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Pizza in your own backyard

OUTDOOR OVENS HAVE SOARED IN POPULARITY

BY TIM WOOD

Outdoor pizza ovens are the pandemic cooking trend that shows no signs of cooling off.

This is a hobby that didn’t even exist 20 years ago, as manufacturers were solely focused on the commercial restaurant builds. The demand for the must-have addition to your outdoor kitchen was already steadily growing, but once lockdowns began, sales went through the roof.

Manufacturers like Gozney, makers of the Roccbox, report three to four times better sales over the last two years, and their newest model did $8 million in pre-sales in just eight hours.

There is an indescribable romance among at-home pizza chefs that has spurred the growth of the industry and led to lighter-weight, more affordable models and a spate of players entering the space.

“The interest is truly at an all-time high for sure. It’s just so easy to do. You can make a pizzeria-level pizza in your backyard in 90 seconds,” said Sarah Clemmons of Billy Wood Appliance in Bluffton.

And while the design of the oven is clearly tailored for pizza, you can cook anything from grilled fish to smoked meats to bread loaves, focaccia and flat breads — one reason the portable beauties have become a quick favorite of the RV set.

Make no mistake though, the star of the show is the dream of making Neapolitan-style pizzas at home with the quality of a streetcorner pizzeria in Naples.

There are a few factors to consider before you buy. First off, how fancy do you want to get?

Top-line brands among the more mass-produced ovens like Ooni, Roccbox and Bertello take up a smaller footprint and cook a smaller pie – a 12-inch model has about a $400 price tag while a 16-inch model will run you closer to $650. These models are a bit more portable, running anywhere from 30 to 45 pounds, and will still deliver the optimal 900-to-1,000-degree temperatures needed to craft that perfect pie.

The brands and styles you will find at places like Billy Wood Appliance, Casual Living, Fireside Grillin’ and Summer Breeze Outdoor Kitchens are still technically portable and can sit on a counter top, but have a construction much closer to commercial grade.

Billy Wood offers the Italian-made XO pizza oven, a 40-inch beast that will allow you to cook up to four pizzas at one time. You’ll need a couple folks to move this beauty in, as the XO weighs in at 247 pounds.

The next thing you need to decide is if you are cooking with wood or gas. True pizza snobs will tell you the wood-burning ovens offer a far more authentic taste, are generally less expensive but will take up to one hour to heat up. While there is an adjustable flume, the wood burners offer far less temperature consistency.

Gas models offer more temperature control, heat up in as little as 15 minutes, but that all comes with a cost. The XO models run around $3,200 to $4,000 with a wood source and usually double for the gas model.

Summer Breeze offers the Alfa One, a one-pizza oven which retails for $1,400 for wood and $2,200 for gas. A four-pizza Alfa model can run around $3,400 for wood and up to $6,500 for gas. Add anywhere from $600 to $1,000 for a base cart for the oven.

If you are just getting into the outdoor pizza-making hobby, start with one of the better mass-produced onepizza models. There is an art to these ovens that takes hundreds of hours of practice to perfect. If you have the means and are fully committed to being a Level 10 pizza maker, get the bigger oven.

No matter what size or quality you buy, prepare yourself for the learning curve. Each little piece of the process is like earning Boy Scout badges. Mastering rotating the pizza with a turning peel while not burning the pizza requires patience and an upfront acceptance that you will begin with some epic fails before getting an edible end product.

A taste sensation that can be amortized while you become the neighborhood pizza boss? That’s something worth signing up for.