The Pizza Lover's Guide to Restaurant Pizza Ovens
Whether you prefer to dine in or order delivery, it's likely that you have a favorite pizzeria that you depend on when you need a pizza fix. Maybe you're just curious about what type of commercial pizza oven is responsible for producing the pies with the melty cheese and the crispy crust that you crave, or maybe you're thinking of starting a pizza venture of your own. This guide will help you understand which type of pizza oven your favorite pizzeria uses to bake up the pies you love.
Quick Service and Fast Casual Chains: Conveyor Ovens
The quick-service pizza chains that we're all familiar with build their businesses on speed and consistency, and there's one type of pizza oven in particular that fits the bill: the conveyor oven. Just as you may have inferred from its name, the conveyor oven relies on a conveyor belt that carries pizza through the baking chamber. This type of oven offers several advantages that make it particularly well-suited for quick-service chains and independent pizzerias that need a simple, speedy solution.
The speed of a conveyor oven's belt determines the cook time of each pizza that passes through. Along with the oven's temperature, that speed can be adjusted to hone in on the perfect cooking procedure for your products. Once those settings have been dialed in, the ovens' users need only place assembled pizzas on the input side of the belt. Several moments later, a perfectly-baked pie will come out on the other end. Since staff need not monitor pizzas as they bake, they're free to focus their attention on other tasks.
Thanks to their being so easy to operate, conveyor ovens are well-suited for establishments that are heavily staffed with entry-level employees. Operators can be trained quickly to use a conveyor oven, and it's virtually impossible to make a mistake so long as the time and temperature are set correctly.
Because those settings are typically kept constant throughout the day, conveyor ovens can provide exceptionally consistent results. They excel at producing a high volume of nearly-identical pies. In addition to pizza, appetizers, chicken wings, fries, cheese bread, baked subs, and mozzarella sticks all cook well in conveyor ovens.
Shopping for a Conveyor Oven
You'll find conveyor ovens with a number of different belt sizes. The wider the equipment's belt, the more pizzas can be placed side by side and sent through the oven. Average belt sizes fall in the range of 15 to 20 inches wide. You'll find ovens with belts as wide as 32 inches to accommodate extra-large batches.
Split belts are divided into two sections. Operators can set each section to travel at a different speed in order to bake different types of products simultaneously. Split belts are ideal for baking pizzas of different sizes or items in addition to pizzas, like pasta and baked side dishes.
As your pizza business grows, there's a good chance you'll eventually need more than one conveyor oven. It pays to choose a stackable model, since stacking your ovens will let you double your baking capacity without having to take up any more valuable kitchen floor space. You may also want to consider choosing a conveyor oven with a reversible belt. This option can be a huge benefit if your kitchen workflow ever changes and you need to move your pizza prep station to the opposite end of the oven.
While many conveyor ovens rely on traditional electric heating elements to generate the heat they bake with, many impinger ovens also fit into this category. Impingement is a method of delivering heat with high-velocity jets of air forced through tiny orifices, impinging on the surface of food, cooking much more quickly than traditional baking.
Authentic, Full-Service Pizzerias: The Deck Oven
Full-size deck ovens are the equipment of choice in full-service pizzerias that specialize in baking pies with traditional hearth-baked crusts. This equipment bakes pies on a heated stone deck, approximating the effects of traditional stone ovens. Stone transfers heat in a way that heats crust evenly, while its porous structure removes moisture from the dough to create a crispy texture.
Standalone deck ovens routinely measure three to four feet deep and several feet wide, so their installation requires you to commit a good deal of kitchen space to the equipment. They're generally heated by gas and can be ordered in natural gas and propane versions. It's a good idea to order your deck oven with casters so it can be rolled into place and rolled out when it's time for maintenance or service.
Natural stone is the material that's traditionally used to create the surfaces in a deck oven, but a number of alternatives are used to build modern units. These materials include synthetic minerals that provide a more durable and easier to maintain alternative to natural stone. Many economically priced decks are made of steel. Steel doesn't conduct heat as evenly as stone, so you may find that metal decks produce more hot spots than a similarly-sized stone deck would, which can create a steeper learning curve as cooks learn to navigate the quirks of the individual oven.
If you want to make your deck oven the centerpiece of your establishment, you can order a specialty deck oven to be built with a custom decorative stone facade. Such industrial ovens can also be outfitted with decorative flames within the baking chamber that can be seen from outside to add a visual flair and pique customers' interest in your product. Consult with a contractor or one of KaTom's design specialists to understand how and where the equipment can be installed.
Show Kitchens and Outdoor Patios: Wood-Fired Pizza Ovens
If your goal is to open an authentic pizzeria and you want your commercial pizza oven to be as much a showpiece as it is a piece of cooking equipment, look into installing a wood-fired pizza oven. A wood-burning oven is as close as you can get to a traditional pizza oven without building your own from mud and bricks.
Wood-burning pizza ovens come in a number of different setups. They don't all depend on wood as their primary fuel source. Many wood-burning ovens still get their primary cooking heat from gas, with the wood that they do burn producing a smoky flavor, enticing aroma, and stimulating visual will that attract guests' attention to the oven.
If you're bent on baking the most authentic pizzas conceivable, order a pizza oven that uses wood as its sole fuel source. Wood-only ovens are popular with operators who want to set up an outdoor patio pizza oven, but a wood-burning oven can be installed indoors, so long as it's paired with the right ventilation system.
Pubs, Concession Stands, and Kiosks: Countertop Pizza Ovens
Small-scale food purveyors can still get in on the thriving pizza market without investing the thousands of dollars that full-size pizza ovens can cost. A number of countertop pizza oven options are available for small businesses like pubs, concession stands, kiosks, bowling alleys, bars, country clubs, and the like. Less powerful countertop ovens are designed to heat frozen pizzas and finish par-baked pies, while full-power countertop ovens can bake a pizza made from scratch.
The most economical countertop ovens are made to reheat frozen pizzas. These pieces of equipment are heated with simple electric elements, and they're sometimes set at a fixed temperature to make them easy to operate. These ovens can bring a pizza from frozen to ready-to-serve in 15 minutes, so they're not ideal for achieving speedy service, but they can suffice in prepping pies ahead of time to be sold by the slice.
Operators of smaller establishments who are serious about their pizza should consider investing in a countertop deck oven. These ovens can achieve similar results to their full-size kin, taking advantage of stone or metal decks, but without the same space requirements. Average countertop deck ovens range in interior capacity from 15 to 20 inches, and a typical model includes two decks to accommodate two pies per batch. The countertop deck is the ideal solution for operators looking to bake a few fresh-dough pizzas per service period.
Much like the conveyor ovens mentioned above, you'll also find high-speed versions of countertop ovens. Many high-speed countertop ovens take advantage of impingement heating to accelerate bake times. Just as often, though, these ovens are equipped with convection fans that work to circulate heated air more gently than impingement ovens do. These high speed pizza ovens generally project heat from above and below the oven's deck to quickly and uniformly melt the pizza's cheese and crisp its crust.
Additional Pizza Oven Considerations
Brick-lined ovens are built to simulate traditional stone ovens. Like the slab that the pizza rests on, bricks overhead the pizza absorb and radiate heat to cook pizza toppings evenly, browning cheese and crisping the meats and veggies that sit on the tops of the pies. Brick-lined ovens also tend to cook pies quicker than other kinds because heat is dispersed from all directions. Since the brick serves to insulate the oven as well, brick ovens are often more energy efficient than the alternatives.
Pay attention to the oven's opening height when you shop for a pizza oven. Some ovens are built with narrow openings that leave just a few inches between the floor and roof of the oven, a design that's optimized to bake pizzas quickly and evenly without wasting space. If you intend on using your oven to bake things other than pizza - bread loaves or baked pasta dishes, for example - make sure that those items will fit through the oven's opening with clearance on either side to allow for air circulation.
A few ovens are built with rotating racks that help heat pizzas evenly and attract customers' attention to the product. These ovens are suitable for use behind service counters when your oven will be within sight of customers.