The search for the ultimate pizza oven

Like many I’m a great lover of pizza. On this weblog I’ve written several times about my holidays in Italy, the land where this dish originates from and where it often tastes the best. But of course the opportunities for holidays to Italy are limited. There may be many some good pizza restaurants in the Netherlands, also in Den Haag, but not directly next door. Going to a restaurant also is often more of a hassle, for my Dutch mentality it’s also pricey. Because I want to make pizza part of my repertoire as an easy and quick dish, especially for visitors who come to eat, I decided to make the dish myself.

Making pizza yourself is of course done by more people, but I’m more demanding: my pizza should come as close as possible to those from the restaurants in the pizza heaven of Napoli. This required some more work. I followed a pizza course to learn, among other things, how to make dough and to stretch pizza by hand. I bought a bag of 25 kilo Caputo ‘Classica’ pizza flour. However, the greatest challenge was and is the baking of pizza.

The reason a brick oven is used often in Napoli is not nostalgia or tradition, but because it provides the best baking result. This is so because the walls of a brick oven provide so much radiative heat, something a metal oven won’t do. A brick oven is too expensive and too large for my garden, so I decided to investigate other options.

Initially I bought a portable Optima Napoli electric pizza oven, probably around five years ago. For € 150 it was a fantastic device in theory because it could attain 450 °C and bake pizza’s in five minutes. In practice the baking result disappointed, which was the reason I ended up selling it. What was exactly wanting I don’t remember anymore, but let’s just note that there is a good reason why there are so many videos on YouTube on modifications to let the G3 Ferrari (a slightly cheaper version of the Optima Napoli) attain higher temperatures. The question is how fast and how long it can reach 450 °C.

After the Optima Napoli I decided to buy a Pizza Steel for about € 50 to use it with my built-in electric oven in our kitchen. The idea was that this steel plate was superior to a pizza stone because steel conducts heat better. However, my AEG BS7304001M built-in oven doesn’t go higher than 230 °C. Even if the Pizza Steel reaches the maximum temperature after preheating for half an hour it will take another fifteen minutes before a pizza is done. After so much time the toppings of a pizza are often dehydrated because the browning of the dough takes too long.

Then I decided to buy an Ooni 3 for € 250. This is portable oven is used outdoors and is fueled by wood pellets. The major advantage is that it warms quickly and should be able to bake pizza’s in ninety seconds. By now I’ve become experienced with this oven and developed a love/hate relationship with it.

The last time I family visiting for dinner the first two pizza’s were reasonably okay, but the remaining three failed. The main cause was the behavior of the wind in my backyard how well the flame in the pellet feeder was burning. The wind was weak then, but it seemed to change direction constantly. Turning the oven several times so that the wind blew through the pellet feeder didn’t help. The pellets were burning, but in some way the oven barely heated up, the infrared thermometer registered a stone temperature not much higher than 200 °C. Even though my family effectively only had two reasonable pizza’s, they were still impressed. Isn’t it lovely when other people laud your culinary skills while you are frustrated because you know how much better it could have been? I meant that in the ironic sense.

On the next day I decided to take three remaining pizza dough balls from my freezer. On this near windless day a hellfire of over 400 °C was unleashed by the Ooni 3. It delivered me delicious pizza’s. Of course this had to happen on a day where I was eating alone. I ended my dinner with some light nausea as I had eaten three pizza’s.

My greatest problem with the Ooni 3 is that the process is too unpredictable. Sometimes it goes well, sometimes it goes wrong if the oven doesn’t have its day because of the wind or something else. Also it is difficult that the oven has a door which you need to open constantly to monitor the progress of a pizza and to turn it. It also has a long chimney.

Another issue is that baking farinata in the Ooni 3 is practically impossible. During my holiday on Sardinia I fell in love with this pancake of chickpea flour, but I’d like to make this dish at home as well. It is more simple than pizza and faster to prepare. In the Ooni 3 the strong flame blackens the surface of the farinata before the bottom has baked properly.

For that reason I’ve recently considered the Roccbox as a replacement. This oven doesn’t have a door or chimney. Also the wood used to fuel this oven is fed differently from the Ooni 3. The burner of the Roccbox is located under the oven and can catch wind from any direction, whereas the burner of the Ooni 3 is located horizontally behind the oven and can only take in wind from the rear. This is why I suspected that the Roccbox would be less unpredictable than the Ooni 3. Because I had become skeptical and the Roccbox sells for € 570 I decided to investigate user experiences with this oven first.

It turned out that the Roccbox didn’t give much issues with the gas burner (which I don’t want because gas is not a sustainable fuel) but that there are often difficulties with using the desired high temperatures with wood. That’s why I abandoned my plan to get a Roccbox. I’m curious about the upcoming Ooni Karu, another doorless oven which is wood fired. It will be cheaper than the Roccbox and has a wood burner which might work better.

There are some disadvantages though which are shared by all wood fired ovens compared to electric ovens: I can’t use them in my backyard if the weather is bad, they’re more difficult to use when it’s dark outside, there is a fire hazard, wood and wood pellets are relatively expensive, potential for smoke nuisance and preheating takes longer.

That’s why I’m now considering an electric built-in oven which can attain 300 °C, the AEG BPB351020M. This temperature is a significant difference with the 230 °C of my current built-in oven. This oven can’t compare with the theoretical maximum temperature of the Ooni 3 and other wood fired ovens, but I do expect that this oven can bake pizza and farinata which can satisfy me.

The ultimate pizza oven which isn’t a brick oven still has to be made. As is often the case the best choice is a trade off between different factors. In the case of pizza ovens those are price, size, baking speed, convenience and sustainability. But I hope the combination of the AEG BPB351020M and the Pizza Steel will offer the best compromise. Expect a detailed review and comparative measurements on my weblog when I’ve purchased the oven.

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