Coal-Fired Pizza: Is It Charred or Just Burnt?

Categories: The Critic
scarfonespizzaburnt.jpg
John Linn
Coal-fired pizza has become the norm in South Florida thanks to pizza joints like Anthony's Coal-Fired that cook with anthracite. The intense heat of coal brings the temperature in these ovens up toward 1,000 degrees. Ideally, it creates a crackly thin crust with bits of char all over it.

Fans of coal-fired pies seek out that char for the carbonous flavor it brings to pies. If it's done right, there's something flavorful about that kind of crust. But as you can see here, there's a fine line between tasty char and pizza that's flat-out burnt.

The truth is it takes a definite amount of skill to pull off coal-fired pizza. The ovens burn so hot that it's easy to burn the outside of a pie before the inside ever cooks completely. This slice from Scarfone's Coal Fire Pizza in Coconut Creek is proof. The crust was completely burnt while the pizza itself was still soggy and flacid. The weight of the toppings just bogged down the slice further. It couldn't even be picked up.

Don't get me wrong: Scarfone's isn't the only coal oven place I've seen with this problem. I've given up eating pizza at a few coal-oven places (Anthony's is one of them) because of this.

Another big problem with coal-oven pizza is sogginess. Pizzas cooked in coal ovens can come out very crisp with thin crust. But the high heat of the ovens tends to trap moisture inside the dough that is later released once it's served. A pizza that comes from the oven crispy and sits on a wooden peel can become soggy in minutes.

Not all coal-oven pizza comes out burnt. But as I said before, it takes some skill to master cooking a pie at such high heat. Then again, that's the precise reason why many pizza makers are turning toward wood-fired ovens instead of coal. With wood, the temperature is far more stable. It's easier to raise and lower heat by adding a log or spreading them out. That, plus the oven sits at a much more pie-friendly temperature of 600 to 800 degrees.

So what do you think about coal-oven pizza? Is that good char, or is it just burnt?


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