When it comes to pizza, there’s no denying that shop-bought simply isn’t the same as homemade. But for that authentic homemade taste we all know and love, an outdoor pizza oven is definitely the way to go.
Not only will outdoor pizza ovens cook your pizza in a fraction of the time of your regular oven, they are a real crowd pleaser. In fact, there’s not much better on a warm evening than sitting outside with a few drinks and a homemade pizza (or four…!).
Everyone has their preferred type of pizza, and it’s important that your new pizza oven is tailored to your taste buds! Whilst some people like a thin and crispy crust, others prefer a thicker base. The best pizza oven should be able to accommodate a range of preferences – and deliver perfectly cooked pizza every time.
If you need a little help choosing the best outdoor pizza oven for you, check out the following tips to help you make an informed decision.
How do Pizza Ovens Differ from Regular Ovens
Understanding how pizza ovens work is key when it comes to making a great pizza. Pizza ovens differ from regular ovens, because they reach a much higher temperature – up to 500°C in many cases. This allows them to cook the pizza in just a minute or two, whilst producing a completely different taste and texture to pizzas cooked in a regular oven.
The problem with cooking pizza for longer, as you’d need to in a regular oven, is that it can dry out the crust, making it tough and chewy.
Another benefit of pizza ovens, and wood fired ovens in particular, is that the taste is far superior. As a result of cooking at very high temperatures, parts of the crust will caramelise (yum!), whilst the wood smoke also adds to the flavour. The toppings are also easier to cook. Toppings such as vegetables will become charred, whilst the cheese will bubble and caramelise.
Finally, because the temperature is so much higher in a pizza oven, the crust rises and becomes much larger. If you’ve been to a pizza restaurant and marvelled at the incredibly fluffy crusts, the secret is in the high-temperature pizza oven!
Choosing the Right Fuel Source
When people talk about outdoor pizza ovens, they are usually thinking of wood-fired ovens. However, not all pizza ovens are wood fired, and you’ll see from the products on this page that gas-powered ovens are also a viable option. The best outdoor pizza oven for you will depend on your cooking preferences.
Gas-powered pizza ovens are loved for their ease of use and efficiency. You simply need to turn them on, allow them to heat up and put your pizza in. When you’ve finished cooking your pizza, the oven can simply be turned off.
Gas-fired pizza ovens usually have some sort of temperature regulation, which allows you to use them to cook other foods too. When you can’t control the temperature, it may be too high to safely cook meat all the way through without burning the outside.
These ovens are also cleaner than wood-fired pizza ovens. Wood-fuel ovens need to be cleaned out, and the ash disposed of. Gas-powered ovens can simply be switched off, and the pizza stone wiped clean once cool.
The main issue with gas-powered pizza ovens is that they aren’t as authentic. The pizza won’t have that coveted smoky flavour, and it’s usually easy to tell whether a pizza has been cooked in a gas or wood-fired oven. Nevertheless, some gas-powered pizza ovens have wood-burning accessories which can be added on, allowing for a smokier taste.
Pros of Gas Powered Ovens:
- Easy to use
- Not much cleaning after use
- Easy temperature regulation
Cons of Gas Powered Ovens:
- No opportunity to change taste by using different smoking woods – unless using an additional wood-burning accessory
- Generally a slightly less ‘authentic’ taste as there’s no smoke
If you’re after authenticity, a wood-fired oven is your best bet. The pizza takes on a unique taste and texture. Portable pizza ovens tend to use small wood pellets as fuel. These burn reasonably slowly and are quite easy to light, although some people choose to use a blow torch. More on wood pellets in the next section. Full-size wood-fuelled pizza ovens use logs which can be a bit harder to get going.
Another reason to purchase a wood fired pizza oven is for the experience. Relaxing around a fire with your friends and family is a lovely way to spend a long summer evening, and it’s even better if you’ve got a pizza on the go at the same time!
A couple of downsides of wood-fired ovens. First, they are messier than gas ovens, given that the ash produced will need disposing of. Secondly, full-size wood-fired ovens can be quite a lot of work to get going. They’ll also be bulkier than gas-fired ovens as space is needed for the logs.
- A party piece – very engaging
- Authentic method of cooking pizza
- Produces a smoky flavour
- Relatively easy to use
- Require a lot of logs to keep burning
- Produce a lot of ash
- Hard to regulate temperature
- Generally quite bulky and large to accommodate log fire
Smaller wood-fuelled pizza ovens use wood pellets as opposed to logs. Ovens that use wood pellets will produce the same smokey flavour as wood fired pizzas, but they’re a bit easier to manage.
Wood pellet ovens are typically made from stainless steel which retains heat well. They are usually very portable, with a small compartment in which to load the wood pellets. There’s no need for bulky logs, and the pellets can simply be purchased online.
Pizzas can be cooked using a range of wood pellets. The variation in wood pellets can alter the taste of your pizza, so it’ll come down to personal preference. Cherry wood, for instance, will give you pizza a deep smokey flavour, whilst applewood produces a flavour that’s lighter and more fruity. It’s also possible to use a mixture of wood pellets, opening up the opportunity to be creative.
- Produce a wood-fired flavour
- A portable fuel method
- Easy to use
- Range of pellets to purchase which produce a different flavour
- May end up using quite a lot of pellets; approximately 300g per pizza
Pizza Oven Size and Design
Choosing the Right Size
The size of the oven will impact how many pizzas can be cooked at once. The ovens I’ve recommended, which are all portable, can only cook one pizza at a time. The advantage of this is that each oven is very compact, and the pizza cooks very quickly. With each pizza cooking in just a couple of minutes, you won’t feel as though everyone is eating separately – as you’ll be able to serve a pizza every minute or two.
The size will also impact the diameter of the pizza you can make. Most of the ovens I’ve recommended come with a pizza stone included, and you won’t be able to cook a pizza larger than this stone. Portable outdoor pizza ovens usually come with a stone measuring around 12” in diameter, which is a medium size pizza. If this sounds a little small, opt for a pizza oven with capacity to hold a 14” or even 16” pizza stone.
If you’re going to be cooking other food in your pizza oven, such as large cuts of meat or fish, you should ensure that there’s enough space inside.
What’s the Best Design?
As we’ve already seen, there are a number of designs when it comes to pizza ovens.
Portable Pizza Ovens
Portable ovens are the best ready to go option. There’s usually very minimal assembly required, and they can be moved around when needed. They can be stored inside, taken to the beach or on weekends away. Despite the smaller size, they can still reach exceptionally high temperatures and cook a pizza in just a couple of minutes.
Tabletop portable ovens are a real crowd pleaser. These can simply be placed on your outdoor table and they usually weigh between 10 – 20 kg. They often have foldable legs for easy storage and may even come with a carry case.
The downside to these ovens is that they only cook one pizza at a time. Whilst this is fine when there’s just a few of you, if you’re hosting a pizza party with a lot of people, you may spend all your time cooking (even if each pizza does only take five minutes or less).
Tabletop ovens are usually powered by either gas or wood pellets. They heat up in around 20 minutes, although they do lose heat a lot quicker than large, brick ovens (which can be both useful and inconvenient).
Alternatively, you can buy a pizza oven accessory for an existing BBQ. These sit on your barbecue, and the interior is left to heat up. Once at the right temperature, the pizza is placed inside. The benefit of this is they’re very affordable and can help make the most of an existing BBQ.
Freestanding Pizza Ovens
Freestanding pizza ovens look similar to freestanding BBQs. They’re portable but freestanding. You won’t need space on your dining table, and they often have castor wheels for manoeuvrability. The downside is that they take up more space in storage than tabletop ovens, and are generally a lot heavier.
Permanent Pizza Ovens
Of course, there are also permanent brick or concrete ovens. These are great for parties and can be used to cook a range of foods, but they cannot be moved once installed. They require a lot of assembly, and can take a couple of hours to heat fully. Whilst these are the most authentic of outdoor pizza ovens, they require the most preparation and work to use. Another downside of a permanent pizza oven is that it needs to be ‘cured’ before use, which is a slow process.
Depending on size, a permanent oven may be able to cook more than one pizza at a time, or a larger pizza than a portable oven. These ovens also hold heat well, which make them a nice object to sit around during parties and gatherings.
Additional accessories can make certain aspects of using a pizza oven easier.
Let’s take a look at a few things you might need:
This is the most important item when it comes to pizza cooking. You must have a pizza stone in order to cook pizza. Most portable pizza ovens will come with a pizza stone included. The size of this is important, as this will determine the size of pizza you can cook. Ensure you know how best to clean your stone, as whilst some can be gently hand washed, others should never be allowed to get wet.
You should never put a hot pizza stone in cold water, and you should allow your stone to heat up in the oven – instead of putting it into an already hot oven.
A wooden or metal pizza peel is an important piece of equipment. A pizza peel is the best tool for quickly removing the pizza from the oven; these paddles can easily get under the pizza. Although other tools might work, it’s best just to use a pizza peel – even wasting a few seconds trying to retrieve your pizza can lead to it overcooking!
It’s important that your pizza peel has a long handle so that you can retrieve your pizza without getting your hands too close to the oven.
If the oven doesn’t come with a built-in thermometer, using an infrared thermometer can measure the temperature at different places in the oven and let you know when to put in your pizza. You also won’t have to be anywhere near the fire yourself.
Some portable pizza ovens will come with a silicone casing. The outside of a metal pizza oven can get exceptionally hot, which can be dangerous if there’s children or pets nearby.
Those with a silicone jacket are far safer to use and better for families. Although, of course, they’re still hot!
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