I have a high-end oven that churns out bakery-quality baguettes, blistered boules, and loaves with enviably crisp crusts. But when summer — long-awaited and never guaranteed — finally arrives in Vermont, I ditch everything indoors and head outside for a piece of equipment I adore: my Ooni pizza oven.
What is an Ooni?
The Ooni pizza oven is a tabletop hearth oven capable of high temperatures (up to 900°F) and live-fire baking. With models that vary in size, design, and fuel source, an Ooni can make everything from Neapolitan pizzas to roasted vegetables or even hearth-baked bagels. Between the fire-kissed flavors, and the fact that dinner can happen without heating up the house, I may not even use my indoor oven this summer.
What makes the Ooni unique?
The Ooni is a game-changer on many levels. First, let’s talk heat. The Ooni firebox generates high BTUs relative to the size of the oven chamber. The intense heat, generated by small pieces of wood or a gas burner, depending on the model, goes from cold to blazing hot (900°F) in as few as 20 minutes. Compare that with the one-hour baking stone preheat in my home oven and the attraction is apparent before you even taste anything. Want better pizza, faster? This is your ticket.
The quick preheat is also perfect for last-minute meal planners like me. Without much forethought, quick dinners such as Ooni-baked roti filled with salad greens, yogurt, and Ooni-roasted chicken can be dreamed up and run through the oven in a jiffy. With hot sauce and fresh herbs, a meal like this does not feel like a shortcut.
But it’s not just about speed. The Ooni unlocks flavor territories normally unreachable for home cooks and bakers. The high, searing heat produces everything from 90-second pizzas with plenty of “leoparding,” to five-minute salmon filets with crisp skin and buttery flesh.
But how does it differ from a grill? It’s all about the heat placement — on a grill, the heat only emanates from a single direction (below the cooking surface), while the Ooni cooks from both the bottom (the preheated masonry baking surface) and the top (the live fire).
Why is the Ooni so great for pizza?
In addition to the quick preheat, portability, and high baking temperatures, there’s another reason the Ooni is perfect for pizza (and much more). Let’s talk about heat transfer.
Heat transfer, a catch-all for the action of conduction (when your pizza sits on the baking surface), radiation (the heat that radiates from the top of the pizza oven towards the toppings and crust), and convection (hot air, moving in currents across the surface, wicking moisture and crisping everything) makes the best bake. The Ooni, with its live fire, masonry baking surface, and small bake chamber, excels in all three of these aspects of heat transfer, mimicking the qualities of the best wood-fired ovens in the world. While good pizza can be had from the home oven, if you want Razza-quality pies, the Ooni is the tool.
More than the pie
It may be obvious that the Ooni is great for pizza — it’s literally in the name. But I use it at least as much for vegetables and meat as I do for breads or pizza. From flash-firing greens for a warm salad, to searing fish, to roasting stone fruits to serve over ice cream, the different levels of heat (ranging from high to medium to low) can be used to cook as necessary.
Last night I mixed some Golden Pita then made quick-pickled peppers and went for a walk while the dough rose and pickles soaked in the brine. When I got back I divided the dough, formed dough balls, and lit the oven. While it heated I skewered salmon pieces and dressed them with coarse pepper, salt, and lemon juice. Once the oven was around 700°F I rolled the pita and baked them. As soon as they were out I quickly cooked the salmon skewers and served them in the waiting pita with peppers and herbs: simple, light, flavorful.
Small but mighty
With legs that fold up for storage and a footprint barely larger than a half-sheet pan, my Ooni Karu 12” is anything but a space hog. While it lives on a high-top table on the deck, I can easily fold up the legs and stow it elsewhere for a night or even the entire winter.
The small size also means a smaller fuel footprint. How much gas does your home oven burn while preheating for an hour? The small Ooni, sipping gas or running on small sticks and branches I’ve collected from the yard, is miserly in its energy use.
Take it to-go
And speaking of moving it, let’s talk portability. Did you ever take your pellet grill to a friend’s house for dinner? No, you didn’t. But with the Ooni, it’s possible. Show up, fire it for 20 minutes, wow your friends with your pizza, then leave before the clean-up begins. It’s a good plan, trust me.
What isn’t possible in the Ooni? Maybe fried chicken? (But don’t challenge me). Seriously though, more than offering limitations, the Ooni expands options, heating up my creative approach to each meal (and snacks, too). From bagels to focaccia, South Shore Bar Pizza, pita, and even baguettes (yes, I’m going to try them this summer!), I’m starting a punch list that doesn’t include chores. I hope you’ll join me on the deck.
Cover photo courtesy of Ooni.