Love wood-fired pizza? So do we, so much so that it’s a speciality at a few of The Star’s signature restaurants around Australia. We consulted the top chefs from these venues for their tips on cooking wood-fired pizza to perfection.

You’ve got to give it to the Italians – there’s nothing quite like a pizza straight out of the wood-fired oven. With a crispy crust, melting cheese and fresh ingredients cooked to perfection by the flames, it’s one of the most satisfying single meals you can get.

Wood-fired pizzas have become something of a trademark at Cucina Vivo on the Gold Coast, its stylish Sydney sister restaurant Cucina Porto and Brisbane waterfront bar Will & Flow. We asked chefs from all three venues for the secrets behind cooking the perfect wood-fired pizza.

Pizza at Will & Flow

Why is the wood-fired oven better for pizza?

As head chef at Cucina Vivo, which makes some of the best pizza on the Gold Coast, Gavin Hughes has a secret weapon – Italian chef Fabio, “who is so passionate about the entire art of woodfire cooking.” Nothing offers the same “authenticity” as a wood-fired oven, Fabio says. “It imparts that authentic smoky flavour which is impossible to replicate in a conventional oven,” he says. The high heat and quick cooking time also helps pizza retain its nutritional value, he adds.

At Brisbane’s newest overwater bar, Will & Flow, chefs buzz around a pizza oven on the open deck cranking out what are becoming some of the city’s favourite pizzas. Will & Flow sous chef Anita Dennett says there are three things that make the wood-fired oven best for pizzas.

The pizza oven at Will & Flow

Firstly, it offers consistent cooking. “The bottom of the pizza cooks evenly on the stone surface”, she says. Secondly, the extreme heat locks in the topping’s flavours. “It is quick and the ingredients keep their freshness.” And finally, like Fabio, Anita says the added smokey flavour makes all the difference.

How do you make pizza dough?

A good wood-fired pizza starts with the dough. The Cucina Vivo team uses Fabio’s dough recipe, which he has shared below:

  • 1kg of 00 flour 
  • 60ml water 
  • 100g salt 
  • 100g olive oil 
  • 5g yeast 

Once you’ve mixed your dough and given it time to rest and rise, it pays to not overwork the finished dough, Fabio says. When you’re ready to make your bases: “Bring the pizza dough to room temperature, try not to work the dough excessively and ensure you stretch the middle of the dough to the edge,” Fabio says. “Also use semolina to ensure the dough does not stick.” 

Pizza at Cucina Porto

What’s the best topping for wood-fired pizza?

Fabio at Cucina Vivo: “Roast garlic confit base, mixed mushrooms, prosciutto and parmesan cheese – add truffles when in season if you can stretch the pizza budget.”

Martino Pulito of Cucina Porto: “A delicious Italian fennel sausage, with roasted porcini mushrooms on San Marzano tomato sauce and fior di latte mozzarella, topped with crispy deep fried kale.”

Anita Dennett at Will & Flow: “Prawn, prosciutto, fior di latte and a little bit of chilli.” 

Whatever you use, Fabio recommends sourcing the best ingredients and not going overboard. “Less is more,” he says. “Use simple, great quality ingredients and not too many, otherwise we lose the taste of the dough; simplicity is paramount.” 

Pizzas on the table at Cucina Vivo restaurant

How do you prepare a wood-fired oven?

The perfectly cooked pizzas diners have come to expect from new Sydney Italian restaurant Cucina Porto are down to the skills of Puglia-born executive chef Martino Pulito. The trick to building a wood-fired oven, he says, is building the embers:

To ensure constant temperature and of course get the oven to the right heat. Start your fire in the oven with kindling, and add dry, seasoned wood until it burns down to glowing, red-hot embers. This takes time; expect to wait up to an hour.

Chef Martino Pulito

How do you know when the oven is hot enough for the pizza to go in?

Knowing when to put the pizza in can be hit and miss – too early and you won’t have the heat to flash-cook the fresh ingredients. Too late, and your pizza will burn. But Martino has a time-honoured hack. “There are many electronic devices that can help us know the temperature,” says Martino.“But I personally like to use the traditional way – I check the oven’s roof, once it gets fully clean and white that gives me the green light.” This whitening of the roof is a sign that the oven has reached the perfect temperature.  

A chef stokes the wood-fired pizza Will & Flow

How do you know when the pizza is cooked?

Once you’ve gone to all the effort of building the wood-fired oven, making and stretching your dough and choosing ingredients, the pizza only needs a few minutes in the oven. Anita says you’ll know it’s ready when “the cheese is bubbling and the dough has puffed up.”

Can you use the wood-fired oven for cooking other things?

Pizza is not the only thing that benefits from cooking in a wood-fired oven. This versatile piece of equipment, in fact, cooks every hot dish from the Will & Flow kitchen. “We cook everything in it,” Anita says. “Scallops, nachos, smoked salmon and breakfast, which includes bacon, eggs and omelettes.”