At the top of my list of things I have always wanted but never thought I could get, there has always been a pizza oven. Although I did not know much about what it takes to own one, I had a feeling that there was a lot involved. I had seen videos of people constructing them from scratch in their backyards, and using the ample space they had (and I did not have) to create stone and brick stoves with intricate designs and even more intricate technique that would make enabling their ovens to reach incredibly high temperatures required to cook a pizza. It actually never occurred to me that there was a pizza oven that would make that process easy.
Reach temperatures of up to 950 degrees Fahrenheit and cook pizzas in 15 minutes.
Use wood, charcoal or gas to bake pizzas to perfection of restaurant quality with this simple backyard oven. Karu 12 is the smaller model than Karu 16.
Then I was introduced to Ooni, a brand that took the internet by storm because it did just that: to make fully functional pizza ovens that required little assembly and minimal effort to make a pie that would match those they grind out in Naples. When I got the chance to try the latest model, Karu 16, I jumped on it. I was curious to see if my dream of owning my own pizza machine could actually be straightforward and fun.
Spoiler alert: It can be 100%.
Like other oven models created by Ooni, Karu 16 aims to make the process of preparing delicious pizza of restaurant quality incredibly easy. The model itself is not massive, although the one with 16 inches total cooking space is larger than some models that came before it and requires a good amount of outdoor space when using it. (I initially thought I could try Karu 16 on my balcony and quickly learned that it would not happen.) Another important note: Karu 16 has a chimney that emits heat from the oven, so you should not really use it indoors.
Assembling the Karu 16 is simple and fairly quick. Most of the oven itself is already put together; all you have to do is put the door on, add the fuel tray and install the chimney, which gently slides into the top of the stove without any hassle. The heaviest part, the stone, requires a little extra care and should be pushed into the oven first before assembling the other parts, but this is about as difficult as the assembly process becomes.
Once you have your Ooni placed, the next step in your journey to pizza nirvana is to choose the type of fuel you want to use. Karu 16 is working with tree, charcoal or a separate Karu 16-specific gas burner to reach a possible temperature of 950 degrees Fahrenheit and cook a large pie for 15 minutes flat. The digital thermometer under the oven itself tells you what temperature your oven is when the heat rises, while the transparent door allows you to see how the pizza is cooked inside.
If you choose wood or charcoal, there is a drawer in the back of the oven where you can place your materials and a lid that will contain the flames. To get the fire going, it’s a good idea to grab one Ooni Natural Fire Starter to speed up the process. If you choose to walk the gas path, there is an area on the back to connect your external gas burner.
From there, it’s just a waiting game. Not only are you waiting for the temperature in the oven to rise, you are also waiting for the inside stone that prepares the pizza to get hot too – if you do not give the stone time to get hot, it will affect the quality of your pizza . Fortunately, the Karu 16 is designed with optimized airflow technology and a carbon steel shell that allows the oven to heat up faster (more on that below).
When the oven reaches the desired temperature, you can fill your pizza in the oven using one pizza peel and let it boil. To ensure it cooks evenly, use the peel to rotate your pizza at regular intervals when you notice that one side becomes more golden brown.
There is no doubt that Karu 16, like the other ovens Ooni makes, is an incredible pizza oven that will create the most delicious home pizzas you have ever made. That being said, there’s definitely a bit of a learning curve, but it’s actually part of the fun.
In addition to choosing which toppings you want to experiment with, there are a few things to learn when getting your own Ooni. The first is how to get the oven hot and how to make sure it stays hot to cook your pizza evenly.
During our test, we only used wood and coal to heat our oven because the Ooni Karu 16 gas burner was still sold out. What we found is that it took much longer to get the oven hot due to the unpredictability of the materials being heated. With a gas burner, it would be much easier to maintain the heat because it is easier to control. After adding both coal and wood to the fuel drawer, we were only able to reach 500 degrees Fahrenheit, but mostly hovered around 400 because we opened the oven door frequently.
The biggest problem came with getting the stone to heat up. Although the oven was hot and cooked the top of our pizza to perfection, we struggled to get the bottom of the pizza golden brown. Basically, we learned that when using off-gas heating methods, allow the stone to heat up longer than you might think – maybe an hour or more – before you start cooking.
The second thing that is important to note before purchasing a pizza oven: You will need a lot of accessories. Ooni proposes a list of essential additions that are 100% necessary for the process. You will need a peel, as mentioned earlier, because you can not get your pizza in and out of the oven without one. (It also requires a little adjustment. Pizzas love to stick to the peel, so pro tip: Add a little cornmeal or semolina flour to yours to help it glide off more seamlessly. Avoid oil because it can heat up and cause burns.)
You will also need to invest in tree or charcoal, a heat release, en Ooni Karu 16 gas burner if you want your oven to heat faster and more specifically oven mitts that can handle the degree of heat. To make sure you do not expose your oven to the elements, you will probably want one cover over also for that.
- Ooni 16-inch pizza peel ($ 59.99; ooni.com)
- Ooni Premium Hardwood Pills, £ 20 ($ 24.99; ooni.com)
- Ooni Premium Natural Firestarters ($ 19.99; ooni.com)
- Ooni Karu 16 pizza oven gas burner ($ 99.99; ooni.com)
- Ooni Pizza Oven Gloves ($ 19.99; bestbuy.com)
- Ooni Karu 16 Pizza Oven Cover ($ 49.99; ooni.com)
All in all, your tab can rise quickly, but it’s also incredibly worth the price if you’m ready to commit to homemade pizza. The Ooni Karu 16 works and it works beautifully. When you play with the heat and get your peeling technique right, you will reap the rewards many pies over. The pizza comes out as the perfect pie in Neapolitan style – crispy and charred on top, with an airy toughness to the dough and sticky, stringy cheese that stretches for days. When choosing wood, there is the added benefit of a firewood flavor that only makes your pizza so much more comparable to what you would get at a restaurant. And once you get really good at using your Ooni, you can experiment with other foods like baked pasta and even steak.
Not to mention having an Ooni gives you an excuse to invite people over to help you experiment. Because the pizzas are cooked so quickly, you can make multiples in no time at all and serve each their own pie. If you want to take your pizza party to the next level, everyone can make their own pies and take turns cooking them in the oven.
Having an Ooni Karu 16 oven is both an investment of time and money, but it is also one of the best projects you can take on if you are a big foodie. The pizzas you make once you master your oven will truly be out of this world, and anyone who is lucky enough to try them will no doubt agree.