Deck ovens are ubiquitous to pizza operations, but foodservice operators can use this versatile piece of cooking equipment to prepare a variety of other menu items, including chicken, fish and casseroles.

iStock 000086603775 FullSegmented into pizza and roasting ovens, these units typically have different deck materials. Pizza ovens have a stone deck, while roasting ovens feature steel decks. The temperature range for pizza ovens is higher.

Although deck ovens have no motor and create natural convection using baffle systems, the units typically offer higher BTUs than convection ovens for unique browning capabilities. This allows a typical pizza to bake in 6 to 10 minutes.

The average-size deck oven typically measures 3 feet long by 3 feet wide and can bake six large pizzas simultaneously. Footprints range from 18-square-inch countertop deck units for those operations providing pizza slices, individual-size pies or minimal pizza service to 84-by-51-inch deck ovens that feed the demand of high-volume restaurants. Deck ovens can also be stacked to increase capacity and production abilities.

Deck height, or the area from top to bottom inside the unit, varies. If a foodservice operator intends to only cook pizza in the oven, a greater height may not be necessary. However, if an operation will cook larger items in the unit, such as a whole chicken, a larger height may be necessary. Generally, deck heights range from 6 to 10 inches, and ovens with higher deck heights retain less heat.

These units are large in size, so operators need to confirm that the unit will fit through necessary doorways in existing kitchens prior to purchasing. Some models require removal of the legs to fit through narrow spaces.

The various deck oven types produce different results. However, foodservice operators can cook any dough type, whether fresh, par-baked or frozen, in these units. Deck ovens with fully lined brick cooking chambers produce a hearth-baked, old-world-style pizza. These units offer exceptional heat retention and fast bake times.

The majority of these units are gas-operated. A single deck oven generally operates on 80,000 BTUs, with larger models utilizing up to 320,000 BTUs. If a facility lacks adequate gas pressure, the unit will not perform to its capacity. A typical deck oven uses five water columns of gas pressure. In addition to gas, these units are also available in electric versions as well as wood- or coal-burning models.

These units are stackable but must be manifolded together. This provides a single-point utility connection, which simplifies installation. With the exception of countertop units, deck ovens need to operate under either a standard or direct hood to ensure proper ventilation.

Deck ovens operate at high temperatures, typically from 650 degrees F on average up to 900 degrees F for wood-burning units. This varies significantly from standard ovens, which typically cap out at 550 degrees F. Because deck ovens take time to heat up and operate constantly, chamber insulation plays a key role in terms of heat retention.

When it comes to durability, the door represents one of the most important aspects of a deck oven. Because staff will open and close doors often — even slamming them on occasion — heavy-duty oven doors and hinges are critical components. If these aspects of the oven are compromised, it will affect the performance, heat retention and longevity of the unit. In addition, oven doors that leak energy result in a unit that is more costly for operators to run.

If an operator chooses to place a deck oven in the front of house as part of a display kitchen, some models and options offer enhanced aesthetics. Stainless steel finishes are typically standard, but deck ovens also are available with painted finishes, facades such as faux finishes, and trim packages. Some deck ovens have a brick or tile veneer applied to the surface for a rustic appearance. For baking applications, a steam injection system is also an option.