Wood-fired, gas-fired or electric oven: which fuel is the best?
What is the best option between a wood-burning, a gas-burning or an electric oven? The answer is simple: it depends on how you use it.
The oven is the most versatile kitchen appliance as it is used to cook practically any type of dish: from appetizers to main courses passing through side dishes, desserts and of course bread, pizza and leavened baked products that require high, constant temperatures.
Ovens offer different performances according to the fuel they use.
The most popular home ovens are:
- The wood-fired oven, is certainly the most authentic but needs some practice.
- The gas-fired oven, is faster and more practical that the wood-fired one, but it certainly lacks the charm of burning wood.
- The electric oven does not reach the high temperatures of the two counterparts but its flexibility and ease of use sure make it a smart choice.
In this article, we will see how to select the best appliance for the food we want to cook, focusing on the main features of the three aforementioned oven types, then we will explore the possibility of using a hybrid (gas and firewood) model and finally we will find out the qualities of our new home professional-grade pizza ovens.
The features of the traditional wood-burning oven.
The wood-fired oven is the Rolls-Royce of ovens. It is a pretty ancient cooking tool that works simply and effectively. Its main features are:
- The way the heat is transferred
- The flavour the wood imparts to food
- The respect for tradition
- Its use takes some effort
Let us have a look at them.
The way the heat is transferred
The wood-fired oven bakes food with the help of all three modes of heat transfer, namely:
- Convection, the hot air generated by the fire circulates through the oven
- Conduction, the heat stored in the floor is released directly into the food
- Radiation, the heat is reflected off the oven floor onto the food
The heat is generated by the fire and thanks to the shape of the dome and the refractory materials with which the oven is built, can reach as high a temperature as 1 000 °C and maintain it over time. The best temperature for cooking through pizza in a wood-burning oven is around 450-500 °C.
The flavour that wood imparts to food
The most special feature of the wood-fired oven is that, well, it uses a fuel that imparts a unique flavour to your dishes. You can choose various types of firewood based on the aroma they give off and their calorific value, that is the heat amount per kilogram of fuel.
Oak and beech woods have more ounce for the bounce, the olive one is more fragrant but more expensive and citrus woods are great for smoking fish.
Respect for tradition
Cooking with a wood-burning oven is a throwback to a different time, when families gathered to taste granny’s recipes and enjoy the company of dear ones.
The wood-fired oven has been for centuries the basic tool for baking bread, a staple food of the human diet. Following the post-war economic boom and the social changes that have occurred ever since, gas-fired and electric ovens got the upper hand as they were easier to install and to use.
Today, using a wood-burning oven means to take cooking craft to its roots and to learn to control fire as it once was.
Its use takes some effort
The main benefits of a wood-burning oven are enhanced by cooking with fire, a technique that requires some practice and experience. In fact, you need to learn how to light and manage the fire and to know your oven inside out to make the most of it.
Let us see now how to cook pizza step-by-step in a traditional wood-burning oven:
- Light a fire without using chemical fire starters. Use seasoned wood that burns better and produces less smoke than green one. Build the fire with dry kindling and then add some larger pieces of wood
- Once the fire is well established in the centre of the oven and embers are formed (after about an hour), move it all over the floor, adding more logs to get an even temperature
- Build the fire toward the walls of the oven and clean the floor with a brush shoving the residue to the fire to make it ready for cooking
- Wipe the oven floor with a damp cloth (keep one fit for this purpose) to slightly cool it
If you bake pizza, pay attention to the temperature. When cooking a pizza, the oven floor cools down in the very spot it is baked; so, if we keep on baking pizzas in the same area, we could end up having a pizza cooked on the top and undercooked on the bottom. In this case, move the pie to another part of the floor.
We suggest using the whole floor, gradually putting pizzas in the unused areas. Knowing how your oven works, you can understand which areas of the floor cook best. The bottom of a pizza is cooked by conduction and therefore it depends on the floor temperature while the top is baked by convection and radiation.
If you want to make a perfect roast, just add some wood and rotate the roasting pan halfway through cooking. If you are looking for inspiration that makes your mouth water, read the article in our blog on how to make four delicious recipes with the wood-fired oven.
Innovative wood-burning ovens
As we saw previously, cooking with a wood-fired oven is surely fascinating and conjures up images of conviviality but equally requires a bit of a learning curve. In fact, traditional wood burning ovens take forever to reach the cooking temperature for pizzas as you need to burn wood for 2/3 hours to hit 450-500 °C.
That’s why Alfa has specialised for 10 years now in manufacturing innovative wood-fired ovens that use the Forninox technology. In short, this innovation makes it possible to build wood-burning ovens with a sturdy refractory base and covering the vault with many layers of stainless steel.
This solution has two major benefits:
- The thermal properties of stainless steel allow our wood-burning ovens to reach the same temperatures of traditional models in a few minutes.
- The steel is much lighter than refractory materials and for this reason we have been able to build mobile ovens that come with wheeled bases to move them wherever you like.
At bottom, Alfa stainless-steel ovens give you the best of both worlds: they enable you to cook with wood but in no time and are perfectly suitable for any kind of indoor and outdoor installation.
The features of the gas-fired pizza oven
The gas-burning pizza oven is very popular both in homes and in the entirety of the hospitality industry because it is cheaper and far easier to operate than its wood-burning counterpart. You can set the temperature, put the pizza in and check it as it cooks. It can hit 400° C and cleaning it is a no-brainer.
Take a look at our website to see how the gas-burning oven stacks up against the wood-burning one.
- A food baked in a wood-fired oven has that delicious smoky flavour that is nowhere near appearing in a gas-fired model
- In a gas-fired oven you set the temperature, and Bob’s your uncle!
- It can be cleaned in a jiffy.
- It is better for use inside the home because it is not subject to smokeless areas or building restrictions.
Home gas ovens work quite simply. The heat is generated by a burner and it is more evenly distributed. The burner is located under the cooking chamber, a metal box that heats up and bakes food by radiation. With a baking pan you can cook your dishes using conduction.
There are some types of gas-burning pizza ovens with refractory floor that mimic the cooking conditions of traditional wood-fired ones as much as possible.
Alfa has long been designing and developing home professional-grade pizza ovens and two new products have been recently added to our range:
- The Stone Oven – a compact appliance for small spaces that bakes two pizzas at the same time at a temperature of 500 °C.
- The Brio Oven – a slightly larger model that cooks up to three pizzas at once or 3 kg of bread.
The features of the electric oven
The electric oven is by far the most popular oven in our homes. It is easy to install, to use and to clean as well, and in recent years many models have been developed to meet the growing energy efficiency standards. As a result, today the market provides a wide array of products that consume much less than the old electric ovens because, quite frankly, this type of appliance was very expensive to run.
In the electric oven, the heat is transferred through the heating elements located above and below the cooking chamber, that is pretty much the same to that of the gas-fired oven. The heat is evenly distributed and you can select different cooking programmes by setting the fan, the grill, the steam and the like. The state-of-the-art models can store recipes and some of them allow you to control many functions through your smartphone.
Anyway, the major disadvantage of the electric ovens is that they hardly reach a temperature of 250 °C, lower than that of a gas oven, let alone that of a wood oven.
For this reason, if you want to bake pizza in an electric oven, you’d better use a pizza pan that will take a longer time to cook or otherwise a refractory stone to be placed on the bottom of the oven. The stone accumulates heat and allows the oven to maintain a high temperature.
The features of the hybrid pizza oven
Alfa has developed the technology of the hybrid pizza oven that allows gas-fired ovens to operate by burning firewood as well.
All Alfa gas-fired ovens come with this dual-fuel function apart the portable stainless-steel One that is only available with gas or wood.
Alfa has created the Hybrid Kit that turns a gas-burning oven into a wood-fired oven and vice versa by using a lid to cover the gas burner to allow the firewood to be burned.
Hybrid ovens offer the greatest flexibility and the optimisation of the most varied cooking styles getting the best out of two fuels.
Choose the oven based on your cooking style
The choice of the oven, whether it’s wood-burning, gas-burning or electric has a huge impact on the way the food is cooked. In this regard, read the article on our blog on how to adapt pizza dough to the type of oven.
In general, gas-fired and electric ovens are the most versatile appliances because they enable you to bake any recipe by automatically setting the temperature and they are extremely easy to operate, and to clean to boot. In the case of pizza, the same rules apply.
If round pizza or Roman pizza “alla pala” is what you want, then the wood-burning refractory oven is right up your street. If, on the contrary, you go for a pan pizza, a gas-fired or electric oven will do just fine.
Another factor that can tip the scales in favour of one type of oven is whether the appliance is supposed to be installed indoors or outdoors to get planning permission, gas or power connections and smoke clearance.
A compromise solution might be the hybrid oven used as a backup for the kitchen one to experience first-hand the way dual-fuel appliances work.