A wooden peel and a pizza oven go together. It’s hard to imagine one without the other, but do you really need a wooden peel? The wooden peel is basically a glorified shovel* used to slide bread and pizza into a wood-burning oven. Peels come in different designs—from the beautiful to the mundane, but they all serve the same purpose: moving things in and out of the oven while keeping our hands and arms safe. With the proper sized peel, I can load dough deep into the oven and position pizzas and bread just where I want them.
Use a wooden peel to load, metal to unload
My rule of thumb is this: use a wooden peel to load the oven and a metal peel to unload it. The thin edge of an aluminum peel easily slips under a baked pizza and a baked loaf. It’s harder to use a thicker-edged wooden peel to remove pizza and bread. I have several wooden and aluminum peels and most often use a wooden peel or a cutting board to load dough into the oven. I use a thin-edged metal peel to take out the finished items.
Master baker, John Mureiko, says “Wooden peels have their advantages and disadvantages. They are more rigid and attractive than aluminum peels. And the wood has the distinct advantage of friction. Trying to manipulate loaves on an aluminum peel can be a little like trying to hold butter on a hot knife.”
Dust peels to prevent sticking
Both aluminum and wooden peels need to be dusted with flour, cornmeal, or milled grain, otherwise the dough will stick. In my experience, metal peels, even dusted with flour, tend to stick to unbaked dough. After working to develop and shape your bread dough, you don’t want to add lots of raw flour (or have the shaped loaf stick and stretch). That’s why many bread bakers prefer the wooden peel. We experience less resistance (sticking) with a wooden peel than with an aluminum peel.
Which type of peel is best for a wood-fired oven?
With a little experience you’ll select the proper sized peels for your oven and cooking preferences. John Murieko turns out many loaves from each bake in his super deep oven. He needs a long-handled peel, sturdy enough to transfer multiple loaves at a time. He designed wooden peels of various lengths specifically for his oven at Restoration Homestead. The long narrow blades and long handles allow him to load multiple loaves into the depths of his barrel-shaped oven.
In my 40″ internal diameter oven I find that a short-handled peel works great for sliding loaves of bread into a moderately hot oven or quickly slipping pizzas close to the front of a very hot oven. Most people end up with a variety of peels because each has advantages that become obvious as you cook different types of food.
Inventive substitutes for a wooden peel
On Dave’s his last trip to Italy to check out ovens and take a few classes, he brought back some video of a novel peel, a board adapted to suit a busy pizzaiola. He is using a piece of wood to double as a prep station and a peel. You can pick up a plank of untreated wood to extend your work area and slide your pizzas into the oven.
When prepping large batches of bread, I pull my wooden cutting boards into service as peels. A thin cutting board (especially the ones with a cutout for your hand) makes an excellent peel for loading loaves toward the front of the oven.
Make your own wooden peel
Folks who enjoy woodworking can find Youtube tutorials on how to make your own peel. John made his peels to hold six loaves. “I thought about using oak since hardwoods are really excellent as cutting boards (a shape similar to a peel), but found that the expense outweighed any potential benefit. I selected poplar wood, and found it to be vastly easier to shape than the oak.”
I’m not a wood-worker so my peels came from a restaurant supply store. But I’m excited about trying the pizzaiola’s long board–maybe tweaking it for my needs. I’m on the lookout for beautiful wooden peels that are both practical and decorative.
* French, pelle, shovel, spade