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Wood-Fire Vs. Coal-Fire Pizza: What's The Difference, Anyway?

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In a pizzeria, referencing your wood-fire oven has become the equivalent of throwing around the phrase “farm-to-table”—every new pizza place seems to have it, and it’s a sign of quality. But, a wood-burning oven isn’t the only way to turn out a great pie. Coal ovens turn out supremely crispy pies with chewy interiors that can hold their own. Both types of ovens run super hot, turn out pies in a matter of minutes, and produce that characteristic char. So, other than the fuel source, what’s the big difference?

Style. Wood-burning ovens are the traditional vehicle for creating true Neapolitan-style pies with a thin, almost crepe-like center, and puffy edges. But when Italian immigrants came to the United States, particularly New York, wood ovens weren’t as easy to find. Brick ovens powered by coal, however, were not only available, but also fairly inexpensive. As they made pizza in New York, they also developed their own style—New York-style pizza, with a crisper crust, and chewier interior. While it’s not a hard-and-fast rule—you could make a New York-style pizza in a wood-fire oven, for example—you’ll find it’s often the case.

In Westchester you’ll find proponents of both types. At Fortina in Rye Brook and Armonk, Chef Christian Petroni cooks pizza (and most other things) in his wood-burning oven. “Wood provides a gentle, moist heat,” says Petroni. “Not to mention the unmistakable smoky char that I’ve grown to obsess over, elevating the simplest piece or vegetable into something truly special.”

Anthony’s Coal Fired Pizza in White Plains similarly cooks everything in their pizza oven, but they use old-fashioned coal. “I think [coal] is more of a unique thing,” says regional manager Angela Deleonardis. When Anthony [the founder] moved to Florida, he missed New York-style pizza, and found that a coal-fired oven was the key to getting an authentic pie. Now, they’re cooking other things, like charred chicken wings with onions in the oven too. If you’re still not convinced that coal-fired ovens are legitimate, consider this: Frank Pepe’s white clam pizza was named the number one pie in American by The Daily Meal—and they use coal.

Coal or Wood?

What are local pizzerias using?

Pizzas from Fortina, which uses a wood-fire oven. Photo provided by Fortina.

Burrata: Wood

Pie to Try: Soppressata (classic margarita pie with spicy soppressata)

425 White Plains Rd, Eastchester (914) 337-3700; www.burratapizza.com

The Parlor: Wood

Pie to Try: Brussels Sprouts Pie (with applewood bacon, stracchino cheese, and parmigiano)

14 Cedar St, Dobbs Ferry (914) 478-8200; www.theparlordf.com

Frank Pepe: Coal

Pie to Try: White Clam Pizza

1955 Central Ave, Yonkers (914) 961-8284; www.pepespizzeria.com

Zero Otto Nove: Wood

Pie to Try: La San Matteo (Fresh mozzarella, sausage, and broccoli rabe)

55 Old Route 22, Armonk (914) 273-0089; www.089armonk.roberto089.com

Porta Napoli: Wood

Pie to Try: Pizza del Papa (Butternut Squash Cream, red and yellow peppers, zucchini, and important smoked mozzarella)

251 Halstead Ave, Harrison (914) 732-3232; www.portanapoliny.com

Anthony’s Coal Fired Pizza: Coal

Pie to Try: Fresh Mozzarella Pie with Sauce

264 Main St, White Plains (914) 358-9702; www.acfp.com

Fortina: Wood

Pie to Try: The Luigi Bianco (burrata, robiolona, parmesan, and black truffle) 

17 Maple Ave, Armonk (914) 273-0900; www.fortinapizza.com

136 South Ridge St, Rye Brook (914) 937-0900; www.fortinapizza.com

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