Best Outdoor Pizza Ovens for Making Amazing Homemade Pizza
I tried four portable pizza ovens from BakerStone, Gyber, Le Peppe, and Ooni to see which turned out the best pies
The only thing better than pizza delivered to your door is wood-fired pizza, available on demand, and cooked in your own backyard. Enter the tabletop outdoor pizza oven. These appliances, most of which run on some combination of wood, charcoal, or propane, offer the promise of endless, restaurant-quality pizza, prepared with any assortment of toppings your heart desires.
Outdoor pizza ovens are nothing new—large pizza ovens have been built into upscale outdoor kitchens for years. What is new is the recent proliferation of much less expensive small metal ovens that are designed to be used on tabletops. But the appeal remains the same: You can build a roaring fire and cook a pizza at temperatures north of 700° F, which is on a par with the cooking temperatures you’d register in those big ovens used in pizzerias. You’d never reach temperatures that high in your oven, or even on many grills. And with the wood and charcoal-burning pizza ovens, you get the distinct taste of smoke, which you can’t safely replicate indoors, since it’s seriously dangerous to burn charcoal indoors, or wood anywhere outside a wood stove or fireplace.
As a culinary school grad and former chef, I’ll admit that for years, perfect pizza was my white whale. I’ve nailed it a few times in a kamado grill, but I’ve been intrigued by these outdoor pizza ovens since they began creeping into my social media feeds last year. To see whether these ovens could really deliver pizza on a par with what you’d get from your favorite pizzeria, I purchased four widely available models to try in my yard:
To determine which pizza ovens were worth a look, I first capped my search at $500. You could easily spend $5,000 on a snazzy built-in outdoor oven, but I was looking to see if you could get stellar pizza without that kind of investment. I looked for options that were widely available online, as well as at major brick-and-mortar retailers and selected portable ovens (no installation required) designed to bake a pizza between 12 and 14 inches in diameter.
Three of these models—Gyber, Le Peppe, and Ooni—are designed to burn wood, charcoal, or wood pellets for heat and flavor. The BakerStone runs on propane, just like a gas grill.
The Results: Which Pizza Oven Should You Pick?
If you’re going to try out four pizza ovens at once, you’re either going to have to throw out a lot of extra pizza or throw a pizza party. I chose the latter, rallying my 4-year-old son, my partner, Theresa, her teenage daughter, and two friends of hers into a panel of discriminating, and hungry, taste-testers.
Ooni Karu 12 Pizza Oven
Price: from $349
Where to buy: Amazon, Ooni, REI
Heat source: Charcoal, pellets, wood
Max pizza size: 12 inches
What’s included: Chimney cap. A pizza peel and carrying bag are each available for an additional $40.
From the moment I opened the box, it was clear that the Ooni Karu was a polished, carefully designed oven with an emphasis on fit and finish. Riveted handles felt sturdy on the door and charcoal basket, and the chimney was the only one here that had a damper, which allows you to adjust airflow to help control the temperature of the fire. I admit that’s a seemingly small detail, but as someone who loves cooking on a charcoal grill, it was nice to have any means to control the airflow, and in turn, the fire and temperature. Even the oven door itself felt substantial; it’s an inch thick, which helps retain heat (most ovens have a flimsy, paper thin metal door).
The fuel basket, which holds the charcoal or wood as it burns, was easy to remove, and the chute, which feeds the basket, was large enough to add bigger pieces of coal or wood while you cook—with some other ovens, you need to pluck out tiny pieces of lump charcoal from the bag in order to ensure each piece fits down the hatch. These careful design considerations make you appreciate the Ooni, especially alongside some of the flimsier competition; see the Le Peppe and Gyber models, below.
You’d think the lack of a built-in thermometer would be a deal-breaker, but on the contrary, I found it to be one less thing to worry about. As long as I kept the Ooni loaded with lit wood and charcoal, it always seemed to hum along at the ideal temperature for making great pizza—I cooked four pies in the Ooni, and each time, the cheese would melt and bubble just as the dough set and baked through. The Ooni design also spares you a lot of the angst that can come with using these ovens, because everything just works the way it should, from adding wood or charcoal while you’re cooking, to locking the door in place while a pizza is baking. That means you can spend your time focused on the pizza itself, which in turn, helps produce a pretty perfect pie.
WPPO Le Peppe Portable Wood-Fired Pizza Oven
The fire-engine red Le Peppe looks like it was plucked from the set of a Fellini film and placed in your backyard. Pizza from this oven was every bit as delectable as from the others, and it costs $120 less than the Ooni, but there are drawbacks.
The fuel basket is the smallest of the group, so you need to refill it more frequently if you’re cooking more than a single pizza. (The portable nature of these ovens leaves limited space for a fuel basket, but the Le Peppe had a reservoir that was noticeably smaller than the others.) And the chute is prohibitively small—large enough to accommodate charcoal briquettes, but too small for larger pieces of lump charcoal or wood. So you have to hunt around for smaller charcoal pieces to use from the bag. Not a huge deal, but also not something you want to be doing when you’ve got dinner cooking in a flaming hot oven (your pizza can burn fast).
There’s no damper on the chimney, which means there’s nothing you can really do to control the temperature inside the oven. If you build a fire that gets too hot—you can tell from the built-in thermometer on this model—you have to wait for it to die down a bit before adding the pizza to the oven. The door is also on the thin side, so it does little to trap or retain heat in the cavity. That means the back of the oven tends to get much hotter than the front, requiring you to rotate the pizza more frequently so it cooks evenly.
Good for Beginners
BakerStone Original Gas Pizza Oven
The gas-fired BakerStone is the workhorse of the pizza ovens here, offering consistent, repeatable performance with only the smallest of learning curves. (The wood-burning ovens, on the other hand, require some trial and error because the heat is concentrated near the back of the oven, making it easy to burn your pizza if you don’t rotate it frequently.) This gas oven seemed to heat much more evenly. And because it runs on gas, it’s far easier to light and heat—you just press the electronic ignition, then adjust with two dials on the front of the oven. There’s also less mess without the residual ash that comes from burning wood or charcoal.
This oven is actually made of two parts. The top is an insulated oven with ceramic-lined walls, designed to reflect heat evenly. The base of the oven is a metal stand with two gas burners. As with the wood ovens, you slide pizza into an opening in the front. There’s no door on the front to help hold in the heat, but surprisingly, it didn’t make much difference in how the pizzas turned out, perhaps in part because the ceramic-lined cavity seems to distribute heat evenly, right up to the front of the oven. This model also can cook 14-inch pies, which is bigger than some other models here can handle.
From the first run, every pizza emerged evenly cooked with golden, crisp crust and perfectly melted cheese. You need to rotate the pies as you cook, but less frequently than with the wood ovens. The trade-off, though, is taste, which doesn’t match what you get from a wood-fired oven. Don’t get me wrong, the pizza was good, but it lacked any smoky flavor. If you’re a true lover of the smoke-kissed flavor of wood-fired pizza, you’ll be better served by the other ovens here.
Good for Feeding a Crowd
Gyber Fremont 29-Inch Wood-Fired Pizza Oven
If you love a wood-fired pizza and typically cook for a crowd, the Fremont is your best bet of the wood ovens here. It holds a slightly larger pizza than the other wood-fired options, and it has the largest fuel basket. That means you can build a bigger fire and cook pizzas back to back, without needing to top off the wood or charcoal in between, as you do with the Le Peppe and even the Ooni occasionally.
But while the larger capacity is nice, the oven does lack some of the polish you’ll find on other models. The oven door is flimsy and tough to rest in the opening—it fell out frequently as I worked, which made for a more stressful experience. Still, once I got used to it, this oven turned out delicious pizza.
One nice feature: the handle built into the top of the oven. It’s the only model here to offer the feature, which makes for easier carrying.
The Details: More About These Models
When I first saw the ovens, it hit me just how small a 12- or 13-inch pizza really is. They looked like tools I’d use to reheat a single slice of pizza, not cook an entire pie from scratch. But in some ways, their small size is a virtue. All of these ovens are designed to be portable. Most weigh around 30 pounds and have short little legs, about 6 inches high. That makes them easier to take to a campsite or a friend’s house, but because the legs are so short, you need a suitable surface: A metal or stone table is ideal, but wood works, too. (Don’t use a tablecloth or any other flammable material—charcoal and wood chunks can spark, especially when the door to the chute is open, and stray embers can ignite any flammables nearby.)
In my own yard, I opted for two old wooden tables on a level patch of grass, where an occasional spark from the charcoal wouldn’t do any damage. I would have traded some portability for taller legs or even a removable stand, like you often get with a portable grill. BakerStone and Ooni both make a variety of tables for these ovens, but the prices are a little ridiculous. BakerStone charges $150, while the large table from Ooni is $300—pretty close to the cost of the oven itself.
The three wood and charcoal ovens are essentially metal domes on legs. Each oven has a fuel basket for burning wood, charcoal, or wood pellets located in the rear of the oven. The Ooni and the Le Peppe also have a chute just above that basket to add additional fuel while you’re cooking. All three ovens have a removable metal door on the front—you take it off to place the pizza in the oven, then put it back in place to trap the heat inside the oven while you cook. The floor of each oven has a ceramic pizza stone, which you leave in place during the preheat, to help ensure a crisp crust when the pizza cooks. Each also has a metal chimney to vent smoke out through the top.
At first glance, the biggest difference I could see was that the Le Peppe and Gyber ovens each come with a peel to slide the pies in and out of the oven, and each has an analog thermometer built into the top of the oven. The Ooni doesn’t, and instead just directs you on how to light the coals or wood to reach an optimal temperature. Ooni also sells a standalone infrared thermometer for $40, as well as a slew of wood and metal peels, ranging from $30 to $70. Frankly, you don’t need any of those—a small cookie sheet works just fine to slide the pies in, and you can use a pair of tongs to rotate and remove the pies. I found myself doing that even on the ovens that came with a peel.
The lone gas oven from BakerStone was similar to the others in appearance, but it has ceramic walls and even a ceramic top inside the oven, in addition to the ceramic stone floor. Instead of a charcoal hopper or chute, it just has a rubber hose and valve that you use to attach a propane tank, just like you would on a gas grill. There’s no chimney—there’s not really any smoke, so you don’t need a way to vent it—and there’s no front door. It does have a built-in thermometer, but instead of specific temperatures, it uses illustrations that indicate when your oven is up to temperature—the flame icon indicates you’re ready to cook. You control the heat with the two burner knobs on the front of the oven. I found those controls refreshingly familiar since they’re reminiscent of what you’d find on a range or gas grill.
The Process: How I Evaluated Outdoor Pizza Ovens
I used store-bought dough and sauce along with shredded mozzarella for the cheese pizzas. For the dough, I halved one-pound pieces in order to make smaller pies (remember that most outdoor pizza ovens are designed to make pizzas that are only 12 to 14 inches in diameter, whereas a full ball of dough from the supermarket is big enough to make a pie 18 inches or larger). After halving the dough, I kneaded it back into a round shape and allowed it to proof on a room-temperature counter for an hour, so that it was easier to work and roll out.
I formed each pie on a cornmeal-dusted pizza peel, which helps the pizza slide right into the oven. For the three ovens that could burn charcoal or wood, I opted for a combination of the two—just as with barbecue, burning too much wood can result in a flavor profile dominated by smoke, which masks the ingredients.
I allowed the Gyber and Le Peppe ovens to preheat to temperatures between 600° F and 700° F, a range many consider to be the sweet spot for crisping the crust and melting cheese, without allowing the pie to burn. For the Ooni, I simply followed the directions and allowed the coals and wood to light fully and ash over slightly before cooking. And for the gas-fired BakerStone, I heated the oven until the thermometer needle pointed to the fire icon, indicating it was up to temperature.
I baked each pie for 4 to 8 minutes, depending on the oven, rotating each pizza periodically to ensure even cooking (generally speaking, the time is heavily impacted by the thickness of the dough, with thinner pies finishing faster). Some of these ovens claim to make pizza in just a minute or two, but I found that to be a bit optimistic. The pizzas were done when the lower crust was set, with bubbling cheese and a lightly charred crust around the perimeter.
While the pizza was (mostly) outstanding from all four ovens, it wasn’t always easy to get a perfect pie. I did have to toss out a few of the pizzas. That would have been a tragedy under normal circumstances, but we’d all hit our limits somewhere around the seventh shared pie. I admit some of this trial-and-error is to be expected in the process of learning how to use these ovens, but a lot of it came down to the individual designs—some models just made it easier to get a great pie.
As for the aftermath? All four models required a pretty thorough cleanup after cooking, including scraping burnt cheese and cornmeal from the ceramic stone. The wood-burning models need an extra wipe-down, even after you’ve dumped the residual ash from the fuel basket.
And be warned: Having any of these ovens on display in your yard will work like a magnet for attracting hungry friends and family, eager to invite themselves over and requesting all kinds of toppings on their pizza. I’ve already received personalized requests for Hawaiian and gluten-free pies.
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