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What’s The Difference Between Wood-Fired and Coal-Fired Pizza?

Peruse the menu of any pizzeria and you can get a good grasp of how its pizzas are cooked. Some restaurants will dig deep into their recipe, detailing each step of the pie’s process, from the creation of the dough to the serving of the slice on your plate. Others like to keep their pizza recipe close to their chest, divulging few details about their modus operandi.

The majority of times, however, customers can glean a few interesting details about the process behind their pie, including whether it was baked in a wood-fired or coal-fired oven.

On the surface, the difference between a wood-fired and coal-fired pizza is relatively straightforward: wood-fired pizza is baked in a wood-burning oven, and coal-fired pizza is baked in a coal-burning oven. However, the role of an oven in a pizza’s inception goes beyond just baking and can have a major influence on the taste and composition of a slice. Each specific method brings its own advantages to the cooking process, leaving a unique imprint on a pie that wouldn’t be there otherwise.

For some pizza fans, the method by which the pizza is created doesn’t make any difference: As long as the pie is delicious, piping hot and to their liking, the specific technique by which it was cooked is of no consequence. Other aficionados may have a preference, with some fiercely believing the type of heat source that cooks their pizza is a critical factor in the delectability of the outcome.

To help you make a more informed decision next time you order, here’s a breakdown of the difference between wood-fired and coal-fired pizza:

Wood-Fired Pizza

Of the two cooking methods, wood-fired is the more commonly practiced among pizzerias in the U.S. Ovens that utilize wood as the fuel often fire up to a temperature of anywhere from 600 to 800 degrees Fahrenheit, cooking the pizza at extremely high heat in a few minutes.

Coal-Fired Pizza

Coal-fired pizza is not as commonplace as the wood-fired variety, with the former being more frequently found at restaurants in New York and elsewhere as the Northeast. However, just because it isn’t as widespread doesn’t mean that it’s a less-revered method.

In fact, it’s a cooking method with historical significance as it’s a technique that the U.S.’s first licensed pizzeria, Lombardi’s, has employed to churn out its pies in New York City more than one hundred years ago.

And, as Bloomberg News notes, using hot coals to cook pizza is a technique that’s being used by more and more among various establishments in recent years. Coal ovens are hotter than wood ovens: they burn at temperatures as high as 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit. And, whereas a wood-fired slice is often praised for its smoky and woody undertones, some diners prefer coal-fired ovens for the crispiness and charred quality it confers on the pizza. Blackened crusts are often a hallmark of coal-fired pizzas, and — while it can sometimes confuse diners who mistake the pizza as being burnt — many enthusiasts relish the flavor of a coal-charred pizza.

So, next time you order a pie, make sure to check how the pizza was cooked. Taking note of the quality and flavors derived from a specific oven may help you understand whether you prefer one cooking method over the other.