Pizza ovens are great for any family gathering and are an easy way to produce finger-licking pizza from the comfort of your backyard. However, they are prone to building up soot, grease, and other impurities over time. In this article, we will take a look at how to clean and maintain your pizza oven based on its type and how often it is used. I will also go through what you need to look for when inspecting your oven and give you a few tips on how to maintain it in top condition.
Before we continue with the topic, make sure you check out my guide on some of the best outdoor pizza ovens on the market!
Table of Contents
Picking The Right Tools for the Job
As with everything else, cleaning an oven can’t be done if you don’t have the right tools by your side. Here is a checklist of everything that we are going to be using throughout the whole process:
- A bucket (with water)
- Small shovel
- A good pizza oven brush
- A few clean cloths
- White vinegar
- A small copper brush (optional)
And before we get into the different steps needed to clean an oven, there are a few precautions we need to mention. Firstly, avoid cleaning your oven when it is hot, no matter the oven type. Not only can this harm you but it can also damage your cleaning tools or the oven itself. Using water or rubbing the pizza stone while it is still hot is one of the major reasons for cracks in it.
Additionally, always clean your oven whenever you see dirt and stains accumulating. Those can lead to long-term damages or ruin the flavor of your pizza. Any soot or blockages you find must be cleaned and eliminated as soon as possible. Now, let’s get down to the actual steps of the cleaning process…
Cleaning Your Pizza Oven in 6 Steps
Every time I clean my pizza oven, I go through a checklist of steps that include every part of the oven. That way, I make sure I don’t forget anything and everything gets proper maintenance by the end. These steps are:
- Cleaning the inside of the oven
- Dealing with ashes
- Cleaning grease stains and soot
- Removing creosote from wood-burning ovens
- Cleaning the outside of the oven
Cleaning the inside of the oven
One of the obvious points of interest of any oven cleaning process should be the inside of the oven. It is often full of ashes, dirt, grease stains, and creosote which is especially dangerous. One of the best ways to prevent most of that is to clean the oven before and after every time you use it.
Most oven brushes will allow you to easily scoop out the ashes in a wood-burning oven. For gas ovens, there obviously won’t be any ashes but rather food and grease stains. These can be removed with the scraper attachment of the brush. We will talk more about how to deal with those in a moment. Now, let’s discuss ashes in a bit more detail…
Dealing with ashes
Wood-burning ovens burn at extremely high temperatures. These temperatures are typically around 900-1000 degrees (Fahrenheit). For that reason alone, most of these models are marketed as “self-cleaning”. This is often true because the high temperatures burn and evaporate most food and grease stains. In its essence, this process is essentially turning food remainings into carbon which is often deposited in the oven’s walls and stone in the form of soot. That soot can also be burned by extremely high temperatures, so it isn’t a very specific point of interest unless it really starts building up.
The other thing close to soot in its origin is the ash that remains in your oven after you bake a pizza. When wood burns, tiny particles of it are left inside the oven in the form of ash particles. These are typically quite easy to remove but if left there can get embedded in the stone and make baking rather difficult. Moreover, they can also give the pizza different flavors, none of which are actually good.
That’s why you should clean the ash from inside the oven before or after you cook with the oven. Depending on the amount of ashes inside the oven, you can either remove them with a small shovel or a large oven brush. Have in mind that these aren’t the same hard steel brushes that you use when you clean charcoal grill grates. Using any hard brush can damage your oven’s inside and degrade your baking stone.
Cleaning grease stains and soot
Grease and food stains, in general, are much harder to get out of your oven compared to ashes and soot. That’s because they often stick to different surfaces and once they dry out, they are incredibly hard to buff out. However, we have a few tricks up our sleeves when it comes to dealing with them.
The first thing you have to remember about these types of stains is that the hotter the oven is the easier they are to remove. That’s because temperatures often dissolve them and liquefy them in a way. Moreover, extremely high temperatures can even burn and evaporate the stain. That is, once again, the premise behind a “self-cleaning” oven.
So, if a whole heating-up cycle doesn’t lift and remove the stain you want to get out, it is time to bring out the heavy guns. And by “heavy” I mean to bring out the bucket of water and vinegar with your least favorite sponge.
Try heaving up the oven to around 300-400 degrees (Fahrenheit) to “weaken” the spot a bit and then run it with your sponge. A key thing to remember here is to never let the sponge be too damp in the water/vinegar mix as that water can absorb deep into the oven’s stone and crack it later on when you heat it to its peak temperature.
Removing creosote from wood-burning ovens
Creosote is one of the most serious issues that can occur within your oven. It is important to periodically check for it and remove it when spotted. It is a hard substance that originates from wood that doesn’t fully burn. When wood burns that way, it can release different chemicals into the air. When those compounds mix with the moisture inside the oven, they form chemical complexes which can stick to the inside of your oven’s chimney. When there are large amounts of creosote built up inside, it might become flammable and is actually the number one reason for chimney fires.
Creosote can also accumulate in your oven’s door or any type of cracks on the roof. That is one of the main reasons stainless steel ovens are making a huge splash in the industry right now – they simply don’t crack. That doesn’t allow creosote to form as much as it does in brick or other types of traditional ovens.
Cleaning the outside of the oven
No matter how careful you are around your grill, chances are that someone will someday drop a whole plate of food over it. Okay, it may not be as bad as I describe it but you know what I mean. Pieces of your pizza, different ingredients, spices, all that on a hot grill will definitely leave a stain on the exterior. Moreover, if you don’t have a cover for your oven, it can stain from other things such as rain, dust, and dirt.
To clean the oven’s outer shell, you won’t need anything more than a sponge and water. For some surfaces, you might need a mild dishwashing soap or white vinegar. As a whole, stainless steel ovens and brick ones are cleaned differently and you should always consult your user manual to see what is the optimal way to do that. As a rule of thumb, though, the faster you deal with the stain, the better. That is especially valid for brick ovens that can have their outer wall completely ruined if you leave a grease stain for too long.
One tip I can give you is to look for special oven cleaners that will work both for the interior and the exterior of most stainless steel ovens.
Apart from all these steps, you should also always check the chimney’s condition and clean it if needed. Let’s go through that in a bit more detail now…
Cleaning the Pizza Oven Chimney
While there are some new portable or outdoor ovens that don’t come with a chimney, most traditional models come with a long one located on top of their front parts. As I already mentioned, the biggest concern with chimneys is for them to not build up a ton of soot or worse – creosote. And even though soot can burn up the next time you fire the oven, creosote won’t magically go away. That is why you should make it a habit to clean your oven’s chimney at least once per week, or after every big cookout.
Officially, chimneys should be inspected each year. Technically, however, you should thoroughly clean your chimney as soon as the deposits on it reach a thickness of 1/8 of an inch. Use an oven cleaner and/or a chimney brush to scrub the chimney clean.
Are you wondering what else can you cook in your outdoor oven? Try out my 10 best alternative recipes for your pizza oven!
How to Clean Brick and Stainless Steel Pizza Ovens
Brick and stainless steel ovens are the standard nowadays and you will have a hard time finding another type of pizza oven. That being said, they are both a bit tricky to clean but, at their core, they are all mostly wood-fired ovens. This means that you can follow the steps we went through in the previous chapter and you will most likely be good to go. Still, there are a few details that are worth going deeper into.
Let’s first start with brick ovens as they are a bit harder when it comes to proper maintenance and cleaning…
Brick Pizza Ovens Cleaning
Since most brick ovens are mostly wood-burning, they will require similar maintenance as to any other type of oven out there that uses the same fuel. You will still have to clean soot, ashes, and potentially food stains. However, with these ovens, you will have to take care of a much more serious issue – cracks. Ask any owner of a brick oven and he or she will tell you that cracks have been on their weekly maintenance list ever since they built the oven.
The main culprit behind oven cracks is evaporated water. It gets in the tiny pores in the walls and causes cracks once the temperatures get too hot. One of the main methods people use to prevent that from happening is called “curing”. That helps your oven stay drier, especially if it outdoors.
How to cure your brick oven
Curing your brick oven can happen in two ways – direct and indirect. The direct way is by actually lighting a small fire in the middle of your oven and letting it “cure” the inside of the oven for some time. One thing you need to keep a constant eye on is the temperature inside the oven. You can control that by producing a small fire and add more fuel bit by bit in order to not let the temperature get too high. Let me give you an example of how to properly cure a brick wood-fired oven over the course of 5 days.
- Day one – Heat to 150 degrees (Fahrenheit) for 4 hours
- Day two – Heat to 210 degrees for 5 hours
- Day three – Heat to 300 degrees for 5 hours
- Day four – Heat to 400 degrees for 5 hours
- Final day – Heat the oven to around 500 degrees and keep it there for around 5 hours
This curing process should be done every time you fire your oven for the first time. It can be either after you’ve just finished making it or after a long period of not using it. At the end of it, your pizza oven will be good to go and you would have greatly reduced the risk of cracks appearing.
The other method of curing a brick oven is indirectly heating it. You do so by starting a fire in another location and heating charcoals that are then put in the middle of your oven. This is much safer and often easier to control in terms of the oven’s temperature. It is also cleaner and you won’t have to clean as much ash afterward. Use the same 5-day method and try to maintain the same temperatures and time frames.
All those tips are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to taking care of a brick oven, however. One of the main things you can do to prevent cracks and other types of damage is to simply keep the oven under an oven cover when you’re not using it. Also, avoid starting the brick oven too fast as that can also cause cracks. If there is a wall on your outdoor oven, try keeping that closed, as that will prevent moisture, dirt, and debris from entering when you’re not using it.
If you are also interested in the various brick oven cooking techniques that will take your house party to the next level, click here!
Stainless Steel Pizza Ovens Cleaning
Stainless steel pizza ovens use all sorts of fuel types. Most new models are actually multi-fuel, making them a bit trickier when it comes to cleaning and maintenance. Along with the wood-burning aspects of the oven, you should also inspect and clean the gas installation as often as possible. Look for any cracks in the gas hose or other issues with the gas burners.
What is unique to stainless steel pizza ovens is their exterior. They are essential dust and fingerprint magnets. To clean them off of those two, you have to let them cool down first. Once cooled down, wipe them with a clean wet cloth to remove most of the dust, dirt, and debris. If you don’t want to wet your oven because you’re worried about rusting, you can use a dry microfiber towel.
Always clean in a circular motion to avoid micro-scratches on the surface of the oven. If there are some stubborn stains, you can use mild soap or a vinegar and water mix to remove those.
Pizza Oven Maintenance Tips
While cleaning your oven is good and should be done as often as possible, maintaining it properly is just as important. Here is a short list of all the tips any beginner should know in order to keep their oven healthy:
- If you’re cooking with a brick oven, never heat it up too fast. Let the oven heat to around 300 degrees for an hour and then go for its peak temperature.
- No matter the oven type, keep it covered whenever you aren’t using it.
- If the oven has a front door, make sure it stays closed at all times.
- When cleaning your oven with a sponge, don’t damp the sponge too much, otherwise you risk cracking the oven’s stone bed.
- If you can store your oven somewhere inside for the winter, do it.
- Ideally, you should clean your oven after each cookout.
- Ashes, soot, and stains are never a good thing to leave unatended.
As a whole, the better you take care of your outdoor pizza oven, the longer it will serve you delicious pizzas. If there is one thing you have to remember is to never skip on maintenance as that can lead to potentially devastating long-term effects for the oven.
Frequently Asked Questions
How often should you clean your pizza oven?
Since there are multiple types of ovens out there that all accumulate dirt differently, you should follow the rule to keep your oven as clean as possible. If the oven is always visible clean, that will prevent dirt build-up and staining which might cause further problems in the future.
How often should you clean the pizza stone?
This is mainly determined by the condition of the stone itself and how often you use it. If you use it on a daily basis, then you should clean it at least once a week.
Find out more about cleaning pizza stones and what to do to maintain their condition by clicking here!
Should you clean the oven’s hearth each time before cooking?
Sometimes the ash from the wood-fired oven mixes with some of the dough and creates black burned spots on the hearth (bottom part of the oven). These spots can ruin the flavor of your pizza and make it taste bitter. If you see any black spots or impurities before inserting your pizza, you can scrape them off gently with a good pizza oven brush.
What is the best time to clean your oven?
Cleaning your oven and sweeping its flue is best done when you’re done using it and the oven is completely cooled down. Most ovens perform the best if you clean them every time they’re being used, although some models are self-cleaning.
Learning how to clean and maintain your pizza oven is a basic skill every grill master should have. How you maintain the oven depends on its type, as brick and steel ovens have different. In general, wood-fired ovens suffer from soot buildup and grease stains. Their chimneys are also a common place for issues that should be inspected such as creosote. The pizza stone is what accumulates grease and dirt most frequently. When cleaning it, make sure the oven is turned off and cooled down. For every step of the cleaning process, having a nice pizza oven brush is going to help you a bunch.