The Takeaway: Pizza ovens are going to be a popular trend this summer, with folks firing up purpose built ovens on patios and in backyards all across the land. We’ve been watching the trend and learned of this oven made by one of the first companies to engineer the portable, personal pizza oven—Ooni Pizza Ovens. Ooni has made it possible—and easy—to make Instagram-worthy, artisan pizza at home with their Karu 12, multi-fuel pizza oven. We were as impressed with cooking a delicious pizza in 60 seconds, as we were with the design and construction of the Karu 12. Made from stainless steel and riveted with tight seams, the sleek pizza oven is compact and easy to set up.
- Oven reaches up to 950 degrees F to cook a 12-inch pizza in 60 seconds
- Burns wood and charcoal, optional propane burner is available ($90)
- Little to no learning curve—just follow the directions for great tasting/looking pizza
Optional propane Burner: $90
Designed to Make Restaurant-Quality Pizza
Ooni’s co-founders, Kristian Tapaninaho and Darina Garland, set out to make a pizza oven capable of cooking the perfect Neapolitan pizza in the late aughts. The first requirement to doing so is the ability to reach a little over 900 degrees F. That’s higher than many typical propane grills, but the high heat is needed to get the a thin, crisp base crust, with a puffy, airy, outside edge. The second requirement is that the pizza needs to be cooked from both the top and bottom. The design they arrived at for the Karu 12 manages to do both, whether cooking with wood and charcoal, or with propane.
Made of stainless steel, the top of the pizza oven features insulated, double-wall construction. This keeps heat in and prevents the outside of the oven body from getting too hot—we measured the exterior oven surface at 124 degrees, which is hot, but not dangerously so. The bottom of the oven is lined with a removable pizza stone. Whether you’re cooking with wood and lump charcoal or the optional propane burner, the flames lick across the top, inside the stove, and radiate heat down, toward the pizza stone, warming it. The pizza stone gets up to roughly 930 degrees in 10 to 15 minutes—which is how it can cook a pizza from both sides in 60 seconds. It’s a remarkable feat for a surprisingly small oven.
We selected the multi-fuel Karu 12 for our test and got the optional propane burner. The “12” in the model name refers to the max diameter (in inches) of the pies that you can make in it. The folks at Ooni sent us a large pizza peel for getting the pizza in and out of the oven, as well as a smaller one for turning the pizza. Whether or not you buy Ooni’s, we recommend investing in one if you buy a pizza oven, since we would have had a hard time turning the pizza before it burned without it.
Pizza Prep: Dough
We put aside what we thought we knew about making pizza and made our dough we using the Classic Pizza Dough recipe from the Karu 12 Essentials Guide, provided with the oven. The recipe directed us to use type “00” flour, and although we’d made dough before, we were unfamiliar with type “00.” At two of our local supermarkets, we were able to find Delallo brand Organic Tipo “00” Flour. If you’re looking, it probably isn’t in the baking aisle. We found it in the ethnic foods section, next to the pre-made pizza crust—it’s also available on Amazon. We found this very finely ground “00” flour makes a softer dough that was easier to stretch, shape, and create a nice raised edge around the outside.
You can try any pizza dough recipe you want, but we’ve now made numerous batches with this dough, and it always works out well. Coincidentally, Ooni’s recommended recipe is almost the same as the one on the Delallo flour packaging, although the amount made differs slightly. One batch of dough is enough to make five 12-inch pizzas, with which we were able to feed six adults and have leftovers.
Pizza Prep: Everything Else
We opted to make our own sauce—just like mom used to make. (If you don’t have a favorite, there’s a recipe for Classic Pizza Sauce in Ooni’s Cooking with Fire cookbook.) We tried three types of cheese, including packaged grated mozzarella, fresh grated mozzarella, and fresh sliced mozzarella. For toppings, we selected a variety of popular vegetables as well as ground sausage and sliced pepperoni.
Firing Up the Karu 12
Out of the box, the Karu 12 comes equipped to cook with wood and lump charcoal. For cooking pizza, you’ll need all wood or a mix of wood and lump charcoal. You can use charcoal alone for cooking things besides pizza, where the oven temperature doesn’t need to be as high. Technically, charcoal burns hotter than wood, but charcoal won’t provide the tall flames needed to radiate heat down toward the pizza stone bottom of the oven.
We got the oven set up and ready to light by unfolding the legs, inserting the flue with the damper set wide open, and filling the firebox. This process only took about five minutes—other than that, the only significant time we spent was cutting wood to the right size for the firebox. We chose to use lump charcoal topped with oak kindling. This meant we kept a small hot bed of coals in the firebox, and that quickly ignited the wood as we fed it in. (It’s a good idea to use hardwoods when cooking with a wood fire, as they burn hotter, cleaner, and longer.) With the firebox full and in position at the back of the oven, we put the front insulated door in place and opened the rear hatch/fuel door to light the fire. You can use natural fire starters, but we opted for a propane plumber’s torch, which got the oven lit quickly. The fuel door is also where we added wood throughout the cooking process, to keep the flames going.
Once the fire was burning, we replaced the fuel door and watched the smoke coming out of the flue. When we first lit it, there was a lot of smoke, but as the fire got hotter the smoke got both blacker and more transparent. The oven, when stoked with lump charcoal and kindling, allows the flames to lick across much of the inside of the top, before the smoke and exhaust gases exit the flue. After about five minutes, we added some more kindling, and then at ten minutes we checked the oven temperature. We used an infrared thermometer to read the heat of the pizza stone, which can take 10-15 minutes to warm up. When it read over 900 degrees F in more than one place, we were ready to cook pizza.
Note: You can cook pizza anywhere from 500-900 degrees F. About the best you’ll get from your basic home oven is 500 degrees, and you’ll be able to make do with that on a pizza stone. But 900 degrees is the typical temperature used to cook a Neapolitan pizza—this makes the dough rise quickly and develops a crust that’s crisp outside and soft inside, as well as imparting the crust with the dark mottling you see in those artisan pizza photos on Instagram.
When we used the optional propane burner, the flames shot across the top inside of the oven in much the same fashion as when using wood and charcoal. Similarly, the oven took 10-15 minutes to heat up. This propane burner option does make cooking a bit easier, as we didn’t need to add kindling and monitor temperatures as closely. We also didn’t have to deal with removing and cleaning the firebox. So, is propane or wood better? It’s a personal decision of convenience versus the authenticity of wood-fired cooking.
One important practice when putting the pizza in the oven to cook: Don’t stretch out the dough and top it ahead of time. The longer the dough is on the peel, the more likely it will stick and make sliding it into the oven more difficult. So, once the oven was up to temperature, we quickly dusted the peel and our work area with flour, rubbed some into our hands, and stretched out the dough. We started with a round ball, pressed it into a puck, and then, working from the center, pressed and pushed outward. Once it was big enough, we quickly transferred it to the peel, spread out some sauce, and added toppings.
Sliding the uncooked pizza into the oven can be tricky; it takes a quick, smooth movement. Sort of a “micro” shove and tug back. If the pizza has started moving onto the stone, just keep pulling the peel back, gently. Once the pizza is in, we closed the front door when using wood and left it off when using propane, per Ooni’s instructions. In either case, we had 20 or so seconds before it was time to rotate the pizza roughly 1/3 of a turn, followed by another turn in another 20 seconds. After about a minute, the pizza was done. That’s all it took—we removed, cut, and served it. It was delicious.
The Ooni Karu 12 delivers on its promise of churning out restaurant-quality pies at home—the best homemade pizza we’ve had, actually. Most importantly, it makes the process easy.