I get so many questions about woodfired oven cooking, from people as well as from chefs, and I can honestly say that the conversation always leads to wood.
Apart from a few equipment technical issues, most problems such as speed of lighting up, heat retention, over smoking, temperature consistency and heat longevity – all come down to the quality of wood.
The solution is simple – wood is an integral ingredient to woodfired cooking, whether you have a woodfired pizza oven, Argentine grill, fire pit, outdoor grill etc. Choose quality wood and your life becomes so much easier – this applies to home cooks as much as it does to professional chefs.
My choice? I always use Dalby Firewood and have done so for years. When I’m demonstrating to chefs or to the public, I need to use wood that is of consistent quality that I can rely on. Otherwise, disaster.
(I turned up to do a big chef event and my client assured me they had lots of wood, unfortunately it turned out this wood was from a petrol station and it was the worst wood I’ve ever had. One of the most embarrassing experiences and in front of 50 chefs. Never again!)
What is good quality wood?
- Check the moisture content, needs to be between 0-5%. If your wood is too wet it becomes difficult to light, doesn’t give good heat retention and smokes too much. Wood with a high moisture content is horrible to cook with and is my worst nightmare. Seasoning is crucial to quality, this means the wood is dried out until it’s in prime burning condition. Freshly felled and chopped hardwood has about 50% moisture content.
- Buy species of wood not just ‘woodfired wood’! You wouldn’t buy a big bag which just says ‘herbs’, you’d want to know which herbs you were buying. The same applies to wood – not only does each wood have a different flavour and burn differently but a generic bag of ‘wood’ probably means a mixture of species and sizes.
- A lot of generic wood applies to wood burning stoves and fire pits and not produced for cooking. Be careful!
- Consistency of size. As you progress with your fire cooking, size becomes important! You will use different size wood for starting, prolonging, boosting etc but you need to buy wood that you know comes with these consistent sizes.
- Reliable delivery and customer service – this is essential for chefs using wood in their kitchens for service. You really can’t afford to run out of wood and you need to have a supplier that you can talk to and get reliable advice.
- Make sure the wood is FSC or PEFC certified and sustainable sourced – all woodlands are a treasured resource and we all have a responsibility to make sure the wood we use is environmentally friendly.
So, doesn’t matter which woodfired oven or outdoor grill you are using and how much you paid for it, if you are using the wrong wood – it will effect the performance and you won’t have an enjoyable cooking experience.