Around this time every year, pizza oven madness descends upon me and my husband. It starts out with a simple, “Oh, so-and-so is coming into town? We should make pizza!” We fire up the oven and pick up some mozzarella at the store. It’s so good, so incredibly fast and easy, that next week, I make chicken thighs in the pizza oven instead of on the stovetop.
Then a quick pan of wood-fired Brussels sprouts. Then a salty, bloody, perfectly seared flank steak. Suddenly, it’s noon on a workday and I’m holding a single defrosted salmon fillet from Costco. I’m looking out into the backyard and thinking, should I? Wood-fired salmon for one? No. Calm down. Get some work done.
Cooking with a wood-fired pizza oven has the same intense, meditative quality as toasting marshmallows while you’re camping. With Ooni’s latest oven, it’s as easy as using gas. I can pull a few things out of my fridge at 5:30 pm and have dinner cooked by 6 pm. Every one of my friends and family who has been lucky enough to be invited over for dinner has also wanted one of these.
Winner Take All
If you have a design that really works, why change it? The Ooni Karu 16 echoes the sea turtle appearance of the company’s previous ovens. However, unlike the gleaming stainless steel of the Ooni Pro, the Karu 16 has a temperature-resistant powder-coated finish over a carbon- and stainless-steel shell.
The insulation is astounding. I held my hand a few inches from the surface when the oven was 700 degrees, and only then fearfully touched it with a fingertip. It was fine, only a little warm—important if you have it in the backyard and worry that a stray child or beer-drinking friend might brush up against it.
The Karu 16 is a multi-fuel stove. You can buy Ooni’s gas burner attachment separately, but by default it’s made to be used with either charcoal or wood. Unlike some of its other ovens, the Karu 16 also has a front door that closes with a hook, and a digital thermometer that displays the ambient air temperature. It’s incredibly convenient and almost as accurate as my handheld digital laser thermometer.
Cooking with wood sounds intimidating, and I’m no professional pizzaiolo, but I can get the Ooni started in less than 10 minutes—way faster than I would be able to with charcoal. Ooni sent a box of its firestarters ($20) and a pack of oak sticks ($40). All I have to do is light a firestarter, drop it into the fuel tray at the back, toss a couple of oak sticks on top, and shut the door.
In years past, I’ve also found Stump Chunks ($9) to be an equally fast and effective fire starter. My local hardware store also sells different kinds of wood, but if you have space, I recommend keeping a small hatchet handy for splitting pieces into smaller ones. In any case, make sure the wood you’re using is well-seasoned. In a misguided attempt to save some money, I used some wood that had spent the winter outside on my deck and it was unpleasantly smoky.
Certificate of Approval
Not only is the Karu 16 insanely easy to use, but it’s also the first and only pizza oven to be recommended for domestic use by the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana, the world authority on Naples-style pizza. In addition to approved ingredients—tomatoes, crushed by hand, and preferably from Campania—a Naples-style pizza is distinguished from the more familiar New York–style pizza by its soft, pillowy crust and a softer interior.