If you haven’t had coal fired brick oven pizza, you need to. I love coal-fired brick oven pizza more than any other style of pizza. I grew up working for pizza chains in suburban Florida that claimed to make “New York style pizza” which, until I moved to the area, blissfully accepted as fact. Sure I heard mutterings from ex-New Yorkers that “pizza is better in the city” but I just chalked that up to hometown pride. Not until my first annual pursuit of the 31 Days of Pizza (October 2002) did I have my first taste of a coal-fired brick oven pie. In the years that followed I have since consumed portions of over 500 coal-fired brick oven pies. As a fifteen-year pizza-loving New York City resident, I firmly believe that coal-fired brick oven pizza is the quintessential New York style pizza – and it has the history to prove it!
In the early 1900s, Italian immigrants settling into the greater metropolitan area of New York and New Haven adapted their Neapolitan pizza recipes in order to suit the ovens of their new American kitchens, which were much more cramped. Given space limitations, pizzioli ditched the quick-burning, moisture-rich, heavy wood for the dry and compact coal. The higher heat from this new abundant fuel source resulted in a crisper crust that economically lended itself to increasing the size of the pies and promoted selling it by the slice. Ovens have evolved quite substantially since the first United States pizzeria Lombardi’s peddled its 5¢ slices. Hundreds of gas powered deck oven pizzerias have since sprouted up around the city replicating New York street slice pioneered by the coal-fired predecessors. Replicating maybe, but there is no replacing coal-fired brick oven pizza. Fortunately, these pizzerias – like the Italian immigrants before them – have adapted with the times, and with a couple of clicks of the mouse, you can have century old coal-fired brick oven pizza delivered right to your front door.
Where do I click?
But isn’t coal bad for you?
Thankfully you don’t have to ingest any coal in order to enjoy the amazing pizza that is cooked from its heat. In addition to carbon, raw coal contains small amounts of nitrogen and sulfur, however, these less-than-desirable components are washed out long before being used in pizza preparation. For you geologists out there, the name of the pizzioli’s coal of choice is anthrocite. Anthrocite is completely smokeless and burns cleaner than wood.
Aren’t all coal ovens outlawed except ovens built before the ban?
The short answer is, No. I also heard about this alleged ban. I have even been told by pizzeria owners that coal ovens needed to be grandfathered in – but that’s simply not true. My good friend, Scott Wiener (of Scott’s Pizza Tours) and I have not been able to find any legislation supporting this claim and according to a NY Daily News article about Verde a spokeswoman for the Department of Environmental Protection agrees.
Do the slightly charred edges mean the pizza is burnt?
I like to call that being “oven kissed.” Coal ovens reach temperatures in excess of 800’ F. A pizza can be topped, fully cooked, and cut in under 90 seconds. With this intensity of heat, some charring (or “carbonizing”) is inevitable. I don’t recommend making a habit of consuming charred, carbonized or burnt food but I like to say “everything in moderation” and I also like to say “If you don’t like it, I’ll eat it!”
Sean Taylor has been blogging about pizza since he began his annual Quest for the 31 Days of Pizza in 2002. He also teaches and performs improv comedy at the Magnet Theater. You can follow him on Twitter @seantaylor or visit him at www.seantaylor.us.
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