Outdoor pizza ovens are trending in popularity due to their quick cooking times, ease of use, and the fact that they’re simple to clean. There is no pizza experience like a pizza cooked in a piping hot wood-fired oven, but you can cook just about anything else in them, too. Below you’ll find everything you need to know when picking the best outdoor pizza oven.
Not too long ago outdoor pizza ovens were gigantic, expensive, and immovable installations for enthusiasts with large patio spaces. Not anymore. Now outdoor pizza ovens come in all shapes and sizes, and most are very portable. These pizza ovens create a crisp crust and add a slightly smoky flavor that’s impossible to recreate in an indoor oven. The only question now is, which one is right for you?
Wood-Fired Pizza Oven Options
While there are some charcoal, propane, and gas pizza ovens, most of the outdoor pizza ovens you’ll find are wood burning, and for good reason. Wood-burning ovens can heat to as high as 800°, ensuring quick cooking times and crisp crusts. Also, you can use your choice of woods in the oven to impart different smoky flavors to your pizza.
Cooking Pizza with Hardwoods
Hardwoods like oak, ash, maple, birch, apple, cherry, or even pear and pecan woods burn very well when dry and seasoned, delivering a sweet, smoky taste. These hardwoods are dense, making them much heavier than softer woods and able to burn for much longer at higher temperatures (BTUs).
Cooking Pizza with Soft Woods
Some soft woods like cedar and white and yellow pine are better for smaller ovens that cook at lower temperatures. Softer woods will also not smoke as much for a less smoky flavored pizza. Wood is typically placed on one side of the oven to create a convection that will carry heat in a circular motion that ensures even and fast cooking.
Any wood used in your pizza oven should first be dried to maintain proper cooking temperatures and smoke. Experts suggest drying (seasoning) split wood for at least six months to allow sap to dry out before burning.
Pizza Oven Construction
All outdoor pizza ovens have a curved dome that allows heat to evenly spread and maintain very high temperatures. The ovens are often lined with ceramic bricks insulated with steel for maximum heat retention. This insulation also prevents the outside of the oven from getting dangerously hot. When you’re shopping, it’s important to look for outdoor pizza oven kits with a refractory oven floor. This refraction system literally bounces heat back up into the top of the oven to create a convection system, insuring even heat distribution and perfectly-crisp crust. Most pizza ovens come with a rack that also doubles as a wood holder.
Choosing a Pizza Oven Size
The right size is certainly a concern, but the right design that creates fast cooking times is what will keep you shoveling finished pies to hungry guests. Outdoor pizza ovens come in all sizes from small ovens that will bake one pizza at time to larger ovens that can handle up to four. The baking chamber is typically measured in gallons, and the larger the chamber, the larger and heavier the oven. It’s important to think about placement of your pizza oven, and whether you’d like for the oven to be portable. Larger outdoor pizza ovens can weigh up to 500 lbs., so picking a model with wheels might be a good idea for you. Smaller ovens can be removed from their base and moved with ease.
Pizza Oven Cooking Tips
The curved geometry of the pizza oven along with its heat retention properties allow for cooking at very high temperatures. Most pizza oven experts say it’s best to pre-heat your oven for 45 minutes to 1 hour until the internal temperature reaches up to 800°. This very high temp ensures a hot oven floor that will cook thin-crust pizzas perfectly crisp in as fast as 90 seconds.
When cooking a thicker crust pizza, using less wood will allow the crust to rise before it crisps. Thick-crust pizzas can be cooked at 425 – 500° and will typically cook in 5 – 7 minutes.
Keep in mind, these ovens are called pizza ovens, but you can cook just about anything in them. Meats like steaks, roasts, and burgers can be placed on grills designed for pizza ovens to create a crisp, barky exterior and a perfectly moist interior. Turkey and chicken can be roasted to achieve beautiful, brown, crispy skin, and moist, tender meat. Cakes, breads, and cookies also bake perfectly in an outdoor pizza oven, and at lower temperatures, you can even use these ovens for drying mushrooms or fruits.
It’s important to keep a close watch on whatever you’re cooking in a pizza oven though, as the high temps and convection of the oven cooks everything faster. One added benefit — cleanup is a breeze since the fire in the oven burns just about everything off. When you’re finished cooking, all you need to do is sweep out the ashes and enjoy a slice of gourmet goodness.