The muscle-flexing machismo and FOMO of flaming ovens--and why you can be happy with your standard home appliance…
There is so much chest pounding about pizza ovens out there. It’s tiresome. I have nothing against the ovens. I have nothing against the people who use them. Some of those people are doing amazing things with them.
But for the most part, when I see consumer-grade outdoor pizza ovens being touted around and about on social media, I also see a lot of (choose one):
b) scorched crust
d) all of the above
An oven is just a tool. It does the job it’s supposed to do in concert with the skillset of the user. There is also nothing wrong with using a home oven to make pizza. And with 20 years of making pizza—half of it with a 1,200-pound wood-fired dome oven living inside my kitchen—the electric home oven remains my favorite way to make pizza. Am I just a gadfly?
Don’t get me wrong: when you crank a wood-fired oven to 900 degrees, the pizza you get out of it is something to behold. It’s just that it’s a high-friction proposition. Forget that my wood-fired oven was $7,000, or that maintaining a wood stockpile was inconvenient at best.
If I wanted to bake a wood-fired pizza, it wasn’t a casual proposition. So when I discovered a $300 wood pellet-fired oven that we could carry in our RV, I thought, “Hey, this should be easy and convenient!” I bought it and it wasn’t. The thing is not easy to use. But it’s very convenient to tuck away in a closet where you can’t see it and never think about it.
Sometimes, you open the door to the closet, see the oven in there, and say, “Hello, pizza oven! I should use you again.” And then close the door.
Recently, I was with a professional chef who was trying another, consumer-grade oven. He said something to the effect of, “I wouldn’t buy one of these. I don’t like it. It’s too small and it’s a hassle.” In his restaurant, he has an oven much like the one I used to have in my home kitchen. He loves it and uses it daily. The kiddie-sized home edition, not so much.
For anybody, and especially for the beginner, it’s so easy to make pizza in a home oven. And that pizza will be some of the best you’ve ever had. And the more you practice, the better it gets.
I’m also not alone in this—some famous pros agree with me. One of them, the great Ken Forkish, says this in the introduction to his own pizza cookbook: “You can easily make better pizza at home than you can buy at any but the best independently owned, quality-focused pizzerias. All you need are good ingredients—flour, canned tomatoes, and cheese—plus a few tools and a standard home kitchen oven.”
I’ve been saying more or less the same thing since I started making pizza in 2003. Ken Forkish didn’t say it until 2016. Of course, long before then he was busy becoming a celebrity baker in Portland, Oregon while I was busy becoming a minor celebrity in radio advertising. (But I admit, it was fun seeing my pizza book on the Amazon bestseller list at #2, sandwiched between his bread book and his pizza book.)
Even some of the pros don’t want to bother with wood ovens. Celebrity pizza maker Sarah Minnick of Lovely’s 50/50 (also in Portland) gave up on wood fire for a state-of-the-art electric oven. It’s easier to use and makes her more productive. I heard her talking about this in Peter Reinhart’s Pizza Quest podcast and thought, Well there’s one sane woman. (Even if she does put flowers on her pizzas. They're quite pretty.)
If you're learning to make pizza and are doing so in your home oven, I applaud you. If you’re a regular fan of Free The Pizza, you know the truth of the subtitle of the book: A Simple System For Making Great Pizza Whenever You Want With The Oven You Already Have. I have one fan who went berserk after a) trying my own pizza straight from an electric home oven and b) reading that subtitle.
A longtime maker of self-described mediocre home pizza, he was beyond jazzed to see that really great pizza at home really is possible. I signed his copy of Free The Pizza and he was ready to run out and buy a steel. I know his wife has been making pizza dough despite the challenges presented by her long, fake fingernails. (She brought this up, not me.)
I know home pizzamakers who suffer from pizza-oven FOMO. I always urge them to be in no rush to buy a pizza oven. The pizza oven is best for an already skilled pizzamaker who wants to make authentic, Neapolitan-style pizza. Personally, I prefer American-style NEOpolitan pizza. It doesn’t require a 900-degree oven.
And that’s why I’m not rushing out to get another pizza oven of my own. I sold my wood-fired behemoth along with the house around it about five years ago. And most of the time, I don’t miss it. Well, maybe occasionally. (I also used it for smoking meat and roasting game.)
If you can already make pizza, and you’re still all FOMO and trying to fix it, have you thought about the non-fire alternative? There’s a countertop appliance by Breville called the Smart Oven Pizzaiolo Pizza Oven. Some celebrity pizza chefs use this oven at home to experiment with new pizza ideas. The upside is that if you want to make Neapolitan-style pizza, it gets hot enough to do so. (Your regular home oven doesn't.) The downside is that the biggest pizza you can get out of it is 12 inches. I prefer slinging 16-inch pies at pizza parties, but that’s me.
Do you want to see the Breville? Then click this link here. (And if you suddenly got nuts and decide to buy it, know that Amazon will reward me with a meager percentage of the purchase price at no additional cost to you.)
And if you haven’t yet tried to make pizza in your home oven, here’s a great place to start: with my book, Free The Pizza!, which you can find by clicking here.
Free The Pizza!
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?
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