Once the fire is going, use a long wood-handled instrument to shove the fire inside the oven -- we use a grass whip. It doesn't matter exactly what you use, but it needs to be long enough to stick into the back of the oven while keeping your hands well outside the oven, and it can't have a metal handle because it would get too hot to hold -- you'll be using it to shove glowing embers around.
You'll need to keep tending the fire constantly for about 30 minutes, feeding it more kindling and shoving the embers around to all parts of the oven (firebrick) floor. We recommend drinking beer and yakking with a friend while doing so.
We stuck a cheap (high-temp) metal thermometer
inside the oven in order to get the hang of gauging the temp of the oven. The numbers burned off the thermometer after a few fires, but now we know that after about 30 minutes, it's about 750 degrees, and it's ready for pizza!
Use the grass whip to push all the glowing embers/wood to the outer edges of the oven, forming a ring of fire and distributing the embers as evenly as is reasonable.
Use a short, damp-but-not-wet rag mop* to swipe the firebrick surface at center of the ring; that's where your pizza is going to go, and a quick swipe with the rag mop will keep the bottom of the crust from getting too ashy.
Meanwhile, at the pizza-construction operation, put about 3 tablespoons of dry corn meal on top of the peel and spread it evenly over the surface of the peel. Then -- and only then! -- put the pizza crust on top of the peel. Add toppings according to your favorite recipe, and take the pizza out to the oven, where your firetender has been faithfully feeding the fire.
Hand the uncooked pizza on its peel to the firetender. Standing with the peel between the lip and the center of the oven, the firetender gently shakes the peel so the pizza can be rustled on to the firebrick as close to the center of the oven as possible.
With the temp at 750 degrees, the pizza only takes about 2 minutes to cook, so be ready to pull that thing out of there and get it to where the hungry people are.
There's definitely a flow to this process, and you'll get the hang of it as you use your oven. We often use pizza night as an excuse to socialize with a small crowd (or vice versa), so coordinating the steady flow of pizzas can be tricky. What we've found works best is:
An hour before eating:
- prep pizza dough if making it from scratch; make enough crust for approximately one medium pizza per person
- prepare toppings (dice veggies, shred or slice cheese, cook meat toppings, etc.) -- our friends and kids like to be put to work at this stage
- firetender leaves to go do his/her thing at the oven
- kitchen manager divides up dough and forms/tosses crusts -- this is kind of tricky, and your guests may not be able to get this right, so you'll either want to do it yourself or be prepared for some messed-up pizza
- raw crusts are put on corn-meal dusted, movable surfaces (a pizza peel, a cutting board, corrugated cardboard, etc.)
- each guest is assigned a raw crust on which to put the toppings of their choice. Don't let them pile the toppings too thick or the pizza will fall apart
- The firetender rushes inside to say the oven will be ready in about 5 minutes
- The first pizza is transferred from the movable surface to a pizza peel, and delivered to the firetender, who puts it in the oven for about 2 minutes.
- Meanwhile, the second pizza is transferred to another peel, and delivered to the firetender at the oven.
- The firetender removes the first pizza from the oven using the first peel, and a delivery person runs pizza and peel inside to the hungry crowd.
- Meanwhile, the firetender uses the second peel to get the second pizza going. The firetender and the delivery person will alternate peels each time.