Ensuring Your Pizza Oven Stays In Peak Condition

Key points

  • Whether you’re using wood fired ovens or conveyor cooking, it’s important to keep your oven in peak condition
  • Dedicated Middleby Marshall conveyor oven user Sami Madi tells us how he gets the best out of his Middleby PS 540s
  • Sami says as long as you conduct your regular maintenance, the ovens virtually run themselves
  • Luna’s Food and Wine Bar utilises a custom-built wood fired oven which restaurateur Mark Normoyle describes as a different cooking approach altogether –which also requires a different type of maintenance

SOME PIZZAMAKERS CHOOSE the traditional approach of wood fired pizza ovens but most prefer to utilise today’s contemporary conveyor cooking options. Which is best for your business depends on many factors include the size of your kitchen and whether you own or rent your premises. 

Whichever type you’re using, it’s important to keep your oven in peak condition – that way you’ll ensure efficient throughput and perfect meal presentation and taste to keep your customers coming back. We spoke to devotees of both cooking methods to find out how they ensure their ovens are performing at their peak.

SAMI MADI of Mornington Pizza House on Melbourne’s Mornington Peninsula has always used conveyor ovens – but his first wasn’t fan forced, so if he put through too many pizzas at once they would overcook and if he put through too few they would burn. He solved this problem by turning to one of the market leaders in pizza conveyor ovens, Middleby Marshall – trying out his pizza dough in their test oven to convince himself he was making the best choice for his business.

Today Sami is a dedicated Middleby Marshall user, telling us “I’ve found the cooking is better with them and the problems are minimal. And because they keep upgrading the technology, each time I change models I find they need less maintenance than before. I currently have two Middleby PS 540s stacked one on top on the other and they’re very good – they’re set at just the right temperature for my pizza dough and they’re real workhorses, they perform really well under pressure.”

Sami adds: “Of course you need to look after them and not abuse them. It’s important not to adjust them over the recommended temperature range, and make sure you clean out the cooling fan grills, vent openings and conveyor belts with a stiff nylon brush every day. You also need to take out the crumb trays and clean them too. Then once a month you need to take out the conveyor and clean the impinger fingers. That keeps everything running at its best.”

It’s also recommended that every three to six months a qualified service agent should check out the conveyor sprockets, gears and drive chains, as this involves disassembling the drive shaft. Sami says, “The cooling fans and baking chambers naturally accumulate a lot of grease so they need to be cleaned out, but as long as you’re doing your regular maintenance and getting your six monthly service, they virtually run themselves.”

MARK NORMOYLE of Luna’s Food and Wine Bar on the Esplanade at St Kilda uses a custom-built woodfired oven which imparts the distinctive flavour and aroma that customers associate with traditional Italian pizzerias. “It’s a different style of cooking altogether from a conveyor oven,” Mark says. “I would say it’s more of an artisanal approach, but it is more difficult to control the temperature. It will give you a crispier base but your cooks need to have a certain amount of skill and you also need to pay close attention to the pizzas to prevent burning.” Pizzas also need to be rotated within the oven to ensure they cook evenly, particularly at the edges

“While the oven does have a temperature gauge, the staff also use a thermometer because you can’t afford to have cold spots in the oven – so you need to sue the right amount of wood, as a cold pizza going in will reduce he temperature. It’s more of an art form than a science.”

The maintenance is somewhat different to that of a conveyor oven too. “Every six months we have a professional come in and clean the flue, which is a key piece of maintenance. We also use a good quality stiff brush to clean the bricks which needs to be done four or five times a day because it builds up with food residue.”

Mark adds that once the correct temperature has been reached, it’s relatively easy to maintain, because a good wood fired oven is designed to retain heat. For this reason it’s best to maintain the oven at a basic running temperature rather than have to fire it up from scratch. “At the end of each night we throw in a couple of logs which burn overnight, then when we come in next morning it’ll still be at around 200 degrees, which means it only takes 30 minutes or so to get it up to cooking temperature.”

Wood fired ovens are not just for pizza – they’re also ideal for cooking bread or even a roast – but they’re not going to work for a standard pizza shop where you need speech and consistency, and they also require plenty of ventilation. But they do allow the pizza base to crisp on the outside while staying soft and tender inside, helping the toppings to caramelise and imparting a delicious intensity of flavour.