Pizza ovens are the hot thing—and for good reason. They get food on the table in a flash, and everyone can DIY their dinner. What’s more cottagey than that?
As people dry off from their last swim of the day, the balls of dough are finishing their second rise. The dough is ready to be hand stretched, and the canned San Marzano tomatoes have been crushed, not pureed, so the slightly bitter seeds remain whole.
You’re ready for the three very opinionated camps among your friends: sliced buffalo or fior di latte mozzarella, olive oil, and fresh basil for the Margherita purists; tomatoes, oregano, and garlicky sauce for the Marinara crowd; and a hodgepodge of prepped toppings for the kitchen-sink fans—who are planning to ignore your advice and overload their pizzas.
Luckily, your new pizza oven only takes about 20 minutes to heat up, and it can blast each pizza to perfection in as little as two minutes, so you can feed everyone their custom pizzas almost as quickly as they can make them.
More heat gives you more pizza options. A kitchen oven maxes out around 500°F—too cool for a Neopolitan thin-crust pizza, but okay for thicker Sicilian-style pies. Although a barbecue gets hotter, the heat comes from below. That’s great for steak and roasted peppers, explains Rocco Agostino, the executive chef of and partner in Toronto’s Pizzeria Libretto restaurants, but “pizza crust on the barbecue cooks through too much before the toppings get hot.” To meet the official standards of a Naples-style crust—blistered surfaces, leopard-like spots of char, and soft, moist interiors—pizzas need at least 905°F.
About a decade ago, massive brick and concrete ovens, the ones that cottagers sometimes build as DIY projects, started to see serious competition from smaller backyard pizza ovens. Made with a shell of heavily insulated sheet steel, many of the newer ovens are big enough for a pizza but not much more, so they heat up faster with less fuel. Some ovens use a small wood fire to heat the chamber. Others use propane or natural gas flowing into barbecue-like burners, and a few burn wood pellets or charcoal.
The choice of fuel divides cottagers along the same lines as the barbecue wars of the last century: charcoal and wood for flavour, propane for convenience. Agostino uses propane in his backyard Ooni Karu. “I have two kids who won’t wait around for pizza,” he says, “and it’s not in the oven long enough to absorb much smoke anyway.”
That’s true, agrees Glenn Satnarain, but “I can smell wood smoke around the oven. And on my clothes. It’s ambiance.” As the operations director for barbecue retailer Turn Up the Heat, in Concord, Ont., Satnarain has tried many different ovens. Propane, he says, is surprisingly popular for pizza parties, even without the ambiance. “Guests are actually more willing to cook their own pizzas in a propane-fired oven. Nowadays, everyone is familiar with gas barbecues.”
Cottagers who choose built-in pizza ovens, which need a masonry base and typically cost between $3,000 to $5,000, often incorporate them into a full outdoor kitchen project, says Satnarain. The large ovens are versatile and can fit several pizzas at once, alongside big chunks of wood. (Once large pieces start burning, the fire needs less babysitting than a small oven requires, explains Satnarain.)
Freestanding ovens, on their own integral stands, can be moved inside for winter storage, while portable, countertop ovens—most costing less than $1,000—can sit safely on a wood picnic table while in use and are easily stored away. The lightest “tailgate” ovens, including the 12-kg Pizzeria Pronto, can travel to the beach or to your favourite picnic island.
Most ovens—even the tailgaters—rely on a cordierite ceramic base, similar to a pizza stone, to retain heat and absorb some steam from the crust. Thick bases retain heat but add weight; lightweight ovens tend to cool quickly and need time between pizzas to reheat.
There’s a similar trade-off between portability, durability, and cost. Some inexpensive ovens reduce the weight and price tag by using less cordierite and thinner steel.
If you’re not ready to try a dedicated pizza oven, there are accessories that improve the pizza capabilities of a barbecue. Some add-ons sit on top of a kettle grill; others fit inside the grill chamber. They typically can’t get as hot (or stay as hot) as a dedicated oven, so they’re better suited to pizzas with crisp “Roman-style” crusts.
The Scottish-engineered, portable Ooni Karu 12 can convert from wood or charcoal to propane or natural gas and fits a 12" pizza. (The larger Ooni Karu 16 has additional burners for more even cooking.) 950°F max temp. 15-mm cordierite base. 12 kg. $519 (plus $139 for gas burner); ca.ooni.com
The propane-fired Pizzeria Pronto is a basic unit with dual cordierite stones for pizzas up to 14". Because it only heats to 700°F, crusts are crisper top to bottom. 12 kg. $452; pizzacraft.com
The compact Roccbox heats to 950°F with propane or the optional wood burner, while the silicone outer jacket keeps the surface safe to touch briefly. Cooks an 11" pizza on a 19-mm cordierite floor. 20 kg. $599, plus $100 for detachable wood burner; ca.gozney.com
This is the wood-fired oven that chef Lynn Crawford uses at her cottage. The cool-to-the-touch shell is 2-mm thick stainless steel, with 14 cm of ceramic fibre insulation, and the base is 32 mm cordierite. “Extra insulation means our ovens heat fast and retain heat,” says La Piazza’s managing partner Tom Edelenji. “After you’re done making pizza, you can still bake bread or lasagna, which need long, steady heat.” The oven can stay outdoors for pizza all winter, or you can store it inside on its optional rolling stand. 160 kg. $2,499 ($2,999 with stand); lapiazzawoodovens.com
The separate firebox in the base simplifies restocking the fire with wood, and “you won’t get ash on your pizza,” says Satnarain. A versatile outdoor oven that can bake bread or roast a turkey, its chamber has two levels and a temperature range of 250°F to 950°F. 100 kg with cart. $1,599; tuthbbq.com
No pizza oven? No problem
This propane grill accessory sits atop a barbecue grate. Depending on the juice in your barbecue, the internal refractory stone box can heat to about 750°F—that’s not Neapolitan standard, but it’s enough to cook a pizza in two to four minutes. 15" by 14" chamber. 12.7 kg. $190; bakerstonebox.ca
This 23" by 16" metal hood, paired with a stone, turns your standard gas grill into a pizza oven to allow convection heating to about 840°F. 4 kg. $130; napoleon.ca
This kit swaps out the lid of your 22" charcoal kettle-style barbecue with a basic, low-profile pizza cooking chamber. Heats to about 800°F, but the uninsulated chamber means it cools quickly if the coals die down. 15"-diameter pizza stone. 5.4 kg. $210; onlyfire.com
A ceramic composite pizza stone holds and distributes heat, and protects it from the flames below. To use, place the stone on the grate, then light the ’Q, so the stone heats up gradually (if you place the cold stone in a hot barbecue or oven, it can crack). Once the stone is heated through, place the room temp pizza on the hot stone and cook. $50; broilkingbbq.com
An unbreakable alternative to pizza stones. This 14" by 16" steel, with handy finger holes, is a hefty 6-mm thick. $129; atlassteelco.ca
Preheated in your barbecue, like a ceramic pizza stone or a baking steel, the ripping hot surface of Lodge’s cast iron pan transfers its heat energy into a pizza, coming close to the conditions inside a pizza oven. $80; kitchenstuffplus.com