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Gozney’s Roccbox Pizza Oven

Jacob Dean

Jacob Dean

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

While outdoor spaces are typically a welcome place of refuge during the warmer months, the COVID-19 pandemic made spending time out of the house even more essential. And with that urge to do things outdoors—combined with the fact that experts agree social gatherings should happen outside, and at a safe distance—outdoor cooking had a particular moment in the sun.

So when I had an opportunity to review the Gozney Roccbox this summer, a portable, outdoors-only, propane-powered pizza oven capable of reaching 950°F (510°C ), it seemed like the perfect appliance. But then a funny thing happened; as the weather began to cool, our use of the Roccbox grew ever more frequent. The oven, which works just fine during warmer months, became even more alluring as the days grew shorter and the leaves fell from the trees. And now, with winter about to dig in its claws, I think it’s safe to say that the Roccbox is your ticket to outdoor cooking during the colder months.

 

 

The perfect joy of real homemade pizza

Few at-home cooking projects are as bedeviling as making pizza from scratch, and that’s largely because home ovens just aren’t up to the challenge.

Commercial pizza ovens, or the larger brick, stone, or concrete wood-fired ovens that grace the backyards of the wealthy or truly handy, are capable of reaching temperatures that a home oven simply can’t reach. And while it’s certainly possible to produce a quality pizza at home, and there are a great many products and techniques which promise pizza nirvana directly from your home oven (or outdoor BBQ) it’s just not going to be the same.

This is where the Roccbox really shines. Because it can reach 950°F (510°C) at maximum temperature it’s capable of fully cooking a pizza—and giving it the desirable charred “leopard spotting” on the crust—in around 60 seconds. This means that if you can develop an efficient system for building your pies (or recruit friends or family to help with the assembly) you can crank out the pizzas rapid fire.

The high heat, and rapid cooking, also means that you can turn even humble dough into some pretty outstanding pizza. In addition to making our own dough we also used pre-made dough from several supermarkets, and purchased dough from a local Neapolitan pizzeria. While the professionally made Neapolitan dough provided the best quality pizza, the supermarket dough held its own, and the incredibly high heat of the oven did help to compensate for dough that when cooked in a home oven would simply be too wet to get good results.

A device indispensable for the pandemic

The fact that the Roccbox has to be used outside makes it a great choice for outdoor, distanced gatherings, One of the best, less-obvious features of the Roccbox is its “touch-safe silicone jacket.” While the oven can’t be safely moved once it heats up, the silicone jacket offers enough heat resistance that you won’t hurt yourself if you brush up against it, or if someone (such as a curious child) happens to reach out and touch the silicone-wrapped part of the oven. While the silicone does grow hot enough to be uncomfortable to touch for more than a few moments, repeat testing suggests it’s also not hot enough to melt plastic. This proved to be an added bonus when I was baking a pizza which required a drizzle of honey, as I was able to gently heat (and thus loosen) the honey by putting its container directly on top of the oven, making it more easily pourable. The oven isn’t designed to do this though, so do so at your own risk.

 

Not quite perfect

While I quickly grew to love the Roccbox, it is challenging to clean, and has some idiosyncrasies with which you’ll need to familiarize yourself.

First, the Roccbox is only capable of producing a 12-inch pizza, meaning that you’ll need to count on making at least one pizza per adult. This isn’t a design flaw; the oven just isn’t all that large.

There’s also no getting around it: cleaning the oven is a chore. Over time you’ll experience a natural buildup of soot, burned flour, and, depending on how graceful you are with putting your pizza into the oven, spilled cheese, sauce, and/or fat. The problem is that the Roccbox doesn’t have a removable dust tray, and there’s no convenient way to sweep out any residue. In fact, Gozney’s official instructions on how to clean the unit say that you should scrub down the interior with a dry BBQ brush and then use a vacuum cleaner to remove any soot or dust. Needing to use a vacuum cleaner is extremely inconvenient, particularly given that the unit must be used outdoors, and vacuuming up the pizza soot made the clear plastic dust chamber in our vacuum cleaner turn temporarily jet-black.

For reasons I don’t entirely understand, flames leak out of the front of the oven every time it is used. While this is initially slightly alarming, it doesn’t impact operations at all, and also doesn’t seem to be a safety concern. It does, however, create a buildup of soot and residue on the front face of the oven, which will also need to be cleaned after every use (and will stain your clothing if you brush up against it.)

I also experienced a lingering aroma of propane when the oven was turned up to full blast, which was ominous but also didn’t impact functionality. Turning down the heat a bit seemed to solve the problem, though, and the oven heats up so quickly, and is so good at retaining heat, that there doesn’t seem to be much need to have it set to the maximum flame level anyway.

Tips and tricks

Because of how efficient the Roccbox is at building and retaining heat, it’s also very slow to cool down. Keep this in mind if you’re using it out in the open and are expecting rain, or if you’ve taken it somewhere, such as for tailgating or to a park. Once the oven is hot there’s no safe way to move it, and you also shouldn’t put a cover on it while it’s still hot. I’m also not sure what will happen if the oven gets rained on while it’s hot, but I think rapidly cooling the oven by suddenly exposing it to water could result in thermal shock and crack the built-in pizza stone, or otherwise damage its ability to operate.

Do yourself a favor and buy the Roccbox’s cover and turning peel. Beyond keeping the oven safe from the elements, the cover also securely straps on using a long, wide velcro strap, and has a sturdy carrying handle sewn onto the top. This makes the oven much easier to carry around, which is a benefit in itself.

The turning peel is also a must-own product. The peel included with the oven is designed for inserting and removing a pizza, and is too wide to effectively turn it within the oven. To turn your pizzas—which you absolutely must do for them to cook evenly—you’ll need the turning peel.

You’ll also want to purchase at least a couple of 12” aluminum pizza pans. While you won’t be cooking your pizza on the pans, using them as a staging area for stretching out the dough and saucing and topping your pizza will make your life considerably easier. Just bear in mind that you’ll need to flour them heavily, otherwise the pizza dough will stick to the pan and make it difficult to transfer to the peel.

Gozney now also sells an upgraded version of its wood-burning heating element, which goes on sale at the start of December 2020. While I didn’t have a chance to test this, using wood to cook the pizza would be a good option for people who are unable to use propane, and I think would provide a more gentle (albeit harder to control) heat, as well as the aroma of woodsmoke.

Lastly, because the Roccbox cooks pizza so incredibly quickly, if you plan on using raw meat or vegetables on your pizza it will be important to parcook them ahead of time. If you don’t you’ll end up with ingredients that are cooked on their exterior, but raw on the interior.

Do I need this oven?

In a surprisingly short amount of time the Gozney Roccbox became an indispensable part of our pandemic meal planning, particularly when it came to hosting guests. The ability to cook outside, for a socially distanced crowd, made a huge difference for us this year. And while the oven isn’t cheap, the ingredients required to make pizza are in themselves generally inexpensive. And, really, who can say no to a pizza party?

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