn from black to clear as the oven soot diminishes.
  • Depending on the cooking technique, move the embers and flames towards the back or side of the oven, or alternatively spread the embers across the oven floor. Maintain temperature by adding more wood accordingly.

3 Cooking Techniques

Cooking Techniques

High Heat Technique

This method has the oven at its highest temperatures approx 450°C. This temperature is excellent for cooking authentic pizza's, some types of breads, appetisers and more within minutes. At this temperature a pizza placed directly on the oven floor can cook in under 90 seconds, the pizza is cooked from the bottom up by the oven floor and the top down by the oven’s internal temperature, resulting in perfect pizza. This high heat method is also useful for browning and caramelising items, unlike conventional means.

Follow the 'Firing Up Process' above, ensuring your oven reaches 450°C with all the soot diminishing from the oven dome, then allow heat to even out and maintain above 400°C.

  • Move the fire to one side of the oven and maintain large naked flames which will arch over the dome of the oven.
  • Take care at these high temperatures.
  • Place your pizza's or other, on the oven floor beside the fire, making sure to rotate regularly to encourage even cooking.
  • Add wood to maintain the fire, (every 15-20 minutes).
  • If cooking over a longer period, move the oven embers from one side to the other to ensure even heating.

Roasting Technique

Similar to the capabilities of a conventional oven, but much, much better, the roasting technique is versatile. It can be used for sealing or browning items as well as cooking through, whilst maintaining juices and tenderness.

Once you have fired the oven to its maximum temperature, brown and seal items, at this high temperature caramelisation of meat and vegetable dishes is possible, something conventional ovens cannot replicate. Wait for oven to drop to roasting temperature 200°C to 300°C. For poultry, roast the bird then remove foil cover to brown.

  • Follow the 'Firing Up Process' above, ensuring your oven reaches its optimum temperature 450◦C. Keep the temperature high to brown/seal food items in the oven, follow this by covering with liquid or a lid then maintain oven above 200°C.
  • Move the fire and embers to one side of the oven and maintain small oven flames, add smaller logs every 15-20 minutes. Roasting relies more on the radiation of heat from the wood embers than the heat from the flame.
  • Let the oven temperature gradually fall (within the 200°C - 300°C range) by letting the fire burn down but not out.
  • Leave the oven door off for short roasting times (under an hour) or put in place for longer roasting times (over an hour) remember to rotate your items.

Naturally the closer to the fire the food is placed the hotter it will be, and gradually the temperature will fall as you move across the oven floor. Be sure to check the food to determine whether to move and consequently increase/decrease the oven temperature – see Oven Tips.

Grilling / BBQ Techniques

This technique is ideal for locking in flavours, and burning off fat, for crisp, not dried out food. Beat the BBQ and use a cast iron grill to achieve that typical 'grill scorch mark' effect, whilst your food remains hot and gently cooks through.

  • Follow the 'Firing Up Process' above, ensuring your oven reaches 450°C, allow the oven temperature to fall and maintain around 300°C.
  • Leave the embers and fire over your oven floor before moving to the side. This is to ensure lots of heat penetrates the oven floor.
  • Place a cast iron grill on the oven floor, wait for it to achieve a similar temperature and place items on the grill.
  • Cook to perfection within moments.

Baking Techniques

To achieve flavourful delicacies including breads, desserts, pasta, a range of veggies or other, the baking option may be best for you. For bread making see baking bread below.

  • Follow the 'Firing Up Process' above, ensuring your oven reaches its optimum temperature 450°C, keep the embers across the oven floor ensuring heat penetrates the oven floor.
  • Wait for the oven temperature to cool to desired baking temperature, there should be embers and no flame, with the thermometer reading between 160-200°C from the oven floor. Clear embers to the side of the oven.
  • Place your food items on the oven floor to bake. You may choose to cook in terracotta cookware, this further insulates food items and gives a 'gentle heat' to your food items.
  • Put your oven door in place and bake as the temperature slowly decreases in the oven. Roughly adhere to conventional baking times, see Oven Tips..

Baking Breads

A Stone Bake Oven is the perfect environment for baking bread, you can even add steam to achieve a crispy bread crust*. Ideal temperature is around 100°C - 180°C. You need to remove the embers from the oven, this is perfect for after a meal, when the oven is cooling anyway.

  • Fire the oven as per usual to 450°C and spread embers over the oven floor. Ensure you adequately fire the oven before hand to achieve adequate heat retention for the duration of your bake.
  • Place the bread loaves on oven floor much like a pizza, or place on a baking tray, put oven door in place and be sure not to open during first 2-3 minutes to ensure crispy outer crust, sporadically rotate and check loaves, bearing in mind this may reduce oven temperature, so check swiftly.

Determining if your loaves are baked through will come with time, check colour and temperature. A quick tip is to tap the loaf in the centre of the underside/bottom, if the loaf sounds hollow, it is cooked through, or dense, it still has time to go. Beware as higher temperatures give loaves more colour, although they may not be cooked through, to reduce the temperature in the oven, open the oven door.

* To achieve enviable crispy bread crusts, you can even create steam: spritz water, with a water spray towards the inner centre of the dome, or place 1-2 ice cubes in a separate oven proof dish at baking temperature, expect to see steam build up, then put oven door in place.

4 A-Z Oven Tips

This section includes little tips to make using your oven that much easier.

  • Avoid: glass dishes and plastic or wooden handles, read the cookware advice below.
  • Big Event: If you have a big event planned and own a larger oven, it's worth firing the oven the a few hours before, to make oven firing easier and quicker, especially in particularly cold, damp conditions or when you have not used your oven for a while.
  • Cleaning: The majority of food and waste is burnt off, the only clearing required is of the ashes from your fire. A metal can with tight fitting lid is recommended to place your ashes in. Indoor and outdoor ovens should have their flues routinely cleaned. To 'clean' the oven floor for pizza/bread placement, use a damp cloth, or purchase a mop with metal fittings, gently wipe over oven floor, ensuring the mop is not too damp or wet.
  • Conventional Recipes: When cooking from a conventional recipe book, expect to add just under 50°C to any conventional recipe and expect cooking time to be cut by approximately a third.
  • Damp Oven: If your oven is cold/wet: slowly fire the oven, see your Oven Manual. A damp oven will not perform as expected.
  • Flames: If you need a flame but are already at a high temperature, try adding kindling to spark a flame.
  • Heat: If your oven is not at the required heat when food is inside, stop cooking, remove food and add wood with kindling to achieve a roaring flame, this will take a few minutes to boost oven temperature, then replace food. This reduces the chances of drying food, by cooking longer in a cooler oven.
  • Heat-up Times: When cooking ensure you saturate the oven with heat, oven heat up times depend on the ovens pre-fire temperature, and in larger ovens also depends on the thickness of the oven walls.
  • Oven Door: The oven door needs to remain open to feed the fire with oxygen and ensure flames, you can use the door to calm or put out a fire as well as varying cooking techniques.
  • Thermometer: When using your thermometer, read from varying points on the oven floor, if you open the oven door, replace for upto 10 minutes and take a reading to ensure an even, accurate temperature reading.
  • Wood: If your wood is hard to light, smoking, hissing and crackling, you probably have green wood in your oven, remove and use kiln dried logs available from the Stone Bake Online Shop.

5 Cookware

Cookware for use inside the oven needs to be appropriate for high heat environments. 'Regular' oven dishes may crack, break or warp under high temperatures. The Stone Bake Oven Company recommend you use high heat friendly dishes such as cast iron pots and pans, or for lower temperature baking, Terracotta dishes which are designed to withstand higher temperatures.

6 Troubleshooting

The most likely cause of difficulties with a wood fired oven being too smokey and not hot enough are caused by damp wood or green wood. The Stone Bake Oven Company recommend kiln dried wood, with a moisture content around 20%. Seasoned wood may have a moisture content of 40% or above.

Kiln dry your own: Why not try 'kiln drying' your own wood. Simply clear out all embers after using your oven, and whilst the oven is still hot, place seasoned wood in the oven and put the door in place. 'Et Voila,' a kiln dried wood alternative ready for next use. Ensure you store your wood in a dry place.

If you are still struggling to approach high temperatures in your oven use chunky kiln dried kindling, (3 inchesx10 inches) instead of shop bought, this can be too small. Ensure you keep the burning stack in the centre of the oven for some time to saturate the oven with heat. Any other questions? Contact us.