OK. So the guy owns five pizza ovens. Do you trust him when he says, "Don't buy a pizza oven?" (Probably. Even the NY Times called him a pizza influencer.)
Last week, the conversation was pizza inspiration that knows no sane boundaries. And that’s fine. It’s so much better than the tyranny of “Pepperoni or nothing!”
This week, part 2 of our conversation with Serhan Ayhan puts the spotlight on the truth about ovens and the things that matter more. (Flour, anybody?)
And perhaps the most important thing you need for making pizza is free. In fact, it’s impossible to buy…
By the way, if you want to know more about any of the ovens Serhan mentions in this article, there's s special page on the website that offers basic details, as well as links with more information.
Blaine: This is a loaded question, and I'm sure I know the answer, but I'll ask it anyway. What is your favorite pizza oven?
Serhan: Favorite pizza oven? It's the oven that is going to do the job for the kind of pizza I'm trying to make.
Blaine: [LAUGHS] I knew you were going to say that.
Serhan: But it's true. Right? I think it's like asking what's your favorite flour? This is one of the first things I learned about when I was actually trying to learn about pizza. I was asking everyone, what's the best advice you have? And I asked [former Tony Gemignani protogée and pizza entrepreneur] Laura Meyer, who is an incredibly accomplished pizza maker. She said, “Know your flour.”
Blaine: Know your flour.
Serhan: Yeah. Time and time again, the right flour for what you're trying to do is critical. If you're trying to do a certain style of pizza, you have to use the right flour. I'm trying to do a Chicago tavern pizza. I really want to use the Heckers Ceresota flour. I find that that flour is the one that gives the best results for that kind of pizza. Or if I'm doing a Detroit style, I want a King Arthur bread flour.
Blaine: If I could only ever have one flour, that would be the one.
Serhan: Similar to the right flour, the oven can dictate what kind of product you're going to make. I grew up with a Blodgett gas oven in my family's pizzeria, and that thing can make really great pizza if you know what's going in there. Right? Because gas is different from electric, which is different from a charcoal wood fire. It's like asking me what's my favorite kind of pizza, which I go through phases on. It's like what's my favorite pizza of the moment? I’m not going to make a Sicilian pizza in a 900 degree wood fired oven. Right? It'll just be a sloppy mess.
Blaine: But somebody is going to try. How many ovens do you have?
Serhan: Not including my home oven? I have the Ooni Volt, the Ooni Koda 16 and 12, the Ooni Karu 16. I used to have the Ooni Pro 3, that was my first one, and I was just running out of room and I gave it to my uncle, who asked, “Do you have any other ovens?” So, I gave it to him.
Blaine: You have a whole quiver of ovens?
Serhan: Yes. So my family lives nearby, and I keep most of my ovens in their back yard. I keep my [Ooni] Volt in the apartment, and my Koda 12 in storage because we have a courtyard here. So depending on the weather and the kind of pizza I'm trying to make, I have my whole arsenal.
Blaine: I was just curious to know how many ovens you've got. You started with your home oven—or no, you probably started with a Blodgett, didn't you?
Serhan: Yeah, even before I started with pizza. That's the oven I was familiar with as a kid.
Blaine: So your first favorite oven is the Blodgett?
Serhan: Yeah, great, great oven. I know everything's trending towards electric now, but it's a different kind of bake. Right. It's a dryer heat that you get from an electric oven, whereas the gas oven, it's like a wetter heat.
Blaine: Yeah. Gas has some moisture in it, so I guess that makes sense.
Serhan: But again, you can tailor your crust to whatever oven you're working with.
Blaine: It's one of those things that people don't understand when they're starting out. They think they need a pizza oven. And I say, look, don't even think about buying a pizza oven until you learn to bake pizza, because all you're going to do is get frustrated. And I know more people who have got pizza ovens in their garages covered in dust because the oven is a whole other project.
Serhan: I tell people that if you want to start making pizza, or want to buy a pizza oven, whatever, just take sheet pan and learn. Make a grandma pizza [in your home oven]. I feel like that’s the easiest way to get started. You get familiar with dough. You get familiar with fermentation. You don't have flour flying everywhere on the peel. You don't have dough getting stuck to the peel. I think it's a good first project, and it's something I want to eventually write about and publish, but I think a grandma pizza is kind of the first place you should try things out.
Blaine: I think that's a great piece of advice. I'm writing a New York pizza book right now, and I'm wondering if I should stop and do the Detroit pizza book. Pan pizza done well is a real crowd pleaser. It's a lot easier to make than what people envision as a traditional-style pizza without even knowing what to call it. Usually, they envision some version of New York pizza. But pan pizza doesn't require a lot of special tools or as much practice as other styles, and you can have a success pretty quickly.
What would be your single most important tip for a newbie pizza maker? Maybe it’s oven related. I don't know.
Serhan: It would be what I just said about grandma pizza, right? Try making a grandma pizza. If you're not familiar with dough, that's your intro to getting your hands dirty and being familiar with dough and how it operates.
I think building intuition, a baker's intuition, is a big part of being good pizza maker. Once a year, usually around the holidays, when I'm traveling, I try making a grandma pizza without a scale. I try just using volume measurements just so I can rely on my baker's intuition and put together something without having a need to get really into the weeds with measuring. And I feel like measuring is important for sure, but if you don't build your baker's intuition, you're missing out on the skillset.
Blaine: In my book, I don't even bother with weights. It's all volume measurements. I say, Look, pizza people are going to get on me for telling you that you don't have to use a scale. But if you can't figure out whether the pizza dough is right by putting your hands on it, it's hard to make. And it stays that way. And I don't feel like you actually get all the right answers with a scale. You just get different answers with a scale. And I never had a name for what you’re talking about, and I think baker's intuition is perfect. So if it's okay with you, I'm going to steal that.
Thanks to Serhan Ayhan for taking the time to answer my questions. If you're interested in seeing some of Serhan's extraordinary pizzas or learning more about his craft, you can find him on Instgram @serhan_ayhan, or on his website at NextLevelPizza. If you'd like to know more about the ovens Serhan is using, visit the Serhan's Ovens page on our website.
If you’re still thinking about starting your pizza journey, one good place to do so is inside Free The Pizza. Really, it’s A Simple System For Making Great Pizza Whenever You Want With The Oven You Already Have. It’s a manual that takes you from zero to pizza with a few laughs along the way. Also, if you buy a hard copy, I'll send you an autographed book plate. If you buy the Kindle edition, know that there are printable cheat sheets on this website so you can take them into the kitchen and spill red sauce all over them.
Blaine Parker is the award-winning author of the bestselling, unusual and amusing how-to pizza book, Free The Pizza. Also known as The Pizza Geek and "Hey, Pizza Man!", Blaine is fanatical about the idea that true, pro-quality pizza can be made at home. His home. Your home. Anyone's home. After 20 years of honing his craft and making pizza in standard consumer ovens across the nation, he's sharing what he's learned with home cooks like you. Are you ready to pizza?
When you click those links to Amazon (and a few other sites we work with), and you buy something, you are helping this website stay afloat, and you're helping us have many more glorious photographs of impressive pizza.