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How to buy a great pizza oven

How well do pizza ovens create an authentic pizza? We explain how they work and what to consider before buying one.

rustic pizza being cut with a pizza slicer

There's nothing quite like a homemade pizza with a crisp base and perfectly cooked toppings. It's a reliable crowd-pleaser and an excellent option if you're entertaining and want to impress your guests.

If you have the space in your alfresco dining area, you might be tempted to buy a pizza oven to whip up your signature creations in your backyard. But is an outdoor pizza oven worth the expense? And what do you need to consider when buying one?

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How do pizza ovens work?

Pizza ovens produce extremely high heat, and the best models will maintain this high temperature evenly throughout the oven over a long period of time. These are the ideal conditions for cooking the perfect pizza, allowing it to cook quickly and evenly across the base and top. 

While the traditional wood-fired pizza ovens are made from bricks and cement, there are other home options available that use gas or electric. Ideally, pizza ovens need to reach around 400°C.

The type of pizza oven and the size of the oven cavity will determine how long it takes to heat up. In our test, the smaller types took anywhere from 10–20 minutes to preheat, while the larger wood-fire type pizza ovens could take 15–40 minutes to preheat. You'll need to make sure you allow enough time during your preparation for the oven to preheat (especially if it takes up to an hour to get to temperature) so it's ready to start churning out pizzas when you are.

How does a pizza oven compare to a regular oven?

While our recommended pizza ovens cook impressive pizzas, a regular oven used correctly can work just as well. We compared the pizza ovens in our test with our reference oven for cooking both a thin- and thick-crust pizza. 

If it's a wood-fired oven you're after, it's not possible to replicate the smokiness or wood char flavour in your regular oven. However, if you use your oven on high heat (on a pizza setting if available, or fan assist, or top and bottom element) and use a pizza stone, you'll still get an excellent result.

How do you use a pizza oven?

If you're new to using a pizza oven it'll take a degree of trial and error. Even perfecting your ideal pizza will take trial and error – don't expect perfect wood-fired pizza on the first attempt.

In some pizza ovens, the heat can be concentrated where the heat source is (for example, at the back of the pizza oven) and in these instances you'll need to continually rotate the pizza (in one case as frequently as every 20–30 seconds) to achieve even cooking and browning. 

Cooking time will depend on the type of pizza you're cooking. In the models we tested, it took 2–9 minutes to cook a thin-crust pizza. The pizza is ready when it's achieved your desired level of browning on both the base and the toppings. 

Some models have a viewing window to help you monitor cooking progress and this is helpful to keep the heat inside the oven – continually opening the door can lead to significant heat loss. For those that don't have a viewing window, you'll need to continually open the door or slide out the pizza to rotate and check its progress.

The pizza ovens we've tested come in three fuel types.

  • Electric pizza ovens just need to be plugged into the powerpoint and away you go.
  • Gas pizza ovens need a qualified plumber to plumb it in if it's natural gas, otherwise you'll need to connect a gas cylinder (like you would with a BBQ). They're simple to use – you just need to turn the burner control to the desired temperature.
  • Wood-fired models either take wood pellets or wood logs and charcoal. Wood pellets can be bought by the bag and they light easily and produce minimal ash, whereas wood logs require you to build a fire. We also used firewood hotshots and kindling hotshots to help get the fire going.

How big are pizza ovens?

Pizza ovens can be portable, benchtop, or outdoor/standing.

  • Portable pizza ovens are smaller ovens that can be moved around more easily due to their compact size.
  • Benchtop pizza ovens can also be portable, but can sit on your benchtop (either inside or in your alfresco area).
  • Outdoor/standing pizza ovens are where the pizza oven comes on a stand as a complete unit (sometimes a stand can be bought separately). These stands usually have wheels so you can manoeuvre them like you would a BBQ. This type tends to have a larger oven cavity so you can cook more than one pizza at a time, and you can even do roasts in the larger space and use multiple-shelf cooking (if it comes with shelves).

Most of the pizza ovens we've tested can accommodate only one pizza at a time. However, we did test one that could accommodate three pizzas at a time by using multiple shelves (but it only came with one pizza stone).

Regardless of whether you're using your pizza oven indoors or outdoors, you need to keep it in a well-ventilated area. They're generally easy to move around but in some cases, they may require some dismantling.

How much do pizza ovens cost?

The eight pizza ovens we tested ranged in price from $169 up to $1399.

How much does a pizza oven cost to run?

We calculated the yearly running costs based on using the pizza oven for one hour a week over a year. Wood-fired models would run longer than an hour, as that's the amount of fuel needed to get the oven to 400°C. The cost of wood is also factored into the running cost but could be significantly reduced by sourcing the wood from felled trees (just make sure the wood is dry). The right pizza oven can be faster and cheaper to run than cooking a pizza on a stone in a regular oven.

Electric pizza oven running cost Gas pizza oven running cost Wood-fire pizza oven running cost
 $8–13 $40–130  $226–425 

How do you clean a pizza oven?

The pizza stone or brick surface requires removing the baked-on residue by scraping the surface with a BBQ scraper. Do not clean the pizza stone with detergents. High temperatures will burn off any residue that accumulates inside the oven, and you can use a bristle brush or broom to sweep out any ash and debris after cooking.

External surfaces usually just need to be wiped over with a damp cloth or stainless-steel cleaner. Be mindful of cracks and crevices that can accumulate dirt as these will require extra attention when cleaning.

Things to consider when buying a pizza oven

Portability: Do you want a pizza oven that you can take around with you or do you want one that's a permanent fixture in your backyard? If it's a portable one you're after, make sure it's easy to move around and consider where it'll be stored when it's not in use.

Size: Are you happy to cook one pizza at a time or do you need something that lets you cook multiple pizzas at once? Don't forget that larger models have the added versatility to let you cook other foods like roasts and home-made bread.

Type of pizza you want to achieve: Not all pizza ovens will give you that authentic wood-fired flavour and look. Electric and gas-fuelled ovens will produce similar results to cooking a pizza in an oven, so consider if you want the authentic wood-fired pizza or just a delicious baked pizza.

Assembly: Some smaller pizza ovens like the Ooni, Gozney and Breville's The Smart Oven Pizzaiolo require no assembly and are ready to go right out of the box. Other larger types can take up to a few hours to assemble and require tools. In these cases you want the product to come with comprehensive assembly instructions.

Cool-down time: It can take up to an hour for a pizza oven to cool down. For wood-fired ovens, cool down time can be even longer.

Safety: Pizza ovens reach dangerously high temperatures, so you'll need the right tools to use the oven safely and make sure it's out of reach of children. Some exterior surfaces can become dangerously hot to touch. In some cases, the open flames may even lick up and out of the oven, so extreme caution is needed when using one.

Be mindful that because of the high temperatures, there's the possibility that any leftover residue can catch on fire. Make sure the oven is properly cleaned out after use.

What accessories do you need?

Pizza peel: If your pizza oven doesn't come with one, invest in a good quality pizza peel. It's a tool that can be used to safely insert and remove pizza from the hot oven (looking similar to a large spatula). It should be smooth and flat to allow the pizza to slide off easily and have a long enough handle so you don't need to get your hands too close to the heat.

Infrared thermometer: These can be handy to measure the temperature of the pizza stone so you know when it's preheated and ready to start cooking.

Heat-resistant gloves: You'll need high quality heat-resistant gloves to keep your hands and forearms safe from burns when taking pizzas in or out of the oven and when adding more wood to the fire (if it's wood-fired).

Pizza stone: These conduct and hold heat and keep the oven temperature stable when the pizza is added. They also help with evenness of cooking and getting the pizza base crispy.

Pizza cutter: A good quality pizza cutter will make cutting and serving your pizzas a breeze.

Heat-resistant bristle brush or broom: These can be used to distribute coals around the oven, sweep ash off the bricks, and clean ashes out of the oven after cooking.

Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.