The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Outdoor Pizza Ovens
Pizza ovens are amazing. There’s no better food to enjoy with friends, family, or just between you and the dog. And there’s no better way to make one than with your own hands, cooked in your own oven, and enjoyed in your own garden.
An outdoor pizza oven lets you throw such amazing unique pizza parties that are guaranteed to go down a storm. Everyone from the extended family to the esteemed guests of little Jimmy’s 9-year birthday party. Everyone loves pizza, and everyone especially loves someone who can make them pizza!
However, when it comes to pizza ovens, there’s a whole world of options out there! It really took me by surprise. When I first started looking into pizza ovens, I didn’t realize there’s a whole pizza-oven world out there with libraries of information.
That’s why I wrote this guide.
For you, and for my own understanding, I’ve tried to put together everything a beginner needs to know about pizza ovens. The different styles, heat sources, materials, buying and building options – it’s all here.
Everyone deserves the love and joy of making piping hot, deliciously cheesy, crispy, fresh pizza at home – just the way they like it. I hope this guide brings you a little closer to achieving one of life’s finest luxuries in your own home.
Here’s the breakdown of the contents for this article. Click on any link to jump right to it.
Now, without further ado, let’s get into it!
Unless you are a pizza, the answer is yes, I can live without you. – Bill Murray
What is an Outdoor Pizza Oven?
Outdoor pizza ovens are specialized ovens made to cook at extremely high temperatures. They come in a variety of different types and sizes. The classic pizza oven is made of brick and heated using a wood-fire placed inside the oven. However, since these can take quite a while to prepare, heat, and manage – some people prefer to use a gas flame source instead.
Alternatively, portable pizza ovens are taking off as a cheaper way to have amazing pizza at home. These are much smaller, but can still reach crazy-high temperatures and cook pizza in under a minute. Typically gas-fueled, there are now even models which use wood pellets to recreate that smoky wood flavor.
How do Pizza Ovens Work?
What’s so special about a pizza oven? It’s that everything it’s built with is there to retain heat. Why? Because it’s not the fire that cooks your delicious pizza, it’s the oven! Although pizza ovens are first heated by a wood or glass flame, the base and dome use bricks, tiles, and insulating layers to trap in all of that heat. That’s why pizza ovens can reach temperatures well over 800oF (425oC).
Once the oven is fully heated, that’s when we can start cooking some amazing pizza. But that process can a while. Sometimes hours! That’s because we’re heating a huge amount of material – often more than half a ton of weight. Once the pizza oven is heated it can stay hot for days! Here’s what John said from pizza making forums:
“What I particularly like is that with the door on, the oven stays hot for five days, and it takes zero additional heat up time to cook whole chickens, multiple pulled pork shoulders, pot roast, turkey, lasagna, etc.” Source: Pizza making forum.
What’s especially important is the base of the oven. It’s made of tiles which, when fully heated, really cook the pizza dough and gives you that fights-you-back kind of base. All of this heat in the dome and base are what allows us to cook a pizza in under 2 minutes.
Here’s a fantastic video by the Melbourne Fire Brick Company. Ben the owner is describing exactly how a wood-fired pizza oven works:
How is a Pizza Oven Made?
Pizza ovens are constructed from a bunch of different materials – all chosen to absorb huge amounts of heat. The warmth from the gas or wood fire is mostly held by bricks in the dome of the oven and on the tiled floor. The heat held by these are what really cook your pizza. Outside of the bricks are layers made to trap the heat – fibre insulation and perlite around the dome, with a slab and calcium silicate board beneath the tiled floor. The diagram below is a cross-section through a standard wood-fired pizza oven.
Cross-section of a standard pizza oven. The fire brick dome and tile floor are what really cook your pizza. Source.
To see the construction process, check out this amazing time-lapse of a full build. The steps they follow are: Set up sub-floor insulation (calcium silicate board), set up sub-floor castable heat bank (castable slab), install the floor tiles, construct the brick dome, opening, entry arch, and flume. Install the fibre blanket insulation, reinforce with mesh, then cast the render layer.
Made and recorded by the same guys from Melbourne.
There’s no better feeling in the world than a warm pizza box in your lap. – Kevin James
Wood-Fired vs Gas Pizza Ovens
One big question anyone looking to buy a full-sized pizza oven faces is whether to go for wood or gas fueled oven. The bottom line is that neither oven type is better. They each have their own advantages, and they’re each better for different uses.
Let’s look at wood first.
A wood-fired pizza oven is one of the most authentic and rustic cooking experiences you can ever have. Many people find the process of preparing, lighting, and working with the wood can be harmonious and a joyful part of the others. For others, it’s an annoying side effect of having a wood-fired oven! I’m sure you immediately know which camp you’re in.
What the pizza perfectionists will tell you is that wood-fired ovens give you the best flavor. And they’d be totally right. There’s nothing that can replace that slightly smoked, slightly charred edge that gives a pizza that extra bite. These types of ovens also unlock the many types of wood you can use. Not only hardwoods – but also fruitwoods like apple and hickory really bolster the number of flavors you can produce.
However, all this comes at a price. You need to have a supply of good firewood. Not just any firewood, good firewood! That means plenty of close-to-dry hardwood. If these are difficult to find things will get a bit annoying whenever you need more. If you’ve got an easy source, though? No problem.
The other downside to a wood fire is that it generally does need more work and attention. It needs you to look after it. In this way, cooking with wood is a bit more like an art form. There’s a lot of variability and quirks you’ll slowly get to know over time.
Gas, on the other hand, is for those who love reliability and simplicity.
Gas ovens heat up quicker – taking only 30 minutes instead of 1-2 hours like wood (not to mention gathering and preparing the firewood). They’re also much simpler to manage: just set it and forget it. There’s no management or restocking needed.
This reliability means gas is a better option if you want to use the oven for other foods. While roasts are a great option in a cooling wood oven, something like bread needs a more precise and steady heat.
A gas oven is also generally cheaper – something your budget will thank you for.
To sum it up, each type has advantages. Wood is for the authentics, the pizza purists – those who want to be more involved with the cooking process and savor the extra flavor. Chefs who prefer reliability, simplicity, and the advantages of a more precise temperature will prefer a gas oven – especially if a source of good firewood isn’t easily available.
You better cut the pizza in four pieces because I’m not hungry enough to eat six. – Yogi Berra
Types of Outdoor Pizza Oven & Recommendations
As you have may have guessed, there’s a bunch of different types of pizza ovens. Let’s walk through them together, and go through why each of these are worth considering.
Think of yourself as a judge on a talent show, and I’ll present each ‘contestant’ to you!
Full-Sized Pizza Ovens
Our first pizza-producing talent is the traditional full-sized oven. By a ‘full-sized’ oven, I mean any large oven that’s built out of real construction material (i.e. brick) and won’t ever really be moved. These can range from smaller iconic ovens like in the videos above, all the way to large built-in ovens that are part of a house design.
The huge stand-out advantage of a full-sized oven is the amazing authenticity of it. There’s nothing purer than a full-sized pizza oven, heated by flame and cooking rustic pizzas within 90 seconds. It’s as real a pizza making experience as you can get. There are few other foods that have more joy in their preparation than working with a full pizza oven.
While they are expensive, these ovens will stick around for years. What’s often overlooked is that a unique thing like an outdoor pizza oven can actually return more than you pay for it in value to your home.
They do take a bit of effort. Construction, time to heat up, and learning to master a wood fire take time. But the rewards of flavor and authenticity are just incredible.
Lastly, they’re just so amazing for your friends and family. There ain’t no party like a pizza party. Whether it’s your friends for pizza and wine, or the kids’ birthday parties – they make for legendary times. People will always be asking you when the next one’s going to be!
Full-sized ovens are no small thing. To get your own, there are two ways to do it.
We’ve got a wood-burning pizza oven in the garden – a luxury, I know, but it’s one of the best investments I’ve ever made. – Gwyneth Paltrow
Pre-Built / Pre-Cast Pizza Oven
The first are pre-built ovens. These are constructed by professionals off-site, who then deliver it to your home and get it set up for you. This is the more expensive option, but it’s also a huge time and stress saver. It’s also possible to bring these ovens with you if you move.
If you’d like a recommendation for pre-built, there are plenty of big players. In my opinion, the best pre-built pizza ovens are by FornoBravo. They have the widest range, and are a leader in the USA market. Check out their range of pre-built brick ovens here.
Modular / Pre-Cut Pizza Oven
If you’re happy to dabble with some DIY, modular pizza ovens are also a great option. These ovens are delivered to you in parts, and it’s up to you to construct them. Don’t worry – you don’t need to be an advanced handyman to get this done. With a bit of elbow grease and determination, anyone can do it!
Since this is no small task, it’s massively important to have great instruction material, simple layout, and great customer support. In my opinion, the team that provides the best modular pizza oven kits are the guys over at Flamesmith. In a market that has always been a bit old-school their video tutorials are second to none. They’ve seriously changed the game in terms of helpful material and amazing customer support. This is the team you want to have your back when you’re building a pizza oven. Check out their precut brick oven kits here – including a summary guide in beautiful pictures. If you want an even simpler option, they also do a smaller version with a pre-cast dome here. I really can’t recommend them enough!
Portable Pizza Ovens
Our next contestant are smaller, lighter ovens that you can take just about anywhere. Portable ovens strive to give you the delicious amazing-ness of home-cooked pizza without the cost and commitment of a full-sized oven. Though they’re not that light-weight! Most weigh over 50lbs – it’s not easy to trap enough heat to hit over 700F.
These ovens are typically metal and gas-powered, though more modern wood-fire equivalents are cropping up. In some cases, they’ll use wooden pellets to achieve a wood-fired style of flavor.
Portable pizza ovens are fantastic as a (much) cheaper alternative. They’re incredibly easy and simple to use, while still working great. They’re not as authentic or have the ‘wow!’ factor of a full oven, but no-one’s ever going to turn their nose up at a home-cooked pizza!
One thing to bear in mind is that they typically only do one pizza at a time; they’re a bit slower. No problem if you’re only cooking for close family, but if you’ve got a ton of guests they’ll need to be patient!
If you’d like a recommendation, I believe that Ooni are one of the best producers of portable pizza ovens on the market today.
They launched the world’s first pellet based wood-fired oven, and are a frontrunner in portable pizza ovens in general. Their designs are modern, minimalistic – but functional. They can even go to over 900F (500C)! They began as a simple Kickstarter, and are now a worldwide company.
BBQ Pizza Oven
Have a BBQ, or a gas range? Want delicious home-made pizza? Don’t want to spend a lot of money?
BAM. It’s the Bakerstone Pizza Stove.
Bakerstone originally started out as a crowdfunded kick-starter project; now they’re a full-grown company. That says almost everything you need to know about them. Built on a great idea, backed by thousands, now with a working product that’s properly manufactured. All for a great price.
This small oven sits on your gas grill and concentrates the heat within its base. At the same time, it also focuses the heat on the roof of the little oven. This mimics the base + dome heat of a full pizza oven, and can internally go up to 800F!
It’s a fantastic device at a fraction of the cost of a full-sized oven. It’s got similar limitations (small size, not as authentic, tricky to work with) to the normal portable ovens above. But with a 3-year protection plan available for just over $20, it’s definitely worth a go.
When all else fails, we always have pizza stones.
Since conventional ovens can’t get high enough heat to properly cook pizza, these stones help us out. They absorb a ton of heat – once ready, they help cook a pizza much quicker and with higher heat. It also stays extremely hot to help prevent so much heat loss when you open the door to put in a room-temperature pizza. For best results, always place them on the bottom rack to be closest to the heating element.
There’s not much to them – and they’re nowhere near as good as a pizza oven. We simply can’t get the heat we need. But they’re a reliable back-up solution.
How Much is an Outdoor Pizza Oven?
There’s a wide range of pizza ovens – each with their own price point ranges. In general, for a full-sized brick pizza oven, you’re looking at $2,000 for small premade models all the way to around $8,000 for larger premade. Pre-builts are more expensive than those who come in parts. If you’re happy to put modular pieces together yourself, the price range is more within $1,500 to $5,000.
When it comes to portable pizza ovens, these are more within $150 to $800 – depending on the model. Then the old school pizza stones – expect to pay between $30 and $120. (The quality does vary a lot depending on the price).
Pizza is like the entire food pyramid. – Madeline Oles
How to cook using a Pizza Oven
I dared to include this section knowing that there are pizza purists out there who’d have my neck if I say anything wrong here! However, I just wanted to walk you through some basic tips I’ve picked up while putting together this guide.
Most relate to wood-fired ovens, since these are the ones with such intricacy and variability.
General Oven Tips
- First, always start your oven early. For wood-fire that’s 2-3 hours, for gas maybe 30 minutes – 1 hour.
- Check the temperature before you cook. You want the dome to be completely white with all of the previous ash/carbon burned off.
- If you’re going for a traditional Neapolitan pizza, make sure you’ve got flame in the oven. A pizza will still cook with no flame, but the lack of extra heat on the top changes the process. It takes longer, and the top will be less charred/crispy.
- Make sure your dough is well floured. The traditional way to have a container of flour and actually ‘dip’ the dough ball in there.
- If the pizza is getting charred too quickly (more likely on your first pizza), hold the peel between the pizza and the fire to help it out.
- When cooking – don’t move the pizza from the spot you placed it on. The base of the oven is extremely, extremely hot. When you place a pizza, that spot cools down slightly. That’s a good thing. When you need to rotate the pizza, keep it in that same spot. If you place it anywhere else, the base will burn in seconds.
- That being said, if you check the base and find it’s not cooked as much as you like, quickly move the pizza to a different stop for a few seconds. Then take it out. Those few seconds will give you a huge increase on the charring of the base.
- Lastly, for extra char on the top, get the pizza onto the peel and hold it up near the dome. This extra exposure will give your cheese and toppings that extra bit of fire-kissed attention.
- If wood, use proper, dense hardwood. White oak is great for a clean and neutral burn.
- When adding new wood, let it sit elsewhere in the oven before you add it to the flame. This allows it to heat up and dry out with less smoke than adding it straight on.
- Never leave the ashes under the wood – it needs to breathe. Move them aside from the main wood pieces, or remove them altogether.
- Never just throw wood in like it’s a campfire. Use a tool to place it properly. Having it drag along the floor risks cooking pizza on top of burnt wood.
There’s plenty of videos on YouTube for wood-fired ovens – here’s a quirky one I like. The chef is Jamie Oliver – he’s (very) British with a flair for presentation. It shows the process of preparing and cooking a pizza with a wood-fired oven.
Frequently Asked Questions
Does a pizza oven need a chimney?
A chimney is an essential part of a wood-fired pizza oven to vent out the smoke, ash, and exceedingly hot air from inside the oven. Without it, a constant stream of smoke could be billowing out of the front of the oven, not to mention ruining the pizza! Having a vent for the hot air also means cool air is pulled in at the front, allowing good air convection. Some portable pizza ovens function without chimneys because they use gas, which produces a much cleaner burn.
How hot does a pizza oven get?
The temperature inside a pizza can range from anywhere between 400F(205C) all the way to 900F(480C). The sweet spot is typically between 650-750F (340-400C) which results in a quick, crisp, fully cooked pizza. The best temperature changes based on the oven, the dough, the sauce, and the pizza toppings. Thin Neapolitan styles want high temperatures and quick cooking time. Thicker pizzas with heavier cheese/sauce need a longer time to cook, so a lower temperature prevents burning.
Why does a pizza oven need to be so hot?
Although some pizzas will only take 90 seconds in a hot pizza oven, this heat is crucial for a perfect pizza. It’s all a balancing act. The high heat makes the water inside the dough evaporate quickly – puffing up the dough and cause those delicious dough bubbles. At the same time, the cheese on the top of the pizza needs to be exposed to heat long enough to melt fully. No-one wants cold blobs of unmelted cheese. The tiled base of the oven needs the heat to still cook the pizza base after the colder dough is placed on it. Finally, such high heat produces beautiful black charring which adds so much crispness and flavor to a cooked pizza.
I just want to be in my sweats, walk my dog, watch TV and eat pizza. – America Ferrera
Can you use a BBQ as a pizza oven?
A barbecue can’t normally function as a pizza oven – it doesn’t reach the required temperatures to properly cook pizza. However, you can turn a BBQ into a pizza oven using some special tools. The BakerStone Pizza Oven Box sits inside a grill (or on top of a gas range) and focuses the heat inside the box. Even if the barbecue is only at 400F, the pizza box can bring this all the way up to over 800F. It’s a great way to harness a gas heat source you already have, and create home-made pizzas for a low price.
How long does it take to heat a pizza oven?
The time to prepare a pizza oven depends on the heat source. A gas-powered oven heats up much more quickly – some only needing around 30-40 minutes to be ready to go. On the other hand, a wood-fired oven will take a few hours to heat up. Not only does it take longer from a wood fire, but you also need to spend the time preparing, lighting, and re-stocking wood.
How long does it take to cook a pizza in an outdoor pizza oven?
Typically, a fully heated pizza oven can cook a pizza anywhere between 90 seconds to 3/4 minutes. This depends on the temperature of the oven, the thickness of the pizza, the type of dough, and the toppings (ie heavy on the cheese or sauce needs longer).
What else can you cook in a pizza oven?
Pizza ovens can be used to cook a huge variety of other delicious food. A pizza oven is still an oven! The most common secondary use for a pizza oven is in bread making – the high heat and air convection are perfect for this. Once fully heated, a good oven will stay hot for days, meaning it can be used for other fun meals after a big pizza party. Many people love to do authentic roasts (ie lamb or pork) with a big deep baking pan, or even use burning embers to get the oven to act as a smoker.
You can’t make everyone happy.
You’re not a pizza.
What wood do you use in a pizza oven?
The best type of wood for pizza ovens are harder woods. These provide better heat, last longer (they are up to 3x heavier than soft woods), and an overall better flavor. Common favorites are oak, maple, ash, beech, and birch. Oak is typically the most common and easiest to find/use. Flavorful woods can also be used by oven veterans to experiment with new flavors – like hickory, cherry, or apple.
Is wood or metal pizza peel better?
In a roasting hot pizza oven, it’s generally better to stick to using metal pizza peels. Metal is just a better alternative for working with heat, and wood has the risk of drying out – or even leaving a splinter in your pizza! Wooden handles with a metal peel are absolutely fine. However, be sure to occasionally wet them or coat them with oil in order to avoid them losing moisture and drying out.
Pizza: 73% delicious. And also 27% delicious.
Pizza ovens are a fantastic thing to have in your garden. Not only do they let you create the most delicious home-made pizzas, but also to throw such unique parties with friends and families. They are truly something that never gets old, and never fail to provide a great time.
With so many options out there, it can be a little confusing to figure out exactly what’s the best one for you. Or even how they work! I hope this guide has helped cleared things up for you – and brought you closer to being able to make your own pies at home.
Because everyone deserves amazing pizza – especially someone as lovely as you. I hope you’ll be enjoying some delicious home-made creations with friends soon!
Have a great day 🙂