In pizza operations, deck ovens provide results similar to wood-fired ovens when creating traditional thin crust pies. After about an hour of preheating, these units’ decks, where staff place the pizzas to cook, can maintain temperatures as high as 700 degrees F using either gas or electricity. Deck ovens generally cook pizzas in approximately five minutes.
Although most pizza operators focus on heat consistency and even cooking when purchasing a deck oven, operators should also consider surface size, power and insulation.
In addition to pizza, foodservice operators often use deck ovens to bake artisan-style breads, like baguettes and focaccia as well as desserts. Deck ovens have no motor and create natural convection using baffle systems. Temperatures range from between 300 degrees F and 700 degrees F, with Btus from 20,000 up to 40,000. While gas deck ovens feature burners on the bottom to radiate heat, electric units also use a top heating element for baking and broiling. The design of gas-heated ovens limits these units to one set temperature across multiple decks.
Because the oven size will impact the heat recovery, operators should consider volume when specifying. For example, some units hold four 18-inch pies. Operators can choose to double stack these units to hold eight pizzas in 30 inches of space. Multideck units can accommodate eight 16-inch pies in a 41-inch-wide-by-27-inch-deep space. High-volume operators can use a 50-inch-wide deck oven to hold sixteen 16-inch pizzas.
Oven construction materials vary, depending on the manufacturer. While some use cast-iron interiors, others feature stainless-steel construction. Operators can also choose units with stone construction, which provides more insulation and heat retention.
Interiors made of dense material require an aggregate-type frame. Meteorite, a harder surface, is more durable with good heat retention and offers even cooking.
Labor and Speed
Although deck ovens have a well-earned reputation for producing high-quality pizzas, some operators find these units more labor intensive and difficult to use. Deck ovens also are not ideal for operations where speed of service is most important.
Deck ovens come with a canopy fan or direct connect vent to increase venting capabilities. Operators can also choose units that allow for steam injection. This provides added flexibility with different cooking applications. Some manufacturers offer a stand with locking casters to allow for better mobility. Connectors are available for deck oven stacking.
Care and Maintenance
“Because these ovens produce hazardous combustion gases, a mechanically driven exhaust fan and canopy shroud are required wherever this oven is located,” says George Loredo, service manager at PROTEX Restaurant Services, Inc. in Corpus Christi, Texas. “If this is impractical, the oven may be vented with a direct flue, which vents directly via properly sized piping to the outdoors. Adequate fresh air is also needed due to the combustion process, which consumes available oxygen in the immediate area.”
Following the deck oven manufacturer’s specifications plays a key role in maximizing the unit’s service life and minimizing downtime. Improperly installed or poor gas supply will negatively impact the oven’s performance.
With deck ovens, operators should use a brush to remove food residue from beneath oven doors. “The doors are key in maintaining consistent production, so it’s important to inspect the hinges and gaskets regularly,” says Loredo. “Also, temperature or baking inconsistencies may simply be caused by poor sealing doors or loose doors rather than a defective thermostat.”
Heat loss will result in higher utility costs. Operators should not slam deck oven doors or place items on open doors, because it can compromise the seal and can lead to heat loss. Operators should also thoroughly scrape deck stones and thoroughly polish the exterior using stainless-steel cleaner.
Service professionals should verify that the gas or electricity supplied still meets the manufacturer´s specifications. Service agents should inspect the oven´s ventilation openings, structure integrity, and gas burner or heating elements.
As for the service life, some ovens will last as long as 20 to 30 years, but on average this equipment has a 10- to 15-year life cycle.
How to Choose an Oven
While convection ovens circulate heated air up to 550 degrees F across the product by mechanical means, a motor and interior fan, deck ovens bake by means of conduction. “Basically, generated heat travels directly from a heated hot stone or deck to the sheet pan or baked goods,” says Loredo. “These ovens typically operate at significantly higher temperatures, anywhere from 650 degrees F for gas up to 900 degrees F for wood-burning units.”
Unlike with gas models, some electric ovens have decks that operators can set at different temperatures. This allows operators to cook multiple products at one time at different temperatures. “In chains, I’m seeing more conveyor ovens as opposed to deck ovens,” says Kris Morphis, vice president of Foodesign Associates, based in Charlotte, N.C. “It depends on the setup and how fast customers can be run through the line. Deck ovens are slower than conveyor ovens and wood-fired ovens, taking about five minutes to cook. Operators can flash bake pizza in wood-fired units.” Deck ovens also are more labor intensive than other types.
Operators should determine the capacity and volume needed as electric and gas versions come in smaller and larger footprints with one to three tiers. “Operators should look at how many pizzas they want to be putting out,” says Morphis. “Also, will large pizzas be produced or will it mainly be a by-the-slice menu? And will there be to-go and delivery options? This will impact volume.”
Location is an important factor since these ovens may be visible to customers in an open kitchen.