An Oven as Easy as Pie

MARCH 10, 2015

Neapolitan pizza. It’s the sexiest carb, and one that we could eat every day. To do so—and to make a traditional Naples pie the right way—requires a pizza oven. Pizza aficionados with a spare-no-cost approach will likely look to their favorite pizza joints for inspiration, which means they’ll end up accenting their back patios with a wood-fired Italian oven made from stone and sand. Ovens like that typically weigh about 6,000 pounds, can cost as much as $20,000, and require between 2 and 3 hours to heat to the appropriate temperature. And while the prospect of a wood-fired oven is alluring, the thought of constantly sweeping up hot ash is not.

Fortunately, there’s an alternative, and it comes from an unlikely destination: south central Michigan. The folks at Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet, a company known for its wood-fired, gas, and charcoal grills, have designed an outdoor pizza oven ($6,895) that weighs a scant 130 pounds and can reach full Neapolitan heat (about 800 degrees) in 45 minutes. At that infernal temperature, a pie will cook in less than 3 minutes. “The best thing is that it truly does mimic the heat of a wood-fired oven,” says Russ Faulk, Kalamazoo’s vice president of product development. “And it’s much, much simpler to use. You don’t have to master wood fire.”

The oven uses a two-burner system—one below the cooking surface and another wall of gas flames in the back of the oven itself, just like a wood-fired oven—both of which are controlled by dial. The cooking surface is a hollow-core ceramic that can be quickly heated or cooled (to prevent burning the crust), and the ceiling is a composite stone that holds and radiates heat.

“The bottom is a honeycomb structure,” says Faulk. “It’s more like a Ferrari that you can adjust in an instant. With wood-fired pizzas, the pizza masters will ‘dome the pie,’ meaning they’ll hold it up to the intense heat by the top of the oven to get a good caramelization. That only takes a few seconds in our oven. Do it any longer and it’ll probably set on fire, it’s so hot.

“It’s a bit of a misnomer that a wood-fired oven delivers a wood flavor to a pizza,” Faulk continues. “Most of that smoke is rising far above the pizza to the top of the oven, and then out. It’s not infusing the pizza with smoke. It’s all about the heat.” 

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