Keep this equipment handy in your kitchen cabinet, and you can cook just about anything.
Excerpted with permission from “The Ultimate Wood-Fired Oven Cookbook” by Genevieve Taylor, published by Quadrille, May 2019, $19.99
With all that dry fuel, you’re going to need some special equipment that can deal with the extreme temperatures inside your oven. Here’s your checklist.
1. Welders’ Gauntlets Regular oven gloves don’t really cut it for wood-fired cooking. Thick leather welders’ gauntlets that come well up your forearms offer ideal protection, although it’s slightly frustrating that they usually come in a standard size of “massive.” Manufacturers take note: Girls rather like fires too.
2. Infrared Thermometer An infrared thermometer is invaluable for gauging a picture of the heat inside your oven by scanning it across the floor and walls to give an idea of hot and cool spots. Be sure to buy one that goes up to at least 930 degrees Fahrenheit — some max out around 570 to 660 degrees, which just isn’t high enough for a wood- red oven.
3. Wooden Peel A wooden peel is used for making pizzas and sliding them into the oven. Wood is the best choice for raw dough — it’s way more insulating than metal, so there is much less chance of the dough sticking as you maneuver the pizza into place. It’s also good for sliding bread into the oven to cook.
4. Metal Peel A metal peel is better for turning and removing pizza and loaves, as it has a much slimmer profile, enabling it to slide easily between the oven floor and the food. It’s also quite a good choice for rotating lighter dishes and pans, although it will struggle with heavy cast iron. Tip: Build your fire on your metal peel at the entrance to the oven before sliding it into the center, and use it for moving the fire around the oven once lit.
5. Hook on a Pole A long pole with a hook on the end is really useful for dragging roasting tins and heavy pots and pans out of the oven, and also for prodding the logs about a bit. You can buy special coal hooks for this purpose, but all you really need is a brass hook that is meant for opening and shutting sash windows fixed to the end of a slightly cut-down broom handle.
6. Length of Copper Pipe Cooking directly on the oven floor is known as bare baking, and a long length of copper pipe is invaluable for puffing away ash from the oven floor before you cook directly on it. Use a hammer to slightly squish the end nearest the fire for a more directional blow. It’s also great for giving the fire a little boost of air to get it going. A fan is also good for swooshing a bit of air on to a sulky fire.
7. Cooking Trays, Pots and Pans Most cooking equipment can be used in your oven, just as long as there are no plastic or wooden handles. The thinner ones may warp a little at extreme temperatures, but they generally spring back again once cold. Cheap and cheerful metal plates and platters, the kind you might find in an Indian restaurant, are good, as they conduct heat super-fast and therefore are great for ash-roasting or searing, resting whole vegetables for overnight roasting, or for quickly toasting spices in a cool-ish oven. They may also discolor, bend and warp a little, but no matter. For slow cooking, stoneware and terracotta are excellent choices.
8. Iron Made Cast iron is a fabulous choice for slow braising and casseroles. It can crack under extreme temperatures, so don’t rest it directly over embers or shove it right into the intense heat of a raging fire. But for general roasting, baking and slow cooking under 570 degrees, it’s fine. Heavy-duty steel is another brilliant choice, as it’s virtually indestructible. You do need to keep steel pots and pans well seasoned to protect them from rust. After use, wash gently — no fierce scouring — and dry well, then wipe over with a little vegetable oil and set over a high heat (or shove into your hot oven) to set the oil into a really thin, naturally nonstick layer.
9. Grill Mate If you want to turn your wood-fired oven into a barbecue, you need a grill. You can buy special grills, but you can improvise with an upturned fish cage meant for the barbecue.