Before lockdown we were already spending more time in our gardens, now alfresco living is an even bigger thing. And that means more of us than ever need a decent pizza oven buying guide to help us make the best choice for perfect outdoor pizzas.
Read on for sensible advice about which to choose and why, where it’ll go in your garden and why, the materials, the different types of pizza oven and more. Plus a few key things you’ll want to figure out before it’s delivered, and some tips for creative fun with clay and brick ovens.
Which pizza oven – The look and the materials
A traditional pizza oven has a gorgeous curved dome shape, organic and pleasing to the eye. Made by hand using either brick laid in fancy patterns or hand-thrown in red clay, it takes skill and experience to craft them.
Why the dome shape? The heat generated by the fire rises to the dome and gets stored by the thick clay or brick. Then the dome radiates the heat evenly back down onto the pizza stone below, to a consistently high temperature of around 460C or 900F, perfect for baking pizzas fast with that classic crispy base. Not a soggy bottom in sight. And that’s why all the best metal and clay pizza ovens are curved.
Metal versions come with the same exceptional performance because, like their clay cousins, they’re designed to bake pizza first and foremost. Smaller table top versions are versatile because they’re easy to move around and store. The larger ones are usually permanent fixtures, far too heavy to move around the garden – which means you need to think about the placement and setting.
The question is, do you like the steely sophistication of a metal oven or the rustic charm of a brick or clay oven best?
The performance – Pure pizza or even more?
Next in our pizza oven buying guide, the performance. Table top pizza ovens like the sleek model above are great for pizza, while bigger permanent pizza ovens are capable of cooking a whole lot more outdoors. Basically anything, from breads to casseroles to a remarkable variety of cool recipes. We really like this post from Tom at CK, about 25 foods to cook in your pizza oven. It gives you a clear idea of the potential. Will you want to bake pizza and only pizza, or venture into a wonderland of varied alfresco cuisine? It’s an important part of the decision process.
Pizza oven buying guide essentials – Position and setting
Obviously the size will influence your choice. If your garden or patio is small, a large brick pizza oven might overwhelm the space, leaving you with no room for garden furniture and other essential bits and bobs. A tabletop version might suit you best.
Permanence is a thing, too. Will you keep loving outdoor cooking, keep on partying outdoors, or would you rather invest less in a simpler machine for now? Will you be OK positioning it in one place then leaving it there, or will you want to change the oven’s position? A heavy brick or clay version is a permanent thing, far too heavy to move around even without the concrete, stone or brick stand it’ll need. More about that later.
The heat they create isn’t an issue because these designs are so well insulated, built using special layers of material to keep the heat inside, not radiate it outwards like a clay chiminea. It should feel cool to the touch, which means you can place it near a wooden fence as well as a stone, concrete or brick wall, a living hedge, even under tree when the branches are high enough up to be out of the way. When you want to cook facing your guests rather than with your back to them, place it accordingly for a more social experience.
Check there’ll be enough room around the oven for you to prepare food and cook in comfort, and measure it carefully to make sure your garden furniture will fit in the space, taking the platform into account if you’ll need one. You’ll want room for people to move around, and enter and leave the space comfortably. If you’re planning to buy patio heaters, candle lamps, garden chairs or dining sets or bistro sets, bear those in mind as well. Will they fit, and where will they go?
About table top pizza ovens VS standing pizza ovens
Tabletop pizza ovens are small enough to put on a regular table or other flat surface, and easy to move around. Some have collapsible legs for storage. Pack it up and put it in the car, take it round to a friend or family member’s place, bring it on camping trips, it’s a versatile and fun gadget. They tend to cook one pizza at once, although the best quality versions do it very quickly. You should also be able to slot pitta bread and other low-slung treats into the cooking area, which may even be big enough, with enough height, to take a baking dish.
Free-standing pizza ovens like the large black and silver Lifestyle Verona Gas Pizza Oven, further up the page, have wheels. So does the impressive Callow Stainless Steel Outdoor Pizza Oven, the shiny steel one below. Both are easy to move around despite their size. It’s a great choice when you want a big oven but don’t want to build a base for it, and good when you don’t want something permanent.
If you think you’ll be moving house or you’re renting, it makes sense to think free-standing. Then you can take it with you when you leave.
The third option is a pizza oven that needs a stand, like the large brick and clay models we sell. You’ll need a base at least 110cm square, more if you want the base to also act as a handy work surface. The Callow Rustico Outdoor Brick Pizza Oven, pictured up the page, comes ready assembled all-in-one. Because it weighs around 800kg you need a very strong concrete, brick or stone platform to stand it on.
Build yours from low cost breezeblocks on top of a simple concrete platform or foundations, to a comfortable cooking height, then skin the breezeblocks with something more attractive like slate or brick, or give it a painted finish. Plain charcoal grey masonry paint looks fantastic. Mosaic it if you like – we’ve found some cool photos for you down the page. Then top it off with paving stones or real stone flagstones and it’s ready. Alternatively, find someone professional to build a platform for you.
This one is very beautiful as well as tough and strong. Thanks to the Stone Bake Oven Company for the image.
Thanks to Fornobravo for this picture of a wonderfully rustic pizza oven platform. Then take a look further down the page for some stunning mosaic platforms. If you’re a creative type, this is where the fun really begins.
Charcoal, gas, wood, wood pellets, or multi-fuel
Fuel is the next thing to explore in our pizza oven buying guide. Some pizza ovens run on pre-made wood pellets, available online and in stores in bags. They light easily, burn well, and hardly leave any ash. Wood and charcoal come with that legendary outdoor fire scent, and plenty of pizza ovens run on them.
Propane and Butane gas offer instant flames – turn it on, cook, and have fun, all with no refuelling. High temperatures are great for pizza. Turn the gas down instantly for recipes involving slower cooking. Just hook your oven up to its gas supply and off you go. Some gas ovens come with a hose and regulator, others don’t, but they’re easy to find online.
Other models run on wood and also have a gas option, making them very versatile. Remember, if you choose a wood fired oven you’ll need to feed it with dry wood. If it’s damp you’ll struggle to reach the right temperatures because the wood won’t burn very well. A firewood moisture meter is a great little accessory, telling you whether the wood is suitably dry.
If you want your pizzas cooked in record time and packed with authentic smoky flavour, choose an oven running on wood or wood pellets. Fragranced wood pellets give your food even more amazing tastes, from oak to apple and loads more.
Buying guide for pizza ovens – Things to do before delivery
If you’re going for a table top pizza oven there’s no need for special preparation. The same goes when you buy a version on wheels, made to be moved. If a brick or clay oven is on your radar you can take delivery before building the base, but some people like to get their platform ready beforehand.
Very heavy clay and brick versions come by courier on their own pallet, direct from the manufacturer. They’ll contact you beforehand to arrange a delivery date and time, and make sure you’re prepared. The drivers are happy to help carry it to the kerb but they can’t take the oven into the garden for you – so plan ahead. Find at least three strong people to either put it somewhere temporary for you, or place it on the platform you’ve made.
How to lift a heavy pizza oven into place? Three or four people can usually lift a precast dome oven manually, with care. You might need to hire a pallet truck or forklift and an expert driver to move it to its final destination, and a portable floor crane to get it on top of the base. Talk to the manufacturer when they contact you. They’ll ask you the right questions.
Creative pizza oven stands
There’s no reason why you can’t decorate the stand or platform. Here are two mosaiced plain clay ovens, one with a mosaic stand, the other with an attractive brick, concrete and tile stand. Thanks to KeepItRelax for the amazing photos.
That was our pizza oven buying guide…
Now you know all about pizza ovens. What will you choose? Something small and neat or big and bold, portable or permanent, metal, brick or clay? Will yours just bake pizza or cook all sorts of other goodies as well? It’s an exciting choice, so go for it!