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[HOU] Coal vs. wood burning oven for pizza?

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Saw a link in the Chronicle about the ONLY coal burning pizza oven in Houston, New York Coal-Fired Pizzeria (just opened at 19817 Northwest Freeway).

I was intrigued by the last line, "Coal-oven pizza is not for everybody — but if you're looking for old-school, this is it".

Anyone had the chance to compare wood vs coal oven pizza? Why would it not be to the liking of everyone, the burnt crust alluded to in the article maybe?

http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/l...

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  1. I just read that and from what I could guess is that if you don't like a smoky taste maybe it isn't for you. Or maybe if you have never experienced "old school" which I haven't, but sure would like to try it!

    4 Replies
    1. re: danhole

      Having tried a few places with coal fired ovens in Dallas, I prefer pizzas that are cooked in these ovens. I think they can get hotter than the conventional ovens. They impart a characteristc char to the crust. I guess this can dry the crust out and impart a bitterness if it is taken too far. That maybe why it isn't for everyone.

      1. re: Bhutani

        Bhutani.

        How does that compare to a wood oven cooked pizza? Just curious, since I have no idea.

        1. re: danhole

          As a veteran consumer of NY pizza (with the hips to prove it) I concur that the really really HOT oven does indeed give a distinctive flavor to the pizza. But you've got to have the right dough to impart that flavor in the first place. I wonder if this new place (WAY out 290) will feature that too. Dani -- I smell a road trip for us!

          1. re: Cheflambo

            Chef, you are right - ROAD TRIP!

    2. I have tried Coal Vines and Grimialdi's here in Dallas and in New York and love them, although not as much as New Yorkers. To me they don't taste terribly different, but the crust gets crispier. Only downside is that, IMO, you have to eat them quickly (on site) or they rapidly turn to cardboard. Its strange to New Yorkers that we're getting new spots in Texas b/c I believe its now illegal to open a new coal fired oven in NYC.

      3 Replies
      1. re: sike101

        sounds like it's worth a trip out there, but maybe not twice. the answer i now would like to know is if it is better than da marco's or dolce vita's pizza, locations much closer to me.

        1. re: tatitraveller

          hi tati, russo's just looks like a setup for disappointment. not even 1 good comment about them. i miss NY pizza and i've heard that the reason why their pizza and bagels are so good is in part b/c of the city's tap water. and i do believe that the coal ovens make a big difference.

          but i will give grimaldi's a shot when they open in first colony courtyard. i'm assuming they will be building a coal-brick oven too since that's how they bake it brooklyn. http://www.grimaldis.com/greatpizza.htm

          my only complaint about dolce vita's pizza crust is it can get soggy really fast if you let them slice it for you. so it's better to ask the waiter for it whole and slice it yourself as you go. i can get truffle oil on my pizza there, so i am a happy girl for now.

          have you tried the pizza at absinthe lounge? thin pizzas, good toppings. i like the chicken, pineapple, cilantro pizza there. or the 3 mushroom goat cheese. there kitchen is open until 1;45, so it is a great option for a late night snack.

          the pizza at capone's pizza pub isn't my favorite, but my friends really like it. it just opened up a few months ago across from crapitto's near the galleria on midlane. thin crust too.

          1. re: tatitraveller

            Having tried all of the above, I would still give the nod to Dolce Vita overall. I think I favor Dolce Vita more for the interesting toppings (not too many places have botarga, tellegio, leeks, or robiola). The best crust and pizza overall though maybe found at a little place in Dallas called Olivella. Their pear, gorgonzola and walnut pizza is outstanding.

        2. I tried Russo's a couple of wks ago for lunch. I actually passed on a slice and tried the meatball sandwich on the manager's recommendation. I was disappointed by the overall bland flavor of the meat and sauce. The operating "partner" mentioned this establishment was a knockoff of the NY Pizzeria chain,,, large slices to feed the lunch hungry masses. Should do well in the 290/1960 area but doesn't stand a chance against the Romano's (West Gray) or Antonio's Flying Pizza (Hillcroft) of the world for NY Style Pizza. But wait,,,, I see a light,,, yes,,, Grimaldi's will be opening in Sugarland sometime this Summer. On of NY's BEST is coming to town! Dats what I'm tawlking about!

          1. I think Bhutani is correct in that coal fired ovens get hotter. Don't forget coal, in a most simplistic explanation, is wood with the water burned off. It gets quite a bit hotter. I have a Big Green Egg that I cook pizza in using hardwood lump charcoal. I can get it up to at least 900 degrees; the thermometer doesn't read further but the needle continues around. You put the "raw" pizza on a pizza stone already in the Egg. It cooks in 6 1/2 minutes. Yes, start to finish in 6 1/2 minutes. The flavor is great if the crust is made well. I lived in NYC and ate at the coal fired places there. The look of the crust is the same as mine. The flavor is obviously different considering every single ingredient is probably different. Unless the smoke itself is contained, a wood fired oven will make the pizza taste smoky. I would actually like this in some circumstances. I have no idea how a wood fired oven works though. If you like crispy crust pizza, try the coal fired stuff, its fantastic.

            2 Replies
            1. re: amini1

              I can personally vouch that it's the tremendous heat a coal-fired oven reaches. It's important to note that the "coal" in NYC pizza terms ain't charcoal but the stuff that miner's pull out of the ground. The coal is burned to heat the oven, but the pizza is not exposed to the smoke. That goes right up and out of a chimney (hence the issue within NYC limits). When I'm out for pizza in NYC we order one medium pizza and eat it. When the waiter asks if there'll be anything else, we order another one, and so on. It only takes 4-6 minutes for them to get you another pizza. That way, it doesn't get cold. Which, as previously mentioned, can kill the taste/texture.

              1. re: amini1

                6 1/2 minutes at 900 degrees would incinerate a pizza
                fix your watch or your thermometer
                it should take 2 minutes at 900

              2. Robb Walsh gave a good review of Russo's in todays Houston Press, but he did say to ask for it extra crispy, or well done.

                3 Replies
                1. re: danhole

                  His review of Russo's made me drool. Can't WAIT to try it!

                  1. re: Dorothy

                    perhaps we will plan a trip soon! extra crispy pie all the way around.

                    1. re: tatitraveller

                      My wife and I tried Russo's this weekend. The previous weekend we had Dolce Vita so the comparison was still fresh in our mind. Both of us, without a doubt, thought Russo's was a better pie. I am from New Haven so I like to think I know apizza, and while not at that level, it was better than anything else I have had in Houston. I am anxious to have a reason to head back up there to get it again. I sure hope the consistency will be there

                2. I personally prefer wood-burning to coal burning. Wood burning ovens are capable of reaching and holding temperatures north of 900 degrees. The fuel (wood/coal) in an oven is designed mostly to provide heat for the dome and floor of the oven to retain. It should only impart a tiny amount of smokiness...if it is too smoky, somebody doesn't know what they are doing.

                  Neapolitan wood-burning ovens are fully capable of producing a pizza in 90 seconds or so. Do a YouTube search for Campania Pizza and there is one of a Margherita cooking. Charring of the crust is totally normal in a wood or coal oven - but it shouldn't be distracting from the flavors of the pizza.

                  Beware of poseurs...there are a lot of "upscale" pizzerias that allegedly have wood or coal ovens - yet mostly use a gas flame to provide the heat source. They may have one or two pieces of wood or coal in the oven for some smoky flavor. If you see a WoodStone oven...that is usually not a good sign.

                  1. If you are interested in the authenticity of the (wood burning) oven, the ingredients and the process of creating an authentic "Pizza Napoletan", you can explore the entire certification process at:

                    http://verapizzanapoletana.org/vpn/vp...

                    From the wood burning ovens (albeit in Dallas - Cavalli and Campania) to the coal burning ones (also Dallas - CoalVines) , I've found that unless the pizza is sized small, ie lunch/individual pizza, the centermost part is unpleasantly undercooked - a trait that I've read is common with these ovens. Aside from that unfortunate characteristic, the rest of the pizza crust has always been uncommonly good --- using the freshest ingredients doesn't hurt either! I have never detected any noticable taste or visual difference between the two types.