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What is a Beehive Oven?

By Sheri Cyprus
Updated May 16, 2024
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A beehive oven is a type of Italian wood-fired cooking apparatus. The earliest beehive ovens were used for heating coal. There are two types of beehive cooking ovens: the outdoor stand alone and the indoor built-in.

Indoor built-in styles of beehive ovens can be found at pizza restaurants as well as in gourmet kitchens in homes. They are built into walls that are usually made of bricks or ceramic blocks. The look of a built-in beehive oven can be very attractive in a kitchen, as the reverse U-shaped design is often accented in a pattern that coordinates decoratively with the wall on which it's featured.

An outdoor beehive oven is usually compact enough to fit on a patio deck. It consists of two layers of dome-shaped terracotta that sandwich a layer of insulation. Most outdoor beehive ovens sit on a black metal stand. The stand's hollow space is used to hold chopped firewood ready to place in the oven. A terracotta beehive oven typically weighs about 400 lbs. (181 kg) and may cost a few thousand US Dollars (USD).

Beehive ovens are especially associated with the cooking of Vera Pizza Napoletana (VPN). This pizza is a famous dish from Naples, Italy, made with the freshest mozzarella cheese, plum tomatoes, basil and other quality ingredients. The instructions for making it are very precise and taken seriously. VPN must be cooked for one and a half minutes in an 800 degrees Fahrenheit (427 degrees Celsius) oven. As a beehive oven is wood-fired, it's able to reach this exceptionally high temperature while producing a crisp, yet easy to fold pizza crust. The crust is raised on the outer edge and thinner in the middle.

Both indoor and outdoor beehive ovens can be used to cook many different types of dishes. Using hardwoods and fruit woods to heat a beehive oven can give a distinctive smoky flavor to foods cooked in it. The beehive oven's shape lets the heat travel slowly to the food while keeping an even, high temperature. Roasts are popular meat items to cook in beehive ovens since the high, moist heat doesn't dry out the roast. Breads, desserts and vegetable dishes can also be successfully made in beehive ovens.

An outdoor terracotta beehive oven is usually sold with a cooking rack as well as several tools. Pizza peels are needed tools for beehive ovens. A pizza peel is a wood or metal tool used to take pizzas in and out of the oven. Peels may have short or long handles, but their handle is necessary for the cook to keep a proper distance from the very hot oven.

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