Outdoor Pizza Party

The Outdoor Pizza Oven Is the Pandemic Food Trend That Just Won’t Quit (and We’re Here for It)

updated Jun 28, 2021
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Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Anna Stockwell

This piece is part of our Outdoor Pizza Party series. Read all of the stories — including a test drive and plenty of recipes — here.

Pandemic food trends came in with a roar, but what remains of them now? For many of them, things aren’t looking great. Pandemic-era bread bakers have already abandoned their sourdough starters en masse, and this writer admits to inadvertently killing her 2021 clutch of window scallions. But one buzzy trend keeps gathering heat: the portable outdoor pizza oven.

If the words “portable” and “pizza oven” don’t sound like they should go together, it’s probably because the category is relatively new. Pizza ovens of the traditional variety tend to be hulking structures bolted to the ground — and even if they’re not, they’re often heavy and expensive. Take the Kalamazoo Artisan Fire Outdoor Pizza Oven, which, at 100 pounds, isn’t being hauled out on vacation anytime soon. Not to mention that it sells for almost $9,000 at Williams-Sonoma. Fontana’s Margherita Pizza Oven, which retails for a more reasonable $2,300, clocks in at 187 pounds. Forno Brava offers its wood-fired Medio28 oven, which weighs 250 pounds, for $2,095.

But cooks persist in an irrepressibly romantic desire for a pizza oven of their own. Google Trends reveals a steady rise in interest in pizza ovens dating back to as early as 2004, likely tied to a new spate of lighter-weight, more affordably priced ovens to emerge over the last decade. But things really took a turn last year, when searches for the phrase “pizza oven” jumped sharply between February and May. The pandemic, it seems, sent the trend into frenzied overdrive as homebound pizza enthusiasts began to look more to their own backyards for culinary inspiration.

The Ooni pizza oven line was the game-changer. It entered the scene in 2012 and features ovens as light as 22 pounds and cheap as $300 — light enough to stash in the car for a weekend Airbnb jaunt. For $500, there’s the gas-powered Camp Chef Italia, which was introduced in 2013 and weighs 47 pounds. Similarly priced is the gas-powered Gozney Roccbox, which debuted in 2016 and promises to produce restaurant-quality pies from its 44-pound frame. On the lower end of the price spectrum, there’s the 36-pound WPPO Le Peppe wood-fired oven, for sale at Home Depot for just $230. Both the Ooni and Gozney ovens reach temperatures of up to 950°F — generally about 100° higher than most other at-home pizza oven models. That’s about as close as a home cook can get, temperature-wise, to a domed, wood-fired Neapolitan pizza oven, which can reach temperatures upwards of 1000°F.

Cooks persist in an irrepressibly romantic desire for a pizza oven of their own.

People are very into these featherweight ovens. Robert Ashley, a stay-at-home dad in Norman, Oklahoma, got his gas-powered Ooni Koda 16 in February 2021 and hasn’t looked back. “I’ve always made pizza at home, but I hate all that burned flour,” Ashley said of previous indoor forays into homemade pizza. “I usually get excited [about gadgets], but then find them disappointing,” he said. “I was not disappointed with this one.”

The pandemic gave Ashley the final push to invest in an outdoor pizza oven. “That and my son, Theo, who is 7, had started to believe that he only liked Detroit and grandma pies, and as a dad I was like: ‘Please understand that there is a world of good round pizza,’” he said. “The Ooni was a tool to help me set him straight on this important life lesson.” He’s since branched out from pizza, using his Ooni to make everything from ricotta cannelloni to lamb chops topped with tomato compote.

For Dan Trujillo, a digital marketer in Queen Creek, Arizona, the sudden desire for a pizza oven struck at the only kind of social gathering considered safe these past months: an outdoor one. His brother-in-law had purchased a Camp Chef Italia, and Trujillo was wonderstruck, both by the notion of cooking more outdoors and the prospect of fresh, restaurant-quality homemade pizza. “We had a few different pizza nights at their place and realized we needed our own pizza oven,” he recalled. He bought the same model in June 2020 and is now remodeling his backyard to better showcase it. “We will have an outdoor space to sit and enjoy our homemade pizza.”

Meanwhile, in New York City, Dan Nizzardini’s interest in pizza ovens proved more academic. When the professional pizzaiolo was laid off from his job at Danny Meyer’s Roman-style pizza joint Marta in April 2020, Nizzardini used the time off to chase his passion: mastering Neapolitan-style pies. “In June I bought the Roccbox from Gozney and have been in love since day one,” he said. Unlike other pizza ovens he’s tried before, Nizzardini says the Roccbox produces true restaurant-quality pies. He’s even considering setting up his own mobile catering operation with two to four of them. For now, though, Nizzardini is back at work, making Neapolitan-style pies for Rossopomodoro at its two Eataly locations in Manhattan. But he’s still getting plenty of use out of his at-home oven. “I come home from work and practice Neapolitan pizza on the Roccbox,” he admitted.

Is this the start of an at-home pizza making revolution? Will such gadgets soon be as commonplace — as essential, even — as a backyard grill? It’s looking more and more likely by the day.

“The interesting thing for us is that [sales] didn’t slow down as lockdown eased,” said Gozney CEO, Tom Gozney. “In fact, year-on-year growth was higher in September than it was in May/June.” Demand for the Roccbox is currently three to four times what it was before the pandemic, he added. The company’s newest model, the wood-burning Gozney Dome, recently generated $8 million in sales in eight hours during a priority pre-sale. (Demand was so high that sales are currently closed so Gozney can restock.)

For Gozney’s clients at least, the portable pizza oven is a game-changer. “Our customers tell us they’ll never buy a pizza again.”