Which Pizza Oven Is Right for You?
You can run these off of gas, pellets, or wood. We tested each kind to see which worked best.
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One of the main reasons my wife and I got married is because we’re on the same page about pizza consumption: on average we eat a pie once a week. We frequently order from the joints around Santa Fe, where we live, or make our own at home in the oven or on the grill. But it wasn’t until we tried a pizza oven from Ooni that our DIY pizza game rivaled what we get from restaurants.
My wife and I are both serious home cooks: I worked in pizza places for six months while traveling the world during a gap year, and she bakes every chance she gets. I especially like to cook over flames outdoors. In the past few months, we’ve been diligently testing different product variations from Ooni, focusing on this company because it offers the most diverse cooking options across its line.
We tested the Karu ($349), which you can fuel using charcoal, wood, or gas, and the Fyra ($299), which is heated using the brand’s proprietary wood pellets. The concept for each is basically the same: fire up your heat of choice, and once it’s going, the flame spreads across the top of the oven, resulting in extremely high temperatures—Ooni claims its products can get up to 950 degrees Fahrenheit.
We made three pizzas with each fuel source: wood, pellets, and gas. To eliminate discrepancies, my wife used the same dough recipe for all of them (from Joy of Cooking), although sauces and toppings varied.
From the first pie, it was clear that these ovens made pizza superior to anything we’d created before. The extreme heat bakes pizza quickly and to perfection. That said, it does take a careful eye on the oven, because they cook so fast—during testing, most of our pizzas were done between 90 and 120 seconds. Here are our takeaways.
I found it nearly impossible to wrangle pizzas in these ovens without the company’s peel ($60). We attempted our first without one, preheating our smallest cast-iron skillet in the oven. It resulted in great pies, but it was so hot in there that it stripped the seasoning off of the pan and seared the leather gloves and pot holders that I tried to grab it with. The peel makes it easy to rotate the pizza while it cooks, too—a necessity with the targeted heat. I generally rotated pies four times each, once every 15 to 30 seconds. This resulted in a nice, even bake for each.
Ooni also sells a gas-powered oven, the Koda ($349), but I really like having the option to cook with wood, so going with the gas attachment ($90) for the Karu instead seemed like a no-brainer. It took five minutes and one Allen wrench to toggle between the fire basket and the gas implement. I plan to switch between the two often in the future.
The company also recommends using its digital thermometer ($40) for testing the oven’s temperature. I’m sure it works well, but I found the included guides on preheating and flame levels easy enough to follow. If you’re a perfectionist, you’ll want the thermometer, but if you’re a go-by-feel type, I think you’ll be fine without it.
Best for Frequent Use: Gas
Cooking with gas is the most convenient way to barbecue, and the same applies here. All you have to do is hook up the tank to the Karu, light it, and let the oven preheat. In 15 minutes you’re ready to cook pizza. The main downside is that you don’t get that wood-fired taste.
The oven’s temperature took me a while to figure out, too, even though there’s a dial to adjust the flame, in part because you have to cook with the door open to keep the flame going (this is a safety precaution to prevent gas build up). The propane allowed it to get so hot that it was easy to char the top of the pizza while the bottom remained slightly raw. I found it best to let the oven preheat on full blast, then turn it down to medium-high heat while the pie was in. While I loaded up the next pizza on the peel, I put the empty oven on high again, then turned it down right before I slid the pizza in.
Best for Flavor: Pellets
When I first looked at the Fyra, I thought it would use an auger to push pellets into the oven to create even heat, much like a Traeger BBQ. But it’s much simpler than that: there’s a small fire pan, which you load with pellets and then light on fire. You wait for them to heat up, much like charcoal, and then load the chimney above the flames with pellets and let them burn down. In all, this process takes about 20 minutes.
Ooni’s responsibly sourced oak pellets ($25) result in a well-flavored pizza, with just the right amount of smoke infusing the pies. But I found the flame to be a little finicky. This setup was also the most sensitive to the wind, and I often found myself trying to adjust the orientation of the grill—while it was hot—to get the most efficient flame. Once I figured it out, the results were fantastic, but this kind of oven was the least consistent of all the cooking methods.
Best for Pizza Quality: Wood
Somewhat counterintuitively, I found it most natural to cook on the Karu using an old-fashioned wood fire. A solid fire heated the oven quickly and evenly. It was also easy to manage the flame level by tossing on another small chunk of oak or two, or letting the fire burn for a little longer to mellow it out. And the Karu was way less susceptible to interference from the wind than the Fyra.
The results spoke for themselves: the pizza had a crispy exterior all around, chewy dough, and cheese evenly melted on top. This method will be the one our family uses most, with gas as a backup for easy weeknight dinners or parties where we have to produce a lot of food quickly. I don’t think we’ll ever make pizza in the conventional oven again.