We’ve all heard pizza places that tout their brick ovens as the secret to their success. But what exactly is a brick oven? Why is there a need to differentiate between a brick oven and a regular old electric or gas oven? Does pizza cooked in a brick oven really taste better?
Put very simply, a brick oven is exactly what it sounds like: an oven made of bricks. Most often it has a domed shape and a small mouth — usually no more than a few feet wide — with no door. Inside, a fire is fueled by either wood or coal to spike the temperature and give the pizza a slightly charred flavor. This structure retains heat easily and can reach extreme temperatures. Giovanni Scappin, chef instructor at the CIA’s Colavita Center for Italian Food and Wine, explains that it is the high heat that makes brick oven pizza stand out. “Brick ovens go all the way up to 800 degrees and pizza sits right on the bricks to get the crust very crispy,” he says. “But it takes three or four hours to get up to the right temperature, so it’s a little pain in the neck.”
Besides getting a crunchier crust, another huge advantage to using a brick oven is the cooking time. “You can actually cook pizza in one and a half or two minutes,” Scappin says. That sure beats the 25- to 30-minute wait time of an electric oven, many of which ovens don’t reach temperatures higher than 400 degrees. At these lower temperatures, “sometimes the dough even becomes chewier,” Scappin says.
For those who might want to purchase a brick oven for home use, be sure you check your bank balance first: Many of them cost upwards of $2,000. But Scappin says there is a way to achieve the desired effect. “That’s why people buy a pizza stone. You get that stone in the oven so it gets hot enough that when you put the pizza on it, it creates a nice crust on the bottom.”