There are lots of reason to build a pizza oven. The opportunity to “gear up” to use it over the many years that it will last for is one of the biggest ancillary benefits. Here are a few of the essential tools for cooking pizza and a variety of other food in our wood oven.
Loading Peel: This peel is used to load pizzas into the oven. Most build their pies right on this peel, while some pros manage to go from counter to peel, to oven. The most important characteristics of a good loading peel are that its handle is long enough to reach into the hot oven, that the paddle is wide enough to accommodate the largest pizza you want to make (but, obviously, not larger than your oven’s opening), and that the surface of the paddle is really smooth.
Some buy peels made from fancy wood and others go with perforated metal paddles that reduce friction and drop excess flour but both options seem over-the-top to me. Ours came from Tap Phong but Nella also carries ones with long enough handles.
Turning Peel: This is a more specialised tool, was the most recent addition to our arsenal but really works wonders. The round paddle made of thin aluminum slides under a pizza and with a couple flicks of the handle the pizza can be rotated so that the light side of the pie faces the fire.
Finding this tool took some serious investigation. None of Tap Phong or any of the Nellas had what I wanted but Rob from Bigabaldi’s pointed me in the direction of the Faema dealership at Dupont and Christie. They carry a variety of other pizza tools and flour imported from Italy.
Hook: I found this device, labeled something like “pizza bubble popper” at one of the Nellas. The name makes it sound like an extremely specialised uni-tasker but this tool has been very useful. I use the handle for moving pans in the oven, nudge logs with the hook’s shoulder, and before I had a turning peel used the hook to spin pizzas. (Once or twice I’ve even popped an errant pizza crust bubble with it.) Be very careful with the sharp, pointy end of the hook and make sure that you don’t store it standing where someone might step on the handle end.
Brush: The bristles are brass so that they don’t scratch the carefully-laid oven floor. I like that the heads have a threaded adapter so that they can be replaced when the bristles wear down.
This is one item where I would be wary of substitutions. You’ll have to use the brush to clean the oven’s floor when its temperature gets close to 1000°F–much hotter than a home oven or even your barbeque–and no one likes melted, synthetic bristles in their pizza.
Bellows: This tool is the only one I made myself. It’s just a three-foot length of copper tube with one end hammered partly shut and the other fitted with an attachment to make it more comfortable to blow into. These crude bellows are used to stoke a lagging fire, when wood has just been added, to clear ash from the floor, or to increase the oven’s temperature right after the pizza has gone in.
Two cautionary notes: 1. Be sure to inhale fresh air with your mouth away from the mouthpiece, inhaling the smokey, heated oven air will make you cough horribly; and 2. If your gloves get to be as dirty as mine, take off the one you use to bring bellows to mouth, otherwise embarrassment will ensue.
Gloves: Obviously, there will be many situations when you’ll have to move hot pans or use hot tools and regular kitchen gloves would be quickly destroyed. Mine are from Lodge and as with other products from them Bass Pro Shops is the finest, cheapest retail source near Toronto. The Lodge gloves leave something to be desired in terms of both insulation and coverage. I’ve hear that these welding gloves from US Forge are better suited for this purpose.
Non-contact IR thermometer: This is a plastic, snub-nosed gun which fires an infrared beam at a surface and reads its temperature. It’s most useful when first using your oven and getting used to how it diffuses heat. The critical characteristic is that it max out above the useful range of your oven. Something about 1000°F is good, I managed to find one that goes to 1292°F. Ebay is the best source in my view.
Everything else: If you want to remove the coals from the oven before you cook (as is recommended by bakers of bread) you’ll need a place to put them (galvanized steel can with a lid are best) and a means of getting them there. Some who pay particular attention to bread baking use a damp mop to equalize the temperature of their oven floor before baking. And finally those who want their brush and hook to look slightly cleaner than mine (and maybe last a little longer) will want to buy or make a hoe devoted to moving coals and flaming logs around the oven.