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Nothin’ says lovin’ like an outdoor pizza oven!

For thousands of years, Europeans have embraced cooking in outdoor wood-burning ovens. But it’s just in the past decade that the idea has caught fire in North America. With stylish outdoor kitchens trending on a gourmet scale, wood-fired pizza ovens are all the rage. And portable options (safe for condo balconies!) allow everyone to share in the joy.

Frank Turco, creative director at Turcof Designs, is a big fan. “To me, the best style of pizza oven is a built-in – making it feel truly custom and homemade, like a brick oven. If that option isn't available to you, a free-standing stainless steel model is fine, too.”

He notes, “What you really want and need is a great grilling surface and high temps. A traditional BBQ works as an alternative, providing the grilling surface is large enough to accommodate the dough. I love pizza ovens, personally, because they really bring some fun into outdoor grilling – for families and when entertaining guests.”

Allan Ham, president of Outdoor Pizza Ovens in Barrie, Ontario, says even four years ago, outdoor pizza ovens were not a mainstream item. Today, the popularity of his Authentic Brick Oven kits is proof of the growing momentum. “We carry made-in-America brands, geared to the changeable Canadian climate. Excellent insulation properties mean they perform well in all four seasons and it doesn’t take an enhanced skill set to put them together. A DIYer can handle it in a couple of days – everything’s included. All you provide is the finished façade to match your backyard landscape.”

The cost for a complete 35" Authentic Brick Dome Oven kit is $1225 CAN. Prices vary according to size and finishing touches (naturally, more elaborate equals more costly).

Where’s the fire?

To start cooking, build a hardwood fire inside the oven dome. No soft woods or coniferous please – sap doesn’t add good flavour. Initially, the cold dome goes black; when it’s up to temp (approx. 45 min. later), the walls turn bone white. Then, simply move the fire/embers off to the side and slide in your pizza! The heat radiates down like a convection oven and, at 800 degrees, it takes only minutes to sizzle that pie!

Place a grill over the hot glowing embers for mouth-watering steaks, burgers, chicken… Once the door is closed, heat is retained and next morning it’s still hot enough to bake bread! Yet, always cool to the touch outside – no worries about kids burning their fingers.

Pizza to go

A great option for camping, or a condo balcony or small terrace is the Finnish-built ‘Uuni’ – a unique portable pizza oven that burns food-grade wood pellets. Weighing 19 ½ pounds, it’s the size of a small briefcase with a slim price tag to match: starting at only $399.

More good news! Since outdoor pizza ovens are classed as ‘solid cooking fuel appliances for food’ – not fireplaces – there are no municipal bylaws affecting their use. And if the power goes out, just fire up that oven and dinner is served.

Adding a pizza oven to your outdoor lifestyle is an excellent return on investment. Allan says, “People get really excited once they start cooking on a wood-fired oven. That’s what it’s all about – the fun. And the taste! Kids, adults gathered around for a pizza party. You never hear folks say, ‘Ooh, can I try your barbecue?’ But everybody wants a go at the pizza oven!”

Mmmm… Tasty!

Canada’s celebrity grill master Ted Reader shares the oven love: “I have two pizza ovens, and a dozen or so other grills and bbq ovens that can be converted into pizza ovens. Thin crust or thick, a homemade, wood-fired oven baked pizza is absolutely delicious. My favourite be crispy, golden, thin crust pizza, white sauce, topped with a good melting cheese (mozzarella, fontina, smoked mozzarella, asiago, cheddar) and garnished with a variety of meats (bacon, sausage, pepperoni, ham, prosciutto, grilled chicken), a few red onions scattered about and maybe, if the season is right, some exotic mushrooms. Bake in a very hot wood-burning oven, then drizzle with freshly made pesto and serve it up with some frosty cold ones. #itbetasty!I cook all sorts of goodness in my wood-burning ovens, including prime rib, roast chicken, duck and rack o’ lamb!”

-by Lorie Steiner