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How to Make Great Pizza in an Outdoor Pizza Oven

How to Make Great Pizza in an Outdoor Pizza Oven

Pizza specialists discuss the best cooking methods on an outdoor countertop oven.

This past summer, I purchased a gas-fired outdoor tabletop pizza oven, and when I first used it, I encountered some challenges that left me mystified. Since I’ve been making pizza for almost 40 years, I think of myself as an authority on the subject at least when it comes to making it at home. I learned to cook myself by making pizza, and I’ve been experimenting with my recipes ever since then. Since I first made a New York-style pie for Cook’s Illustrated magazine more than ten years ago, I’ve also been creating pizza and flatbread recipes for publications.

You can see why I was alarmed when the first batch of pies I made in my Ooni, which burns at wood-fired oven temperatures approaching 900°F and cooks a pizza in under two minutes, started burning before the toppings and underside were fully baked. I’ve also owned a clay beehive oven and a larger oven from a repurposed oil barrel. Burning, sometimes quite literally, with flames dancing down the edges of the pie, not charring, mind you.

I initially questioned whether there was a problem with the oven I had chosen, but then I thought back to the lovely pies I had seen coming out of the same range all over my Instagram feed. So I decided to seek advice and consolation from a few of those Instagram pizza experts, like Christy Alia, Feng Chen, Ines Glaser, and Elizabeth English, to solve my issues. I eventually put out the fires and produced the kind of superior pies I could be proud of, thanks to their professional assistance.

They first taught me how vital it was to have the right dough recipe and avoid any components that encourage browning, such as oil or sugar. However, they also provided me with a ton of other helpful advice for using tabletop pizza ovens, which I will share with you here, along with some of my guidance now that I’ve settled on a strategy. It would help if you went to my outdoor pizza oven dough recipe first for all the facts because I go into great length about dough formulation, appropriate dough-ball size, and fermentation there. I’ll review everything after the doughs are prepared for stretching and baking in this post.

Oven Temperature and Preheating

These desktop ovens, as I mentioned, are made to fast attain temperatures of 900°F and higher. In contrast to the hours needed to maintain my wood-fired ranges before launching my first pie, my Ooni takes approximately 30 minutes to reach temperature. Nevertheless, most people I spoke with advised using the oven at slightly lower temperatures.

I prefer to bake my pizzas at 850 to 900 degrees. Any hotter, and you risk the center not being fully cooked because the bottom gets too dark before the top. So how does she determine when the oven is prepared? If you want to use one of these ovens, an infrared thermometer is necessary because the temperature can change significantly in response to a strong breeze, if it’s ten degrees cooler that day, or any other factors.

The dough and four topped pizza recipes I created have a target oven temperature of 800°F after extensive testing. Even though the baking temperature is slightly lower, it is still hot enough to achieve a crisp undercarriage and crust leopard.

You should heat the surface of the baking stone while measuring the temperature of your oven, especially where it meets the flame. That’s the back left quadrant in my Ooni, which features an L-shaped love that extends from the front left to the back right corner of the oven.

One thing I noticed about my specific oven was that when it was prepared, a lot of heat was lost from the front of the stove. This is because my range did not have a built-in door. However, some do. On Etsy, I discovered one created by a third party that was a simple add-on and significantly reduced the time needed for the oven to heat up, saving time and fuel. I always keep the door open while baking the pies since they cook quickly.

I don’t advise it if you’re considering getting an Ooni attachment from a different vendor. Unambiguously, Ooni states that any alterations to your oven void its guarantee. The manufacturer also cautions against using third-party accessories on the stove and explicitly advises against mounting a door since it traps heat, accumulates dangerous gasses, and produces hazardous situations. When closed, a vented door with perforations all along the front and a sizable gap surrounding the entrance will lessen the probability of a dangerous gas or heat buildup. Although different people have varying risk tolerance levels, I advise buying a pizza oven model that includes a door because it will shorten the time it takes to heat the oven.

However, this does not mean you cannot use your oven while preheating. I devised two recipes for baking the toppings while the range reached baking temperature. First, I prepare a bright, fresh tomato sauce in the preheating oven and use it to top my burst cherry tomato, shallot, and herb pizza. Furthermore, the preheating window is ideal for charring broccoli rabe for a pizza topped with anchovies, Pecorino Romano, and Parmesan.

Use a skillet that can withstand high temperatures; carbon steel, cast iron, and stainless steel are all suitable options. Always use an oven mitt or a completely dry kitchen towel when taking a pan out of the oven. Burning yourself on a panhandle in a hot oven could be more enjoyable.

Learn Your Oven Settings

While the flames in gas-fired tabletop ovens can be adjusted, they aren’t always continuously adjustable like those on stovetop burners; on my Koda, the gap between high and low is comparatively tiny. So play around with your oven to learn how each end of the dial responds and to search for temperature adjustment options.

Christy Alia, a similar-looking woman, I did mention her method for getting an extremely low flame: I use the lower “secret” setting, which is situated halfway between the off and ignition settings. This not-in-the-manual setting is one that I find to be useful to use when the oven runs hot. For things like New York-style pies, Christy uses it when she wants to bake at lower temperatures in the 600°F range: I preheat for 45 minutes on a regular down, then switch to the super-low level. Sometimes I’ll turn it off for a minute and change it to super-low if I overshoot the temperature.

The Importance of Mise en Place

To make any pizza, it is essential to have all your components prepared and easily accessible. However, pan pizzas, which are topped and cooked inside their cooking vessels, differ in that they are launched from a peel onto a baking surface. Therefore, you must move quickly to avoid the dough sticking to the peel when completing and throwing a pizza. Having all your materials close at hand and prepared is crucial, likewise, with your tools. Pizza must be cooked between 60 and 120 seconds, leaving no time to search for lost peels.

Think about your toppings.

Pizza made in a desktop oven can have anything you want on it, but you have complete creative freedom over how you dress your pies; the moisture content of your toppings will affect how quickly they cook.

Ines Glaser had a lot to say regarding this aspect of the procedure. I use very few of my ingredients that are high in moisture. Because of the high heat and narrow cooking areas, there isn’t much time for the water in cheeses or sauces to evaporate in these ovens. So instead, use a very light mixture of fresh mozzarella that has been well dried, low-moisture mozzarella, and a slice of hard cheese, such as Pecorino or Parmesan. And not against adding some cheeses after baking to maintain their texture: After the pizza has finished cooking, I will top it with superb buffalo mozzarella, burrata, or ricotta if I want a bigger bite of fresh cheese.

Pie Placement and Rotation

My recommendation for the pie’s placement is to move it as far away from the flame as possible, particularly at first. To allow for some side-to-side movement, it’s better to stretch your pies to a diameter that is an inch or two thinner than your oven. I bake 12-inch pies in my 16-inch Koda and advise 12-inch ranges to use 10- or 11-inch pies.

Pizzas that cook in two minutes or less have little margin for mistake. Pizza bakers must carefully check their pizza throughout the entire bake because of the quick cook time. To ensure uniform baking, you should flip the pie frequently. However, as she noted, rotate the pie slowly at first. A standard user error that can cause tearing is trying to turn their pizza before the bottom has completely hardened. The bottom of the crust should be ready to turn in approximately 30 seconds if the oven floor is hot enough.

Keep making pizza enjoyable.

I’m live proof that using a tabletop oven to make pizza improves with experience. Even though I considered my early pies failures, my customers enthusiastically and eagerly gobbled them up. Most importantly, try to be gentle with yourself initially; you’ll get there too.

For those unfamiliar with high-heat pizza ovens, the most crucial thing is to anticipate a learning curve. The key to improving at baking pizza is practice. Additionally, having fun is important even when your pizza turns out horribly!

Learn more: Best and Worst Foods for Bloating

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