Pie-Q Test: Everything You Need to Pull Off a Perfect Pizza at Home

Unlike grilling burgers or smoking barbecue, pizza has no off-season. It’s fast, inexpensive, kid-friendly, and endlessly customizable. In short, there is no bad time to have pizza. And right now you’re living in the golden age of artisanal pies made at home. Over the last few years manufacturers have churned out a range of easy-to-use backyard ovens—and even some countertop versions—that clock in at around 900 degrees, getting way hotter than a standard kitchen oven. From basic margarita style to specialty pies like Detroit- or Sicilian-style, once you get hooked on making pizza at home you’ll forget the local pizza shop’s number. But equipment alone is only half the story.

Be Pizza-Prepared

Baking a proper pizza starts with the right dough. A Google search yields tons of recipes for pizza dough, but most are designed for indoor ovens. “A lot of the strategies for indoor pizza home ovens won’t work well outdoors,” says Andrew Janjigian, who has covered pizza making for Cook’s Illustrated and King Arthur’s flour, and produces a newsletter about baking at wordloaf.org. “Home ovens typically don’t get higher than 550 degrees. A typical pizzeria oven is going to get at least 700 degrees—and that 150- to 200-degree difference is big.”

The key? Build the dough more like a pizzeria does, optimized for higher heat. “Indoor pizza recipes put things like sugar, oil, and sometimes diastatic malt, an enzyme that promotes sugar formation in the dough, all to get it to brown quickly—but in an oven that is 700 to 900 degrees, those things are a detriment because they’re more likely to burn,” says Janjigian. If you don’t have the time to make your own dough, call your local pizzeria to see if they’ll sell you some.

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Janjigian explains that in a commercial oven there’s more room for the pizza, but in a backyard version, you have an intense heat source basically right next to the pie. That means there’s often more responsibility on you to rotate the pie once inside the oven to make sure it’s cooking evenly, around the circle, but also top and bottom.

“There’s definitely too much of a good thing when it comes to heat,” he says. “Just because you can crank the oven up to 1,000 degrees, it doesn’t mean you should. I like 700 to 800 degrees—that’s kind of the perfect middle ground.” And it’s always a smart move to preheat the oven before sliding a pie in. Aim for about 30 minutes, if your oven has a door, and about 45 if it doesn’t.

Here are some of the best pizza ovens, for indoor and outdoor cooking, plus all the gear you need to turn out amazing artisanal pies.

1. Breville Smart Oven Pizzaiolo
While this 18-inch wide oven sits on top of your counter, it gets hotter than your full-size version. Designed specifically for pizza—you’ll have to get your toast elsewhere—it converts 1,800 watts into 750-degree heat to turn the dough, cheese, and sauce into a pizza in about two minutes using convection, conductive, and radiant heat. The deck pulls out a bit when you open the door, which makes loading a 12-inch pizza on from the peel easier. You could crank out a few smaller pies in the time it takes your regular oven to come up to temperature to cook a single pizza.
[$1,000; breville.com]
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2. Ooni Karu 16
Engineers added some useful updates to the newest Ooni, one of the first backyard oven brands. A built-in digital thermometer provides the ambient temperature inside the oven and a tilt-down door prevents excessive heat loss while still allowing you to keep your eyes on the cook. The 17-inch wide oven floor can bake up a 16-inch pie, or roast a smaller quarter sheet pan or cast-iron skillet full of meat or veggies. Fire it up with propane during the week (with a $100 burner accessory). When you have more time, get a fire going with hardwood kindling or charcoal.
[$799; ooni.com]
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3. Solo Stove Pi Pizza Oven
Solo Stove, experts in smokeless firepits, have a round, modern take on a traditional pizza oven. At just over 30 pounds, this wood-burning oven which you can fit with a gas burner (a $175 accessory that attaches to the back) is on the lighter side. Weighing less than portable cookers, it’s easy to transport to a friend’s house or tailgate, where it will crank out 12-inch pies. The flat, 20.5-inch wide top makes a great shelf to store a peel or keep pies warm, though you might want to add Solo’s silicone mat (a $30 accessory) to keep the stainless steel scuff free.
[$625; solostove.com]
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4. Gozney Dome
Most backyard pizza ovens are designed as accessories or somewhat portable. The Gozney is not. This oven is two feet wide and tall, and at nearly 130 pounds it’s the centerpiece of an outdoor kitchen. With a doorway that’s 5×16 inches, this oven does more than just pizza, though it does that well too. Fueled with wood, or the included propane burner, the Gozney comes with two probes: one for ambient temperature and one for your food. A digital temperature gauge and dial make it easy to get the exact setting you want when working with gas—which reaching 950 degrees if you’re tending a wood flame.
[$1,999; us.gozney.com]
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5. Halo Versa 16 Outdoor Pizza Oven
The hardest thing about cooking a pizza is managing the pie while it’s in the oven so it cooks evenly. The Versa solves that problem for you by spinning the pizza for you. The cavity, which can fit up to a 16-inch diameter pizza, reaches 950 degrees by burning propane, while a slab of underlying Cordierite stone spins as it’s heated by an infrared burner. The result is a leopard-spotted crust and melted toppings in about five minutes without you having to get in there and fuss with a peel. But if you feel like getting hands-on, you can turn the rotation off with the push of a button.
[$550; halo-pg.com]
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6. Gi.Metal Stainless Steel Perforated Small Pizza Peel
Most pizza ovens come with a wide metal, wood, or bamboo peel, which is great to build your pizza on and then launch it into the oven. To properly cook a pizza you’ll have to rotate it while it’s in the oven, which you can do with tongs—but at the risk of damaging the airy crust you worked so hard to build. That’s where a second peel, like the Gi.Metal helps. The small, round head works to shimmy under the pizza after it’s baked for a minute, and pivot it so every side gets blasted by the burner. This one, which is available in a 6 ¾-inch diameter head, has a sliding second handle to make using it easier.
[From: $79; gimetalusa.com]
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7. OXO Good Grips Pizza Wheel
You don’t need to spend a bundle on a wheel, but you do need a solid one. Friends and family will be in awe of the way a pie fresh out of the oven looks — all bubbly, charred, and maybe a little oily. But you’ll want to sever the crust, from the outside towards the center, with a confident chop down, then roll. A good pizza cutter makes it easier to get through the densest crust easily so you can focus on listening for the crispy goodness.
[$12; oxo.com]
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8. OXO Good Grips 11-pound Stainless Steel Food Scale with Pull out Display
The pursuit of serious pizza making, like any form of baking, requires precision. The OXO scale is one way to dial in the exact amount of flour for your pizza dough. Typically, any serious recipe you find online will have ingredients listed in ounces, by weight, or grams. This scale has you covered for both—plus the digital readout pulls out away from the scale a few inches so large bowls won’t block your view.
[$56; oxo.com]
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9. ThermoWorks Industrial IR Gun
The thermometers that come built into a pizza oven measure the ambient air temperature—and are usually off by at least a few degrees. While still more accurate than the thermometer built into your gas grill (which is reading the air temp at the underside of the hood where you’re not cooking), knowing the temperature of the deck, or floor, of the oven is valuable information. The ThermoWorks gun is point-and-shoot simple, with a bright single laser that at 12 inches away will read a one-inch diameter spot, telling you the temp of the floor in as many locations as you want to test.
[$74; thermoworks.com]
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10. Nordic Ware Naturals Baker’s Quarter Sheet
At its core, a pizza oven is a small box that gets rocket hot—and it’s useful for more than just pies. While the openings might not accommodate a rib roast, most ovens can accommodate things like cast iron skillets. One way to increase the utility is with Nordic Ware’s aluminum quarter sheet pan. At 12×8.8 inches, it’s perfect for Sicilian-style pizzas, flatbreads, rolls, roast veggies and fish, or even baked desserts.
[$12; nordicware.com]
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11. DoughMate Artisan Kit
A home pizza oven usually works fine with the dough you bought from the local pizzeria. But to really get into pizza you’ll have to get your hands into making dough, and that means a system to manage all of those balls. Many recipes for pizza dough call for it to proof, or rise, in the refrigerator slowly, which tends to develop more flavor than a countertop method at room temperature. This DoughMate kit includes a 17¾x12⅞-inch tray and tight-fitting lid that slips into your fridge—plus a scraper that makes moving the eight balls easier.
[$37; doughmate.com]
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