Deck Oven Buyers' Guide
Commercial deck ovens are prized for their ability to produce baked goods with crusts, though they often require a more skilled operator than other types of oven. While convection ovens use radiant heat and air currents to evenly cook a wide variety of foods, deck ovens are specialized, using heat convected through their decks to bake products, while also using radiant heat from above. Though many deck oven models occupy more space than comparable convection ovens, the quality of the bread and pizza they can produce makes them highly valued in bakeries and pizzerias. Below are some considerations to keep in mind while shopping for a commercial deck oven.
Gas vs. Electric
While the gas versus electric debate in commercial kitchens is often determined by utility availability and what the chef is accustomed to, there are other factors to consider when it comes to deck ovens. Of course, the price of the fuel must also be considered; in some locations, the price difference between the two may be enough to drive the decision.
Gas and electric deck ovens show the most divergence when comparing the capabilities of units with more than one deck. With most electric models, the operator can adjust the temperature of each deck individually. However, most gas deck ovens are limited to one temperature for the entire oven, no matter how many decks it has. If you will be cooking pizzas that all require the same temperature, a gas oven can provide consistent heat and quick temperature recovery after the door is opened and closed. If you intend to bake different items at once, as may be the case in a bakery or a pizzeria offering both garlic rolls and pizzas, investing in an electric model can provide you flexibility and efficiency.
Typically preferred for facilities with open kitchens or where cooking is otherwise done in view of customers, wood-fired deck ovens provide a showpiece and an authentic flavor. Combination units that burn both gas and wood may be preferred due to their versatility and because they provide more predictable heating. The drawback to using a solid-fuel oven is that the wood or other fuel may take up room that could otherwise be used to increase cooking capacity. If you only want wood for the show the fire can provide, some gas models also have open flames in their baking chambers.
Because the purpose of using a deck oven is that food can cook directly on the deck, what the cooking surface is made of is one of the most important aspects to consider. Decks may be solid, which holds heat better, or perforated, which allows air to circulate more easily. Below are the surface materials you can choose from.
- More non-stick than stone
- Easy to clean
- Durable and less prone to cracking than stone
- Does not hold heat as well as stone
- Does not cook as evenly, meaning products may require more turning
- May pit or rust over time
- Holds heat better than stainless steel, conserving energy
- Evenly distributes heat
- Absorbs moisture, helping ensure crispy crusts
- Will not corrode
- Heavier than stainless steel
- If the stone is too thin, it may crack
- Because it is porous, it cannot be made nonstick
- More expensive than stainless steel
Stone hearths have cooking surfaces made of stone, ceramics, proprietary stone-like materials, or bricks. These surfaces can handle high heat and hold it longer, making them energy efficient. Unlike stainless steel, stone and ceramic absorb moisture, meaning they can leech moisture out of dough to help ensure crispy crusts. Some of the high-end units that have stone decks also have bricks forming the sides and tops of their cooking chambers, which improves recovery times and, in turn, output rates.
Unfortunately, there is no standard capacity rating for deck ovens, so determining the size you need can be a little tricky. The one thing they do have in common is that, while they may also be used for cooking bread or finishing baked pastas, capacity is measured in the number of pizzas that can fit on a deck. Small countertop ovens often hold just one pizza, with the deck size dictating the maximum diameter of the pies. Other deck ovens can hold multiple pizzas per level, though different manufacturers use different sizes of pizza to measure capacities. Common pizza diameters used to determine a unit's capacity are 10, 14, and 18 inches.
Beyond the size of the deck surface, the number of decks must also be considered. To expand capacity without requiring a larger footprint, many manufacturers offer units in two- and three-deck versions. High-volume bakeries and pizza shops depend on these multi-deck pieces to bake dozens of loaves or pies simultaneously. The majority of two-and three-deck models have independent temperature controls for each deck, so the unit can be used to bake different types of products simultaneously.
To determine the size of unit you need, consider the sizes of pizza you will serve, how long they will take to cook, and how many you expect to sell. Using those figures, you can calculate how many pizzas you will likely need to cook during peak times, then find an oven with the deck size and number of decks that will meet that volume.
Gas-powered deck ovens often have doors that provide easy access to the burners for cleaning, adjustments, or igniting pilot lights. On some models, the flame diverters over the burners can be easily removed for cleaning. These features make service and maintenance on the oven more convenient.
Another feature that is commonly sought in commercial deck ovens is a glass door. This allows you to see what is inside, so you can monitor the baking process and check to see if there is space to add other items without opening the door and releasing the heat inside.
Because they are so large and are often used in restaurants with menus centered on the oven's finished products, whether bread or pizza, deck ovens are sometimes made to be customer-facing. Many models have attractive exteriors or are designed to fit into site-built areas that may be surrounded by bricks or mosaics.