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Embrace Outdoor Cooking with the Ooni Karu 16 Pizza Oven

Jacob Dean

Jacob Dean is a food and travel writer and psychologist based in New York.

   OONI KARU

When I started cooking with Ooni’s newly released outdoor pizza oven, the Karu 16, I didn’t realize the impact it would have on the neighbors. That we’d find people we’ve really never interacted with peering at us—sometimes surreptitiously, sometimes with unabashed wonder—from their own patios. That the neighbors we did know would casually say things like “So…when are you making pizza again?” 

Never in my wildest dreams did I think that my favorite cooking tool in New York City would be an outdoor pizza oven. When my wife and I were looking for apartments in NYC and found a place with semi-private roof space, I immediately insisted we submit an application. Sure, the apartment’s stove is so small I can’t use all four burners at the same time, but the opportunity to set up a grill in front of our portion of the city skyline? Priceless.

Naturally, everybody surrounding us had the same idea. Our apartment, which shares roof space with our next door neighbor and is about 6 feet from a building that mirrors our own, is more often than not steeped in the aroma of grilling meat. Someone nearby has a wood burning BBQ. Plumes of grill smoke often appear from the roofs of the buildings around us. What was a novel opportunity for me was basically blasé for everybody else with access to outdoor space.

Well, I showed them. You think your BBQ is cool, fancy stranger? Think again! 

The Belle of the Ball

It doesn’t hurt that the Karu 16 is a beautiful piece of cooking equipment. Its closest equivalent is the Ooni Pro 16, an all-stainless steel model that looks like something a professional pizzaiolo would use at an outdoor restaurant pop up. The Karu 16, on the other hand, is a little more rounded, a little more gentle, the kind of oven designed to go on a patio, balcony, or behind your house. 

The aesthetic benefits also have practical upsides. The exterior, made from powder coated carbon steel and stainless steel, is so well insulated that even when the oven is cranked to maximum heat you can safely (although briefly) place your hand on the exterior without having to worry about being burned. And the glass door makes it easy to peek inside of the oven to check on the status of your flame and the progress of whatever you might be cooking. This is quite handy, especially if you’re using the oven to roast a piece of meat or fish, or to bake bread (and yes, it can do all of that in addition to making life-changing pizza).

If you’re like me and don’t have a covered outdoor area, you’ll need the optional cover to keep the oven clean and dry. The Karu 16 is such a good looking piece of cooking equipment, though, you’ll wish you could just leave it out and visible all the time.

PIZZA

Pizza Beyond Belief

Although you can make a pizza in your stove’s oven, or on a grill, or even in a cast iron pan. the pizza the Karu 16 is capable of producing is so far beyond what you can get from those other cooking methods that it’s almost like comparing an Easy Bake Oven against a commercial baker’s oven.

There are a few reasons for this. As with other Ooni models, the Karu 16 is capable of reaching temperatures in excess of 510 degrees C/950 degrees F. (although for reasons of practicality and safety that’s pretty much as hot as you’re going to want it to get). This means, on a technical level, you can produce Neapolitan-style pizza that’s so good that the AVPN (Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana), the governing body which actually defines what constitutes a Neapolitan-style pizza, has designated the Karu 16 as the first (and only) oven “Recommended for Domestic Use.” It also means at maximum temperature the pizza cooks in—seriously—about 60 seconds.

The Karu 16 can also make pizzas up to 41 centimeters/16 inches in diameter (hence the number “16” in the name) and is a multi-fuel oven. Straight out of the box it’s capable of cooking with either wood or charcoal, but it can also be outfitted with a propane gas burner or, if you have a gas line to connect it to, a natural gas burner. This gives you some flexibility with both temperature and flavor. Want the distinct flavor of a wood-fired pizza? You can have that. Want the tighter temperature control and convenience offered by gas? You can have that too.

The Karu’s cordierite baking stones, chimney system, and internal digital thermometer also allow for a remarkable degree of heat precision. The stones and the oven itself are both very efficient at retaining heat, while the chimney (which includes two baffles, one in the roof of the oven and another within the chimney itself) allow you to control air flow. And the thermometer—a separate unit, included with the oven, which plugs into the base—gives you the internal air temperature.

You’ll still want a handheld infrared (IR) thermometer to manually measure the temperature of the baking stone, but it’s not hard to figure out how the combination of temperatures translates into how your pizza will cook.

Accessories Galore

Ooni makes a wide range of accessories to make the most of your pizza oven. If you don’t have a temperature-safe table large enough to hold the oven, you’ll want to purchase Ooni’s large modular table. I’ve been using mine for several months and it’s incredibly sturdy, good looking, and seems virtually impervious to the elements. Ooni’s pizza launching peels are also an essential purchase. A peel is how you actually get the pizza into (and out of) the oven, and you must own at least one. Ooni sells various models in various sizes—perforated and unperforated—and what works for you comes down to personal preference. I find the perforated peel makes it easier to launch a pizza into the oven, as the perforations mean there’s less chance the dough will stick to the peel, but it also means flour gets everywhere. It’s a trade off I’m willing to make, but you might not.

You’re also going to need the Ooni pizza turning peel, which is both well-made and long and narrow enough to allow you to reach the very back of the oven. If you think you can get away without one of these, you’re wrong: the pizza launching peels are great for launching the pizzas, but they’re not proportioned for turning pizzas, which you absolutely must do to evenly cook your pizza and prevent it from burning.

Beyond that, you’ll also want the IR thermometer and cover mentioned earlier. Ooni’s heat-proof gloves have proven to be quite useful. And their firestarters and oak batons are great if you’re uncertain about your fire-starting skills, or don’t have easy access to firewood. And Ooni makes a full range of other add-ons as well; cast iron pans, pizza cutters, an oven-cleaning brush, and even a party-appropriate pizza-topping station. The sky’s basically the limit if you have the space (and the money) to fully invest in the experience.

Pizza Boss

I have so enthusiastically and frequently talked about the Karu 16 that my friends are legitimately tired of hearing me prattle on about it. But it does prove the old pizza adage true: even when pizza is bad, it’s still pretty great. And, completely due to my own inadequacies as a maker of pizza dough, I’ve made some bad pizzas, which I and my neighbors still consumed with gusto.

If you’re on the fence about owning one of these ovens, un-fence yourself. It’s a great tool, and one eminently suited for spending time outdoors with friends and family (or even just making pizza for one). It’s also basically foolproof, as even your worst efforts will make you look like a pizza-making genius. Given that it can also roast and bake, you can hardly go wrong. 

For the recipe for Chicken Buldak Pizza, visit: https://thecookscook.com/recipes/chicken-buldak-pizza/

 

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