Hands-on review: Ooni Karu pizza oven
Image credit: Ooni
A bit of practice can see you turning out restaurant-quality meals without leaving home or needing to buy special fuel.
Lockdown proved the perfect time to test this new garden pizza oven. We love proper wood-fired pizzas... but not enough to risk a takeaway delivery. Takeout is a luxury, not an essential. And luckily we had the ingredients to hand.
Ooni’s first pizza ovens only burned wood in pellet form, so you had to stock up on a bag of stuff that looked like cat litter. This instead burns kindling-sized pieces of wood, so you won’t need to buy in fuel especially. Or you can burn charcoal and then just add a little wood before cooking for the wood-fired flavour.
You can also add a gas burner (£64.99) which adapts the pizza oven to work with the big bottle of patio gas that you will already own if you have a gas barbecue. This adds quick convenience, but we’re not sure it’s necessary after testing with both... because cooking with wood is simple and efficient.
Set-up is straightforward and, though the oven is large, you can pack it away. The chimney can be removed and the three legs fold up to save space. You won’t need any tools, apart from a hex key if you want to switch to or from gas. But there’s a neat space under the oven to clip that so it’s always handy. The designers have thought of everything.
One of the best design touches is the cool-touch handles on the two covers: a small cover at the back that you pop off to load it with fuel, a large cover at the front to keep heat in when you cook. The handles are designed not to get hot enough to hurt you, which makes it easy to use the Ooni Karu safely.
To convert to gas, you must use the hex key on two bolts to remove a section at the back and swap it for the gas burner. You must also remove the front cover and the chimney, and replace the chimney with a stopper. It’s a quick process.
Cooking with wood was by far our favourite. You need finger-sized pieces of wood (15cm at the longest) and preferably hardwood (it burns hotter) so we used an axe to split old offcuts of untreated oak flooring. Letting children use an axe during lockdown: what could possibly go wrong? Thankfully, nothing did.
A natural firelighter (we used one of those balls of waxed wood shavings) plus some fingers of wood gets burning quickly and easily. At first, the wood burns fast and needs topping up every couple of minutes. Then it settles down, especially as when the oven is hot enough you turn a little lever to reduce airflow through the chimney, slowing down the fire. You can tell when it needs more because the smoke from the chimney dies down. The burner is very efficient: it doesn’t use much wood and there’s just a handful of ash left afterwards.
The small lever on the chimney does get too hot to touch, but we found we could adjust it by nudging it with a piece of wood. So the entire process could be done with bare hands. You have to be a bit careful with your fingers as you add pieces of wood, but it’s doable.
The claim that the Ooni Karu gets up to temperature in just 15 minutes holds true. At this point, we can’t recommend the optional Ooni Infrared Thermometer highly enough as it’s the temperature of the pizza stone you want to get right. At 400°C or above, you’re good.
The other accessory that’s very worthwhile is the stainless steel Pizza Peel. It’s hard to see how you would get pizzas in and out of the oven without it, frankly. Dough was rolled out on a worktop then popped on the peel before adding toppings. With practice, you could presumably pick up a topped raw pizza from the worktop with the peel.
The Ooni Karu is big enough to accommodate 12” pizzas on its hot stone base. Getting the raw pizza onto the stone takes practice as it can easily become a hot mess. You need plenty of flour or semolina between the peel and the underside of the pizza, so the dough doesn’t stick. Then you need the confidence to make a deft movement that whips the peel back while leaving the pizza in place. It’s the culinary equivalent of a magician yanking a tablecloth, leaving the place settings intact.
The hot messes were still delicious. We also learned that you can use the Ooni Karu to cook superb calzone but you really must turn that chimney lever down to reduce airflow, otherwise the flames licking up the roof of the oven are so big that the top of the folded pizza catches fire! But done right, you get proper bubbling and a bit of blackness, without burning.
Our first cooking session tasted amazing but would have won no awards for presentation. Our second session could rival most Italian restaurants. By the third, we were confidently turning out a stunning pizza every two minutes. Just use the peel to pull it out after a minute, turn it by 180° and replace.
We also experimented with gas and it did get up to temperature in a similar time. The pizzas tasted great too. Gas is a fine option if you already have a patio gas cylinder. But we didn’t see the need for it because the wood burner is easy to use and efficient, it doesn’t use much wood and we didn’t have to add wood too often once it was up to temperature and the airflow turned down.
I found it was possible solo to juggle the pizza prep, the cooking and refuelling to cook three pizzas in quick succession for my lockdown family. If you have more than one adult it would be a breeze: one of you focusing on food prep and the other on cooking and fuel.
Don’t want to fork out on the gas burner but want less hassle? There is a third way. You can use charcoal, which burns more slowly than wood, then add a bit of wood shortly before cooking and still get that wood-cooked flavour.
In all, the Ooni Karu was the best garden pizza oven we’ve tested yet. And we have tested many. We wouldn’t bother with the add-on gas burner, but you might want to. But do buy the metal pizza peel and the infra-red thermometer, because they really help you turn out top-notch pizzas.
Gas-fired, cute design with a soft-touch silicone jacket and a built-in thermometer. Reviewed here last year.
A pricey, wood-fired pizza oven that’s available in a range of colours. The curved exterior shell is fibreglass, inside is clay. It’s hand-crafted in Yorkshire.
A gas pizza oven for the garden that can be converted for use as a gas barbecue or griddle.
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