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The Thermodynamics Of Pizza Ovens

Bad news for home chefs: you’ll probably never be able to make the perfect Italian pizza. Don’t take it personally—the reason is all science.

Let’s start with the basics. A simple pizza has three parts: a dough, tomato sauce, and mozzarella. Though they start out raw, these ingredients turn into a golden crust, cooked tomatoes and bubbly cheese. Just put them in a hot oven for two minutes. Hotness in this situation means about 625 degrees Fahrenheit.

Reaching this high temperature is easy for Italian-style pizzerias. According to a recent study conducted by two pizza-eating physicists in Rome, wood-fired brick ovens are the cause of an Italian pie’s perfection. Specifically, these ovens have certain thermodynamic properties that conventional electric ranges just can’t match.

The vaulted shape of the oven is formed by curved brick walls and a brick, or stone, floor, with a wood fire burning in the corner. This construction ensures that heat moves around the oven, getting it hot and creating convection currents.

This means two things. First, the brick floor has the ideal thermal conductivity for cooking dough. In other words, in a 625 degree oven, the pizza’s direct contact with the floor will heat the dough to about 392 degrees, just right for creating a crispy crust. Second, the thermal radiation of the hot oven brings the cheese and tomato sauce to 212 degrees, allowing water to boil off and cook the pizza top fully.

Home ovens, of course, can’t get this hot and achieve the ideal thermodynamics. But some tricks—such as using a pizza stone and the oven’s broiler—may get you close.

Sources And Further Reading

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