With the news that Max & Leo's will open a location in Fenway and the historical Frank Pepe's is making inroads to Boston with a location in Chestnut Hill, there has been some buzz over whether coal-fired pizza ovens are even permissible in the City of Boston.
The short answer: yes, they are allowed.
The long answer: yes, provided a restaurant follows the necessary regulations and passes inspections.
Inspector David Hayes of the Boston Fire Department said there are strict regulations with regards to ventilation, fuel storage, and regular inspections of any equipment used to burn solid fuel in commercial cooking appliances. These regulations are delineated under the National Fire Protection Association codes, many of which have been adopted into Massachusetts state fire codes.
Both coal- and wood-fired cooking methods are regulated under NFPA 96, which details safe standards for ventilation control and fire protection for commercial cooking operations.
"The equipment has to be vented under its own separate ventilation system and can't be connected to other cooking equipment," said Hayes, starting with the basics. Equipment manufacturers provide information detailing ventilation set up, and any restaurant seeking permission to use such equipment must submit plans to Boston Inspectional Services and get approval from the mechanical division of the building department. Once granted, equipment can be built according to the manufacturer's specifications, and more regulations follow.
"You can only have one day's worth of stored fuel in the building," Hayes said, and the type of appliance affects how closely the fuel can be stored. There are also regulations on the proper disposal of used fuel.
"Most places use two metal ash cans to dispose of the used wood or coal. They put ice in it to help extinguish any smoldering," said Hayes.
Additionally, vents must be cleaned and inspected monthly, to ensure there is no buildup of grease.
Wood-fired pizza spots in Boston are fairly common — from Pastoral in Fort Point to Posto in Somerville — but Hayes said he was only aware of a few restaurants even using coal-fired broilers, perhaps because wood is less messy than coal. Provided Max & Leo's and Frank Pepe's are willing to ascribe to the extensive local regulations, Boston could see some growth in the coal-fired pizza department.