Day 1 of the 5-day curing process for our new pizza oven. I feel like I’m caught between the world of tattooed, wood-fire-savvy chefs and Little House on the Prairie. I’m supposed to build a series of wood fires. Lots of them, a little bigger each day. I have neither tattoos nor a sunbonnet. Nor a sous chef or Ma Ingalls.
What I do have: an instruction manual, pre-cut kindling, split and seasoned firewood, a hatchet, a propane lighter, and plenty of paraffin cubes. Oh, and an infrared laser thermometer.
Today’s mission, per the instruction manual for the Forno Bravo Primavera 60: “Maintain a fire temperature of 300° throughout the day and as long as possible into the evening.” The idea is to slowly “cure,” or dry out any moisture in the walls of the oven so that when I build a really big fire later on to bake pizza for the first time, I don’t crack and ruin the oven. That’s what I fear.
Wood-fired ovens don’t come with a preheat setting, I’m finding. Here’s how it goes.
1 PM: Put 2 small logs in the oven, crisscross a couple of those pre-cut kindling pieces on top, add a handful of twigs collected on the Sunset campus, and 2 paraffin cubes. Click, goes the lighter. Bingo! I can do this.
1:40 PM: Back after desk time to attend to my regular job. Fire went out awhile ago.
1:50 PM: Skill-building with the hatchet. Lots more layers of kindling. More paraffin cubes. Lighting up nicely!
1:55 PM: Zap, goes the infrared thermometer. The dome is all over the place: 282°, but also 500° and 400°. How am I supposed to maintain 300°? I fear the oven may crack. Best to return to the desk.
2:20 PM: Fire is getting weak. Add twigs and blow. Split kindling. Stoke fire. Take a reading: 360° and 1000°! Pull some fuel to the side.
3:00 PM: A little nudge of the fire, and another reading: The dome is at 275°. The small fire is maintaining temp.
4:15 PM: Fire is low and ashy with no flames. More kindling. One big breath. It fires right up.
5:50 PM: Dome is at 365°. I close the oven door for the night with a new respect for Ma and chefs like Jason French. Mission accomplished at the Laboratory of Western Living.