forno legna pizza napoletana

Equipment: wood oven

The most vital piece of equipment needed to make traditional Neapolitan pizza is the wood oven.

The ancient Greeks were among the first populations to dedicate themselves to the art of breadmaking, and it was they who created the first dome shaped ovens with a central opening.

Later, during the 2nd century BC, we begin to see the role of the baker as a recognised profession emerge in the Roman Empire too, as a result of Roman conquests in Greece.

In fact, these types of ovens with a vault shaped interior, a perpendicular pipe and a central opening are to be found in the city of Pompeii. There would have been both public ovens and private ovens.

Greek slaves would have made bread for commoners and soldiers in the former, whilst the latter would have been used to bake bread for wealthy families.

Technical description of a Neapolitan oven:

Measured at its highest point, the height of the internal vault or cavity is 1/3 of the diameter of the base cooking surface.

In the past the cooking surface would have been measured in ‘palms’:

4 palms = 1 metre 10 cm

4.5 palms = 1 metre 20 cm

5 palms = 1 metre 30 cm

The central opening must be very small, both in terms of width and in height, given that its function is to keep most of the thermal energy inside and to keep temperature variation from an influx of outside air to a minimum. This is known as a convection oven.

The opening can be between 45-50cm wide with a maximum height of 22-25cm.

As Neapolitan pizza making developed, in the mid-19th century master oven makers added a layer of brick surrounding the whole dome, forming a cavity between the oven wall and the brick layer. This has three main functions:

  • Collects smoke and channels it out;
  • Prevents the recirculation of cold air present in the flue pipe thereby increasing the internal oven temperature;
  • Creates a ‘cushion’ of heat against the outside due to the cavity formed.