When to Replace: Pizza Ovens

An overview of the maintence of pizza ovens.

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Pizza Ovens: An Overview

Foodservice operators can choose from a variety of options when selecting a pizza oven. Here's a quick overview of several types of pizza ovens.

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Just as there are a number of pizza varieties, foodservice operators can choose from a variety ovens to prepare this popular menu item. What distinguishes pizza ovens from other similar units is that they all cook at high temperatures. In fact, most pizza ovens reach a temperature between 400 degrees F and 700 degrees F, with brick and wood-fired ovens reaching as high as 1,000 degrees F.

Pizza ovens are often sold as a half-size, single, double or triple deck. Most types hold one or two pies at a time and can cook up to 12 pizzas an hour. Ovens range between 18 and 78 inches wide, 15 to 78 inches deep and 8 to 66 inches high.

The deck oven represents one of the most popular types of pizza ovens and it comes in gas and electric versions, both typically encompassing a stone, brick or tiled deck. These units can bake up to 6 12-inch traditional pies simultaneously, although operators can stack the ovens to increase their capacity.

Conveyor pizza ovens, also available in gas and electric models, utilize a conveyor belt for high-volume production. "Conveyor ovens are most often used by restaurants looking for high volume, consistent quality and ease of use," says Chip Norwood, CEO, at Norwood Appliances, based in Boone, N.C. "These ovens offer both countertop and floor models, with larger units most often used in pizza chain operations."

For operations with less volume and minimal floor space, countertop pizza ovens can accommodate one, two or three pizzas at a time, depending on the model. Operators can double stack these ovens for increased capacity.

Wood-fired pizza ovens are also available in gas assist and wood versions as well as dual fuel for both wood and gas use. The cooking areas typically range from 35 to 64 inches in diameter, although some newer models can offer as much as 80 inches of interior space. "Wood-burning pizza ovens can be custom built, built in place or purchased already assembled," Norwood says. "These ovens generally require an experienced chef to cook the pizzas, as there are hot and cool spots to contend with."

How to Know When to Replace a Pizza Oven

The service life of pizza ovens can be as long as 25 years, but averages about 10 years, depending on use. Here are four signs that a pizza oven may be near the end of its service life.

Insulation Break Down: Older ovens that have undergone heavy use may have compromised insulation. When this occurs, the equipment has reached the end of its service life.

Large Cracks: Large, quarter-sized cracks in the oven walls or floor may indicate that a new pizza oven is necessary.

Increased Maintenance Costs: "If maintenance costs are extensive due to aging equipment, parts can become obsolete," Norwood says. In this case, it is time to replace the oven.

Old and Inefficient: If the pizza oven is an older conveyor unit, energy efficiency may be an issue. It may be more cost-effective to replace the unit with a newer model.

Pizza Oven Applications

Pizza ovens are versatile enough to prepare other menu items. Here are a few examples of other ways foodservice operators can use pizza ovens to execute their menus.

Although referred to as pizza ovens, deck, conveyor and wood-fired ovens can prepare a variety of other foods. For example, foodservice operators commonly use conveyor ovens in high-volume take-out operations for bread, cookies, hot sub sandwiches and meat.

In addition to deep dish pizza, operators regularly use deck ovens to bake a variety of items, such as hearth-style bread. And wood-fired ovens can impart a smoky flavor when roasting meats of all types. Operators can use grill racks to cook beef, chicken, pork and fish.

When used with cast iron cookware, pizza ovens can sear steak, cook crab cakes or roast vegetables. These are popular ovens for preparing shellfish appetizers, as well.

"A restaurant in our area uses a wood-fired oven to impart a smoky flavor in its Oyster Rockefeller," Norwood says.

Maintaining a Pizza Oven

Proper maintenance and cleaning will lengthen the service life of a pizza oven. Here are seven maintenance tips that can extend the life of a pizza oven.

Maintenance requirements vary, depending on the type of pizza oven an operation uses.

There are a number of factors to consider when maintaining these units.

  • Remove leftover food debris; pizza ovens need daily cleaning. "Oven bearings will need greasing, air intakes will need cleaning, the gas pressure needs regular checking and debris needs to be removed from fingers where the air is expelled," Norwood says. "If ovens are not properly maintained, operating costs will increase."
  • Conveyor oven cleaning will require removing the belt and fingers for wire brush cleaning then using an oven cleaner on the interior. Wipe the outside down with a cloth.
  • With deck ovens, remove food residue with a brush from beneath oven doors. And thoroughly scrape deckstones.
  • For wood-fired pizza ovens, thermal cleaning is generally necessary. The unit should be run at a very high temperature, with wood being burned in the center part of the chamber. This heat will burn up any remaining sauce, cheese and food debris that is stuck in the oven.
  • Regular sweeping of wood-fired ovens will remove any leftover food particles or powder on the oven hearth.
  • With wood-fired ovens, there is a danger of creosote buildup, which is a fire hazard. A professional chimney service will be needed to properly clean the pipe and fan.
  • No soaps, cleaning agents or excessive amounts of water should be used to clean wood-fired ovens.
  • Grease should be thoroughly cleaned out of the duct work regularly.

Spec Check: Pizza Ovens

The menu is a main consideration when choosing a pizza oven. Here are five considerations operators should weigh when purchasing a pizza oven.

Volume

Because ovens may only accommodate a limited number or size of pies, operators need to assess how many pizzas they will cook at one time and determine the output per hour. Operations preparing a maximum of 85 pies per hour will need a larger oven. For higher volumes of 200 pies per hour, at least two ovens may be necessary.

Oven Size

The size of the pizza will determine the size of the oven necessary. "An 18-inch pie won't fit into a smaller oven, even if it's the only item being cooked," Norwood says.

Power Source

Utility accessibility will determine the oven's power source. Units operating on natural gas, propane, electric or wood are available. When ordering gas units, the elevation comes into play. Also, operators should be aware that some states and buildings prohibit the use of wood.

Mass

Wood-fired pizza ovens with more mass will heat more evenly and consistently, while lighter weight units will require more fuel.

Ventilation Requirements

"Years ago, people didn't think pizza ovens needed to be under hoods, but today operators know both electric and gas units require hoods and fire suppression systems," Norwood says. "Operators need to make sure the oven fits under the hood properly."

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