Guide to choosing the best fuel for an outdoor oven
Those who love to cook know well that in order to obtain extraordinary results not only should high quality food be used, but the right cooking tools are needed as well (and know how to make the best use of them).
Each cooking tool has its own characteristics, which generate different results on the dishes we prepare. The same food can become a completely different dish if cooked in the oven, in a pan, fried or steamed, and so on and so forth. There are also important differences not only between the various cooking tools but also between the different types of each individual tool from which we can choose.
Together with gas hobs for cooking food in a pot or pan, ovens are the most popular cooking tool in kitchens, thanks to their versatility in preparing many different recipes. However, there are different types of ovens, which are distinguished according to the different fuelling on which their functioning is based.
We will discuss the different fuel types on which an oven can be based and we will try to give the necessary information for an informed and conscious choice.
Firstly, we will look at the features of the three most common sources, namely wood, gas and electricity. We will explain the consequences that each of them has on cooking food and we will see the different ways of using the various types of ovens.
We will go on to illustrate the different parameters that we should take into consideration when evaluating the various types of ovens. It will be important to make some reflections on the many aspects involved in the choice of oven fuel supply, which not only concern the cooking performance, but also the way in which we want to use our tool and the place where we intend to place it.
To better assist the choice, in the second part of the article we will see which situation is best to opt for each of the three fuel supply types. In addition to the general differences that we will explain initially, there may in fact be several circumstances that we must consider when choosing between the various types of ovens.
Finally, we will briefly summarize the different features and the various needs in order to provide a general conclusive picture as clear as possible, with which to be able to make the right choice for the fuel supply of our new oven.
The various fuel types for ovens
Over the years, changes in people’s habits and technological evolution have led to a considerable development in the cooking tools market. The most striking example of this can certainly be found in the history of domestic ovens, which begins with the traditional wood-burning oven, an instrument which for centuries has been fundamental in the nutrition of farming families and which was once the cornerstone on which the construction of houses was based.
Starting from the post-war economic boom, gas ovens and eventually electric ovens began to spread, thanks to their advantages in terms of practicality of use and ease of installation, two parameters that became fundamental for the hectic city life.
Over time, the technological development of electric ovens has favoured a greater diffusion compared to their gas-powered colleagues, both in professional contexts but above all in our homes. The most recent models are not only capable of containing energy consumption but are also quite versatile with regard to the various cooking methods, thanks to the combination of different technologies (grill, ventilation, microwave and steam).
Let’s now see in detail what the various oven fuel types are that we can choose from, in order to understand the differences between them.
The wood oven
Let’s start with the wood oven, the noble ancestor of all other types of ovens. There is nothing else that has the ability to recall the values of traditions, family and good food like the classic brick wood oven.
The ability to control fire has fascinated us since prehistoric times and has been a fundamental evolutionary step for our species. If we add to this the purpose of cooking food to fill our stomachs, we get a mix of very powerful factors that explains the ancestral reasons as to why people are so fascinated by the wood oven. It instinctively takes us back to grandma’s cooking and farming traditions, values blurred by the digital age in which we live, but which are slowly being rediscovered.
In addition to the charm in managing the flame, another reason that leads us to prefer the wood oven is the scent of the fuel, a totally natural aroma that can become an actual additional ingredient in different recipes.
The function of the wood oven is simple and effective. In the traditional wood-burning oven, it is necessary to burn a lot of wood and make a fire that lasts at least two or three hours to reach high temperatures, since it is necessary to produce a lot of embers to give stability to the temperature, as they are hotter than the flame and release heat constantly.
One of the reasons that could make you hesitate in choosing a wood-burning oven is represented by the need to buy and store a lot of wood, which has a higher cost than other fuels even though it is more eco-friendly, since the growth of plants produces the oxygen consumed from the fire itself.
Wood is therefore the most natural and genuine source of heat, but it is also the most difficult to control. In fact, using a wood-fired oven to its maximum potential requires many years of experience, since it is necessary to develop the ability to manage the fire and learn to understand the behaviour of the oven in relation to how we add the firewood and the results obtained when cooking foods.
To overcome the disadvantage of the lengthy times required for the traditional wood-burning oven to be put into use, Alfa has developed the Forninoxtm technology, which consists in the construction of wood-burning ovens by combining the refractory material with stainless steel (used to cover the dome).
This innovation allows steel ovens to exceed 500°C in just dozens of minutes, saving us a lot of time and a lot of wood.
In addition, steel ovens are much lighter and it has therefore been possible to develop mobile wood-burning ovens, that is, based on a structure with wheels that allows them to be easily moved at any time of use.
The gas oven
The second type of oven that we are going to look into is ovens that use gas, one of the most widespread fuel types, particularly during the central decades of the last century.
The gas oven has made it possible to overcome the design constraints of the wood oven, thanks to its much easier installation and above all due to the absence of combustion fumes. The possibility of having an oven without a chimney has made the gas oven very popular in cities, both in homes and in professional contexts.
Another great advantage of the gas oven is its simplicity of use. It is only necessary to set the temperature and the burner will automatically feed the oven. The gas oven can be connected to the building network or to a gas cylinder thus leading to one of the main advantages compared to the wood-burning oven, that is, avoiding having to buy and store tons of fuel, which take up a lot of space and need to be moved, at least partially, each time the oven is used.
The absence of fire also generates a second important advantage, namely an extreme simplification of cleaning operations.
A gas oven can reach high temperatures, almost comparable to those of a wood oven, and this makes it an instrument suitable also for preparations that require a lot of heat, such as bread products. It is practically suitable for cooking any recipe, thanks to its simplicity in temperature control, and it is generally easier to use.
After having seen the functions of a wood-fired and gas-fired oven, we’d like to mention a great innovation by Alfa forni: the hybrid oven.
Its huge advantage lies in the possibility to choose each time whether to feed it with wood or gas, thus becoming an incredibly versatile cooking tool that allows us to take advantage of the fuel we prefer according to our needs.
The technology on which it is based is the hybrid kit, a special lid for the gas burner that allows us to place the wood without it being ruined by the dirt and heat of the fire.
The electric oven
Moving on to the electric oven, let’s immediately say that this fuel type has become the most widespread in recent decades, due to the technological innovations that have reduced energy consumption and increased its functions.
The first great advantage of the electric oven is its ease of installation, which is even easier than the gas oven. In fact, it is sufficient to connect the cooking tool to the electrical socket, which is usually installed flush-mounted in the kitchen cabinet, but it can also be configured as an appliance to be placed on a countertop.
The thermal operation of the electric oven is in part similar to that of the gas oven, as the heat is generated by the resistances placed under the cooking chamber, which is heated in a rather uniform manner. However, the electric oven has a second series of heating elements in the upper part and often includes the use of other technologies, such as a ventilated mode or a grill.
The electric oven shares ease of use and ease of cleaning with the gas oven, but struggles more on high temperatures, which is why it is not recommended for recipes that require a lot of heat.
The development of modern electric ovens has aimed to fill this gap, and today there are models that can reach quite high temperatures without consuming an inordinate amount of energy.
Finally, innovative electric ovens not only have all the advantages seen so far, but various added features make them even more practical, such as the possibility of memorizing the cooking settings for various recipes, the possibility of being remotely controlled via an app, or the inclusion of other cooking methods such as steaming or microwaving.
In another article on our blog we gave some tips for adapting the pizza dough to the type of oven you have available.
Other types of power supplies
To get a more complete overview, let’s mention other fuel types with which we can operate an oven. They are:
- Microwave ovens
- Steam ovens
- Pellet ovens
Let’s explore each of these three technologies on which an oven can be based.
The microwave oven has become one of the most popular appliances, thanks to its ability to cook food very quickly. Its functioning is based on the emission of electromagnetic waves, which interact with the substances contained in food (mainly water, fats and carbohydrates), generating heat in all parts of the food simultaneously.
In this way, the microwave oven heats food faster, since the entire portion undergoes the same thermal effect, while in the other types of ovens the heat progressively passes from the outside to the inside of the dish, thus requiring more time for food cooked to perfection.
This is why microwave ovens are particularly suitable for defrosting or reheating food and this function is usually included in modern electric ovens, so as to have an even more versatile tool.
The steam oven, as the name implies, uses the heat produced by water vapor to cook food. It is equipped with a water tank, which is brought to a boil by means of electric resistances.
Steam cooking is particularly suitable for those who want to obtain healthy and natural foods, as the steam penetrates the foods without drying them and keeps all the organoleptic and nutritional properties intact.
The steam cooking function can be included in electric ovens (thus creating a combi oven). In this way, steam can be used in a variable manner for each recipe, combining the different heat sources to achieve the perfect balance between temperature and humidity.
Finally, the pellet oven is a less common type of oven, especially in domestic use, yet it should not be discarded for this reason. Pellets are nothing more than pressed wood sawdust, available in various types.
Obviously, if it is used for cooking, it will be essential to purchase a certified fuel type for this purpose, to be sure not to contaminate food with potentially harmful chemicals.
Pellets have an excellent calorific yield and a low price and are comparable to the performance of gas. Cooking with pellet ovens is partly similar to that of a wood oven, as it also involves exposure to open flame, but avoids the complications of manual fire management. The flame is in fact automatically fed by the burner and all that needs to be done is to load the fuel tank.
What does best fuel mean?
After having seen, in general, the main features of the various fuel types or burners available for ovens, let’s now see what parameters to apply in our choice of a new oven.
We must first point out there is no one type of fuel that is better than the others regardless, since the right choice depends on the use you require of the cooking tool. The way in which the oven is used can be quite varied and in fact we have different needs depending on various factors.
The main considerations that we must keep in mind regarding food types concern three important points, each of which has a certain weight in influencing the choice. They are:
- The cooking performance
- The availability and cost of the fuel
- The various installation constraints
Let’s explore the three points listed below, considering the three main fuel types we can choose from.
1. The cooking performance
One of the most important aspects in choosing the fuel type undoubtedly concerns the cooking of food. Different burners offer different results and can determine how various recipes are cooked.
Starting with the wood oven, let’s say right away that it can cook any recipe but, as we have mentioned, it is necessary to develop a much more sophisticated manual skill, which requires a great deal of practice. In fact, keeping the temperature of the wood-burning oven under control is rather difficult, as it depends on various factors (quantity of embers produced, intensity of the flame and distance of the dish from the fire).
If on the one hand cooking with wood is the most difficult to use, on the other hand it can give us greater satisfaction, both for the charm of controlling the fire, and because the aroma of this type of fuel is added to our dishes, a nuance of taste that cannot be replicated in other types of ovens and which will be clearly noticed in all our recipes.
We should also specify that the wood-fired oven is the perfect tool for the world of bread-making and above all for flat pizza, which requires very high temperatures. This tool is in fact essential to making the true Neapolitan pizza, which according to tradition can only be cooked in a wood oven.
Moving on to the gas oven, we can briefly say that it represents the right compromise between attainable temperature and ease of use. In fact, gas ovens are capable of reaching temperatures close to those of wood-fired ovens (abundantly above 300°C), with the added advantage of convenience in managing the temperature, which takes place automatically.
Unlike the wood oven, the gas oven is much easier to clean, due to the absence of combustion residues. It is also much more versatile, as it is possible to cook any recipe with this tool, in a much more comfortable way than with a wood oven.
However, the aroma of wood is lacking, but this does not prevent us from churning out delicious recipes. In the case of cooking pizza, the classic domestic gas oven is indicated for the preparation of the pan version, due to the structure and construction materials of this tool (the absence of a stone or brick surface on which to directly bake the pizzas).
However, it is possible to have a gas oven for pizzas, a gas-powered instrument that imitates the cooking chamber in refractory material of wood-fired ovens.
Finally, with regard to the electric oven, it is undoubtedly the most versatile type of oven. Thanks to the combination of various functions, numerous cooking methods can be implemented with this instrument. The main cooking modes of the electric oven are static, ventilation and grill, however the latest ovens often include steam or microwave cooking.
If, on the one hand the electric oven shares the ease of use and cleaning of the gas oven and is even more versatile, on the other hand we must say, however, that this type of oven struggles in high temperatures, which require a high consumption of energy.
This is why it is very difficult to obtain perfectly cooked pizzas for plates using electric ovens and therefore pizzas in a pan are usually preferred. In another article in our blog, we provided several practical tips for the optimal cooking of pizzas in the home oven.
2. The availability and cost of the fuel
Having seen the differences in cooking the dishes, let’s now consider another very important factor, which concerns the availability of fuel and its cost.
Starting with wood, let’s immediately say that this is the most expensive fuel, not so much for its more or less high prices, but above all because in traditional ovens it is necessary to burn even more than a quintal of wood each time they are lit.
The wood also needs to be dry, thus having to wait several months (even beyond a year) from when it is cut until it can be burnt. In fact, if we burn wood that is too fresh, we will end up with a fire that produces a lot of smoke and little heat, a factor that negatively affects our cooking.
The need to have well-dried wood not only complicates fuel management, but can cause availability problems, especially in winter when the drying process slows down considerably due to the cold and humidity in the air. However, we must point out that the problem of high consumption can be overcome by using a wood-fired steel oven, which significantly reduces fuel consumption.
Furthermore, the problem of high fuel costs becomes irrelevant if we live in a house with a large garden. If we have large plants that need pruning every year, we have access to free firewood, saving us (in whole or in part) the purchase of fuel for our wood oven.
As for gas, it is now widespread in all our homes, due to its abundant use both in the kitchen and for heating. The price of gas is usually quite low and ovens can be fuelled for hours by spending small change.
The same goes for electricity, which is present in all homes due to our increasingly technological life. The prices of energy supplies can vary depending on various factors, such as supplier policies or proximity to production plants.
The cost of energy, which in itself is not very high, can be further reduced by equipping one or more renewable energy sources, for example by installing a solar panel on the roof. In this way, we can cook with an electric oven spending very little and the environment will be grateful as well.
3. The various installation constraints
The last point to be explored in order to choose the best fuel for our oven concerns the different installation methods, which can determine the choice of our cooking tool. Each type of oven we have analysed in fact needs to be installed following some precautions.
From this point of view, the wood-burning oven is certainly the most challenging, since it requires a chimney to expel the fumes produced by the live fire.
The chimney is an additional factor to consider in the design of buildings and this is also why it has become rather rare to build wood-burning ovens (or fireplaces) inside house kitchens, especially in the city (where there is a greater need to save space and to avoid bothering the neighbours).
The wood-burning oven is in fact much more common outside of houses, where construction constraints are more relaxed. To use the wood-burning oven on the terrace or in the garden, a chimney just over a couple of metres high is enough to expel the smoke above the heads of our guests.
Another constructive constraint that we find in the installation of traditional wood-burning ovens concerns their excessive weight, which makes it necessary to create a solid concrete base even in outdoor installations (over time, in fact, a brick oven built directly
on the ground could sink, compromising its correct functioning). The latter requirement is no longer needed in the case of steel wood-burning ovens, which weigh considerably less than traditional wood-burning ovens and therefore do not need special precautions for stable installation over time.
With regard to gas ovens, we can immediately say that they have fewer installation constraints than wood-fired ovens due to the absence of the chimney. In this case, the only precaution to keep in mind is the need to connect the instrument to the domestic gas network, both internally in the kitchen and externally.
If a connection to the gas network proves to be difficult (for example if too much masonry work is required), we can safely choose to connect the gas oven to a gas cylinder, thus solving the problem. It will be sufficient to replace the cylinder no more than once a year and we will be able to use our gas oven without exploiting domestic usage, making it an independent fuel source.
Finally, the electric oven is the easiest type of oven to install, as you only need to plug it into a socket. In all kitchens, at the time of construction, there are usually several sockets for electrical appliances, both visible and hidden behind the furniture.
The main installation constraint of the electric oven therefore concerns its possible positioning in an outdoor kitchen because electrical components do not get along at all with atmospheric agents (should they get wet, there is a risk of a short circuit). This is why an electric oven is very rare in outdoor kitchens, unless it is, in any case, a fairly sheltered kitchen, for example if it is equipped with a canopy or a pergola, or if the electric oven is built into a piece of external furniture that serves as a shelter.
Pros and cons in brief
After having seen the characteristics of the various types of ovens and the main aspects to consider for their use, let’s now conclude with a summary of the main advantages and disadvantages of each of them.
By summarizing we will be able to better compare the three main fuel types we have talked about and we will be able to get a complete picture that will enable us to choose the best in each specific case.
I prefer a wood oven if…
The dear, old wood-burning oven is to be absolutely preferred for its great charm linked to tradition and is perfect for those who want to rediscover country life. Through this tool we will also be able to appreciate the burner’s aromas and carry out various experiments to expand our culinary skills.
It is also the type of oven that can reach the highest temperatures and goes perfectly with making an authentic Neapolitan pizza, becoming a source of great satisfaction for domestic pizza makers.
Finally, it is the most suitable type of oven for outdoor use, since there are no structural constraints related to the chimney.
To conclude, with regard to the advantages of the wood oven, let’s remember the case in which we can get free fuel if we have a garden with large plants that need pruning, a factor that could influence the choice (you can finally dispose of all that wood stacked over the years behind the garage).
Looking, instead, at the negative aspects of the wood oven, we must certainly start with its much more demanding use. Perfect use requires great manual skill, which in turn requires patience and perseverance.
Another point against the wood-fired oven concerns the slightly higher price of fuel than the others and above all the need to store a large quantity of it for a long time.
The third major disadvantage is linked to the much more demanding cleaning operations compared to other types of ovens, due to combustion residues.
The last negative aspect to consider when choosing a wood oven concerns its installation constraints, which often prevent it from being built in the indoor kitchen. Even when used outdoors, there may still be problems with neighbours who complain of smoke, and it is therefore not recommended in the city.
I prefer a gas oven if…
We can summarize the advantages of the gas oven starting from its ease of installation, both in the indoor and outdoor kitchen, thanks to being able to connect it to both the domestic gas network and to a gas cylinder.
It is also much easier to use than a wood oven, due to the burner’s automatic functioning process: you just need to set the temperature. Another great advantage is the ease of cleaning, unlike the wood oven.
The gas oven also manages to reach quite high temperatures, which allows us to cook even recipes that need a lot of heat in order to cook to perfection.
Finally, the last huge advantage of gas is its price, which is usually quite low.
As a disadvantage, worth mentioning is the possibility of fuel leaks (fortunately increasingly rare), which could cause unpleasant consequences. To mitigate this risk, we therefore recommend installing a leak detector on the gas oven, because one can never be too careful!
I prefer an electric oven if…
The electric oven is to be preferred due to some great advantages, particularly related to its ease of installation and cleaning and ease of use.
Modern electric ovens may also include several interesting functions, combining the classic static, ventilated and grill modes with steam or microwave cooking. This makes the electric oven certainly more versatile than the others since it allows us to cook food in many different ways.
Another aspect that certainly works in favour of the electric oven is the presence of renewable energy sources, which reduce its operating cost.
On the other hand, however, mid-range electric ovens are still unable to compete, when it comes to high temperatures, with gas ovens and even less with wood-burning ovens.
The last negative aspect to remember about electric ovens is that outdoor installation is not recommended.
How to choose the best type of oven
We were able to illustrate, throughout the article, the differences between the various fuels that can heat an oven.
We have seen the different functioning methods of the three main fuel types, wood, gas and electricity, as well as hinting at the possibilities offered by the hybrid oven and other technologies such as steam and microwave.
We also explained how the different heat sources affect how our dishes are cooked and which types of recipes each oven is best suited for.
In addition to the operational differences, we have also seen the parameters to consider when choosing the type of oven. They concern the cooking performance, the availability and price of the different fuels and the installation constraints of the different oven types.
Having thus briefly summarized the advantages and disadvantages of each type of fuel supply, we have provided a general framework to better compare the characteristics of each of them.
Finally, we have illustrated some particular circumstances that can influence the best choice in each specific case, such as the fact of obtaining firewood for free from one’s garden (which will orient our choice towards an outdoor wood oven), or the presence of a source of renewable energy at home (which on the contrary could make us prefer the electric oven).
We hope we have been exhaustive enough and have helped you make a more informed choice, in order to make the most of your investment when buying a new home oven, for the home kitchen or for outdoor use.
We’d like to conclude by saying hope to see you soon on our blog, where you can find numerous tips on the world of pizza ovens.