It’s hard to imagine a pizza joint without a dome-shaped wood-fired pizza oven. Although this is the traditional look of a pizza oven, it’s not the only one. Pizza ovens differ in shape and size. So, can a pizza oven be square?
A pizza oven can be square though the traditional shape is a domed wood-fired pizza oven. A square wood-fired oven and the domed oven depend on heat transference for efficiency. A square pizza oven is limited by its thermodynamics and shape, especially for bulk pizza baking.
Heat transfer is central to how square and domed wood-fired pizza ovens work, and discussing the effectiveness of a square pizza oven with an engineer and an architect had surprising results. Here’s a discussion on thermodynamics and a square pizza oven’s functionality and design as measured against the traditional domed wood-fired pizza oven.
Does A Square Pizza Oven’s Efficiency Differ?
If you’re thinking of investing in a square pizza oven but want to know if it works as well as a dome-shaped oven, here’s the low-down on how pizza ovens work. You can then decide whether a square pizza oven is right for you.
Start thinking about thermodynamics and, in this case, how the shape of an oven is central to an oven’s efficiency. A pizza oven’s design and shape are as much about function (its use) as its aesthetics (what it looks like).
Heat transference is at the center of what happens when you light a fire in a pizza oven. The heat spreads from the fire to adjacent areas, and this process continues until the whole oven is super hot. The difference between a square and a domed oven is not arbitrary. The heat distribution and retention in these two ovens differ.
What Happens When A Square Pizza Oven Is Lit?
Not everyone thinks about how a pizza cooks in much detail. However, the dynamics of how a pizza cooks is a three-way process of heat transference or heat dispersion, which involves:
The process of heat transference starts with conduction when a fire is lit. The heat in the oven or heat energy then moves through direct contact from a hot surface to another cooler one. The oven floor is the first area to heat up from the fire in an oven. The heat spreads to adjoining areas, brick by brick, to fill the entire cavity (oven).
Other processes start with the oven lit, too, as heat processes move rapidly in the oven. This process is thermal convection – the movement of heat or energy in the air. Simultaneously, the third principle of heat transference occurs with the movement of electromagnetic waves in the pizza oven. Scientifically it’s known as radiation.
The most apparent difference between a domed and a square pizza oven is most pronounced when it comes to radiation.
Conduction In A Square Pizza Oven
The heat from a lit fire in a wood-burning pizza oven – square or domed – comes directly from this fire. The more the fire is stoked, the greater the heat will be and, the higher the oven’s temperature gets. So how does this happen?
- The first stage of heat transference is thermal conduction
- The process of thermal conduction starts when heat spreads from hot areas to cooler ones that are in close contact
- As the heat spreads, the oven heats up, gets hotter, and this process continues until the oven is superhot
The conduction process allows the fire’s heat to spread across the entire oven’s floor-base – irrespective of the shape of the oven – and then up the sides. At this stage, a square pizza oven starts losing efficiency. The heat spread in a domed oven through thermal conduction is almost seamless, making a curve or a domed shape more efficient.
In a square pizza oven, as the dome is not round, the conduction process is not as smooth as if it were a domed unit with less resistance. This is important in a professional setting, but in a home setup, may only decrease your ovens efficiency by 10-20% and if you are cooking pizzas once a month in the oven you may not even notice.
Heat transference, therefore, is linked to the shape of a pizza oven. The hearth mass in a domed pizza oven will retain the heat better than a square oven because of its high-efficiency rate through thermal conduction. The best pizza oven to bake in is one with optimal heat transference through thermal conduction.
Radiation And Convection In a Square Pizza Oven
A sufficiently fired-up pizza oven heats from the base of the oven through thermal conduction (as seen above). In a domed oven, conduction is more effective, and the spread of heat is more even than in a square oven. The other two phases of heat transference in the oven that happens simultaneously are:
- Thermal convection
- Electromagnetic radiation
The electromagnetic rays associated with thermal radiation are not the same in a square oven as in a domed one. There are certain spots in a square oven that get warmer than others. There are ways to tell where the hotspots are by using a thermal thermometer.
What happens in a square pizza oven is different from that in a domed one. The electromagnetic radiation waves in a well-designed dome-shaped oven cause a strong focal energy mirror. There is equal radiation in a domed pizza oven, and a pizza will bake anywhere on the oven’s floor space. Not so for the square oven, as it heats up less evenly.
But still, it’s the superhot refractory bricks on the base of a square pizza oven that bakes a good pizza. The thermal properties of convection and radiation complement the baking process. The superhot oven floor of a pizza oven, whether a square or circle for the domed oven, gives a pizza its crispy base, and the toppings do through radiation and convection.
Is A Square Pizza Oven’s Design Effective?
A wood-fired domed pizza oven is a familiar and functional centerpiece. For many a pizza fan, the sight of a domed pizza oven’s shape is part of the experience of being in a pizzeria. Some might even say that if a pizzeria has a traditional domed oven, they know what they’re doing, and the pizza will be delizioso!
The shape of a pizza oven is a design feature and, what it’s used for matters. Whether inside a house, on a patio next to a barbeque, or if it’s for a new pizza restaurant, this will dictate the shape.
A square-shaped pizza oven is not a good choice if you’re thinking of a high turnover with lots of pizzas to cook. The best shape is the classic dome-shaped wood-fired oven. If it’s at your house, for family get-togethers and friends, go for the square-shaped pizza oven.
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A square pizza oven is modern but not as functional as a domed one. Yet, don’t be put off as it’s easy to make a square pizza oven. In a busy restaurant, though, a square-shaped pizza oven will hinder the movement of a pizza baker wielding a peel. It’s not an easy shape to maneuver around for large orders. What makes it tricky are the square corners.
Many pizza bakers agree they’d rather use a domed pizza oven than a square one. The reason is that the aesthetics of a domed oven matter as much as a domed oven’s thermodynamics. Most of all, a domed oven is far easier to work in and the best shape for bulk pizza baking.
The verdict is out: a domed wood-fired pizza oven is far better at heat efficiency. Though a square oven does have sufficient heat, the heat flow in this shape oven is not evenly distributed. The square shape of the oven doesn’t reflect the electromagnetic waves in the same way as it happens in a domed oven.
The shape of a pizza oven is more than just a personal choice. Whether a square oven will do is a matter of knowing what use you want from it. You’ll have to see how other oven shapes work too. Only in comparison does the answer come. One thing is for sure; thermodynamics do matter. So when you decide on the shape of a pizza oven, do this wisely.