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When I was a kid, we made pizza at home all the time. My family would invite friends and neighbors, cook up lots of pies, and pass around slices over cold beers, sodas, and good conversation.
Everyone was always impressed by the pizzas' super thin and crispy crust and wondered how my dad (the pizzaiolo of the family) achieved it at home. It was all thanks to a cracked pizza stone gifted from my uncle who worked in a pizza joint. They were getting rid of it and it ended up at our house. From then on, it changed our pizza game—and we still use it to this day.
Now there's another piece of pizza equipment rising fast in popularity: the backyard pizza oven. Not an indoor pizza oven, like the Breville, nor a custom brick pizza oven. But a stand-alone, stainless-steel oven run on propane, natural gas, charcoal, or wood pellets that can mimic what your favorite pizza joint does—bake a pie in one minute at 950 degrees. I noticed the appliance was expanding past the world of food nerds and into the mainstream when I saw on Facebook that a high school friend had bought one and was having a pizza party.
The rise of the backyard pizza oven
“[Backyard pizza ovens] started to get popular about three years ago," said Nicole Papantoniou, Director of the Kitchen Appliances and Culinary Innovation Lab at the Good Housekeeping Institute. "Before that, our research showed that gimmicky indoor pizza ovens had a fair amount of spotlight until brands like Ooni and Roccbox started becoming mainstream.”
Ooni came out with the first portable pellet pizza oven in 2012. The brand was founded by a husband-and-wife team who wanted to make restaurant-quality pizza at home. They couldn't find affordable and portable options on the market, so they started Ooni.
When Ooni and Gozney first gained popularity, there were only a few basic models. Now, there are several with different fuel options and price points ranging from $350 to $1800. "It's becoming more like it's becoming more appealing to different consumers," Papantoniou said.
Kevin Lynch, who runs an Instagram page @pizzachannelkevin, always said he would build a wood-fired pizza oven when he has a backyard in his home in Baltimore. "After building a new rooftop deck six years ago, I had the thought, 'Is there such a thing as a propane pizza oven?'" He invested in the Pizzaque by Pizzacraft, but has since upgraded to the Ooni Koda 16.
Eamonn Murphy was gifted an Ooni from his girlfriend after his Instagram page, @themayorofpizza, started gaining more followers. "I was like, 'Oh man, I need to get one of these Oonis,'" he said. "'I want that flame, the wood-fired taste.' And I'm in love. It's such a game changer for making pizzas."
Are backyard pizza ovens worth the hefty price tag?
Investing in a pizza oven is not cheap. The prices run the gamut and can cost more than a grill. But if you scroll the pages of Ooni and Gozney, you'll see the thousands of positive reviews. The Ooni Karu 12 Multi-Fuel Pizza Oven, the most popular model, has 4,000 reviews and 4.8 stars. Roccbox has almost 2,000 reviews with 4.8 stars.
However, everybody I talked to said there's a learning curve. You can't just throw in a pie and one minute later have a perfect pizza. "There were definitely a couple throw-away pizzas the first time I fired it up," Lynch said. "You have to turn the pizza often and work the hot spots in the oven just right. You also have to use the right ingredients that can handle that type of heat."
But Noah Cheek of @cheeky_bbq said learning how to use it is "all of the fun!" For Cheek, making the dough was the toughest part. "The hydration percentage—amount of water in your dough—should be very different if you are cooking at 500 degrees vs. 800 degrees. Creating your own dough lets you be in control of this process and will optimize the results," he said.
Will backyard pizza ovens become the new grill?
I have yet to talk to a person who owns a backyard pizza oven and isn't obsessed with it. But it's worth noting that everybody I talked to also really loves pizza, enough to start entire Instagram pages dedicated to it.
"It's for people who really want to be making pizza in particular," Papantoniou said, noting it's mostly for the pizza purists and aficionados out there. "Rather than [becoming] an essential item, it's more for entertainment." So it's more of an item that creates a fun experience than something that everyone will have to have someday.
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