Most people don’t have a wood-burning pizza oven in their backyard. Unfortunately, I’m no different from most people here. The best that I can do in my 12 foot wide Baltimore row house is a standard gas-fired GE oven.
One of the keys to creating great pizza (although no substitute for solid technique) is HEAT!! Most wood-fired ovens cook pizzas at temperatures ranging from 800 degrees to 1,000 degrees. Due to the intense heat, the pies usually bake in under two minutes and come out with beautiful charred spots that add a nice smokey flavor to the pizza.
Like most home ovens, my oven maxes out at 550 degrees, so I have to use other methods to eek out as much heat as possible. Some people who are crazier about pizza than I am bake pizza while the cleaning cycle is running, during which the oven’s temperature cranks up to 800 or so degrees. The rub here is that you generally have to snap off the latch that locks the oven when the cleaning cycle turns on. Also, if even a drop of sauce or other liquid hits the oven glass while the oven is super hot, you run the risk of this glass shattering. I like my oven and don’t want to have to buy a new one, so I’m not willing to engage in oven hacking shenanigans.
Here is a picture of my current oven set up:
I use a really thick pizza stone on the bottom (it’s a Fibrament stone), which I place on the lowest rack and put another pizza stone on the upper rack about three inches above the lower stone. This (I think) helps trap some of the heat closer to the baking pie and radiates some of the heat back onto the pie rather than getting lost in the otherwise empty oven.
The key is to preheat the oven at its hottest temperature for at least one hour. I usually preheat it for at least 1.5 hours. This will get the stone and the mini oven that you’ve created hotter than the (likely) 550 max oven temperature.
Broiler Method – Some other pizza people have had a lot of success achieving wood oven-esque results by placing a stone on a rack approximately 2-3 inches from the broiler element and then preheating the stone as described above. Then, after the oven has preheated, they’ll switch it to broil and then bake the pie under the broiler. I haven’t had a lot of success with this method but am going to give it another try sometime soon and will report back.
Alternative Devices – There are other devices that people can buy or make with which they can bake pizza (and other food) at temperatures in excess of those that can be achieved in a standard home oven. Examples are the Big Green Egg and 2 Stone. Again, given the constraints of city living, I don’t have the space for these gadgets, so I haven’t given them a shot.
Grilling – I had a bad experience grilling pizza. I think that there are still some dough remnants stuck to my grill grate. Nonetheless, some people love this method. Here’s a good article on how to do it right.