How Pizza Ovens Became the New Backyard Staple

DIY pizza night just got so much more exciting.

pizza backyard oven solo stove diy
Photo courtesy of Solo Stove
Photo courtesy of Solo Stove

My favorite pizza places are the ones where you can spot the oven in the back. You know the ones, complete with a roaring fire with heat upwards of 800 degrees that can bake pizzas near instantaneously. Watching pizza makers using their pizza peels to rotate and evenly cook the rounds of dough, sauce, and cheese, is like watching a fine-tuned choreography—dinner and a show.

What if you could bring that show to your backyard? Sure, you might not be the soloist, or as graceful as the pros, but merely participating is a joy in and of itself.

It might be why the popularity of the backyard pizza oven has skyrocketed in recent years, changing the look of what pizza night at home can be. That, and the years spent isolating at home throughout the pandemic, learning to bake new recipes, contributed to the rising interest.

“For a long time, the only real social time people could have was in small groups outside, so pizza ovens got more popular as a way to have a fun and delicious experience with friends and family,” explains Arthur Bovino, the head of pizza content at Ooni. “We don’t see this as a flash in the pan though—we think the home pizza trend is here to stay.”

Why a pizza oven and not just a regular oven?

Technically you can use your regular kitchen oven, but you won’t get the same experience—or pizza—at all.

“The home oven is a fine place to start, but most pizza styles require temperatures of 550°F minimum,” Bovino says. The standard home oven maxes out there—or may not even reach that level of heat—which therefore changes the length of time it takes for a pizza to bake (and, consequently, the texture of the crust).

“For styles like Neapolitan pizza, you need extreme heat,” Bovino adds. “Ooni pizza ovens reach 950°F. At that temperature, pizzas cook in 60 to 90 seconds and achieve a crispy exterior crust with a delicious chewy interior.”

In addition to the heat, a pizza oven outdoors really provides a unique experience that was once limited to brick oven pizza places. Having your hands on the pie peel, turning the pizza, and watching the crust bubble and blacken while the cheese pools is all part of the allure.

“I think one of the most important factors is that it gets you outdoors,” Tyler DiGiovanni, the director of product marketing at Solo Stove's Pi arm, says. “It gets you in your backyard, gets you more in touch with nature, and gets you more social with friends and families.”

solo stove pi oven pizza
Photo courtesy of Solo Stove

How does a backyard pizza oven work?

It depends on which type of oven you buy. Backyard pizza ovens can either be powered through gas or wood, but the common thread through both is that the oven can sustain high temperatures, thanks to the oven’s unique engineering.

“When cooking lots of pizza over long periods, you’re going to use lots of fuel,” Bovino says. “Gas-powered ovens are the easiest choice for fuel management—as long as you’ve got a full tank, you’ll be able to cook for hours.” With gas, it’s as easy as clicking on the oven and watching the flames leap up.

DiGiovanni prefers gas for its high heat and consistent temperature. “Right before I launch a pizza, I love the ability to be able to just turn that flame down a little bit so then I get that crispy bottom and the top doesn't cook too quickly,” DiGiovanni explains. “With wood, you can't do that in real time.”

Wood, however, is a charming option. Bovino suggests wood for more “intimate and atmospheric” dinner parties—mostly because the wood needs to constantly be maintained and refueled to insure the temperature is high enough. But wood, despite being more finicky, adds unique smoky flavor (depending on the type) and feels a bit more traditional.

“Wood is the purest form of cooking pizza,” DiGiovanni says. “It's how they were cooking pizza 500 years ago—it's how this all started.” So if you're more of a traditionalist, know wood is a bit harder to cook with, but the smoky results speak for itself.

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Best tips for using a pizza oven at home

Unlike a regular oven, the backyard pizza oven cooks pizza fast—so Bovino encourages users to prep everything in advance. “Proof your dough, mill your sauce, grate your cheese, and chop or slice your toppings ahead of time,” he says, that way pizzas can be topped and cooked with ease. Maintaining organization will lessen the mess of DIY pizza nights.

DiGiovanni suggests joining pizza communities on Facebook. He facilitates one for Solo Stove's Pi community, where user share photos of their finished products and can pose questions for the group. Pizza Dough Addicts is also a group he frequents, which contains an archive of educational pizza videos. 

Experimentation is also encouraged. “Pizza is an art—just know you are on the pursuit of perfection,” DiGiovanni says. “Although you're never going to be perfect, you're always going to learn—and that's the beauty.” So should pesto be brushed on the crust? Why not? Would a spicier tomato sauce work here? Absolutely. Making pizza in your own home gives you full creative control.

It also gives you the liberty to turn your pizza into what Bovino calls the “recovery calzone” and DiGiovanni lovingly refers to as “accidental calzone.” One of the trickiest parts of making pizza is launching it, so to ensure it flies safely into the oven, make sure the dough is coated in semolina flour and the peel is also covered with corn meal.

Even if you're careful though, “Rips and tears happen. Pizzas go wonky when launched. If this happens, don’t panic,” Bovino says. “Just fold and pinch close all the way along the edge and launch. Keep that in your back pocket as a trick to save a torn pizza.”

Lastly, have fun! After all, it’s just pizza you’re making. “If you’re not having fun, you’re doing it wrong,” Bovino adds. “Focus on that first and the rest will follow.”

ooni pizza oven
Photo courtesy of Ooni

What else can you use a personal pizza oven for?

Your backyard pizza oven does not need to be a one-trick pony—and for the price point, which can reach upwards of $800, it definitely shouldn’t. On Ooni’s website, there is a section devoted to recipes that expand beyond pizza: sticky toffee pudding, lamb chops, and an array of flatbreads. Anything that typically cooks in a cast iron pan, like a fruit crumble, is fair game.

DiGiovanni admits that he uses his Solo Stove Pi oven for non-pizza creations more often than pizza ones. "My favorite dish of all time to cook in there is skillet fajitas," DiGiovanni says, adding peppers, olive oil, and protein in a pan and watching it sizzle. One of the benefits of cooking such a dish in an outdoor stove is that the splatter burns off—making the oven much easier to clean than if oil were to spill and bubble in a kitchen oven.

Beyond fajitas, DiGiovanni also prepare pizookies—or skillet cookies—alongside steaks, too. He wants to try a blackberry cobbler next. 

So not only can you have your pizza and eat it, too, you can also have dessert ready to go. The addition of a pizza oven just makes summer dinner parties that much more engaging.

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Kat Thompson is a senior staff writer of food & drink at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @katthompsonn.