On the top of my list of things I’ve always wanted but never thought I could have, there’s always been a pizza oven. Though I didn’t know much about what it took to own one, I had a feeling a lot was involved. I’d seen videos of people constructing them from scratch in their backyards, using the ample space they had (and I didn’t) to create stone and brick ovens with intricate designs and even more intricate engineering that would allow their ovens to reach the incredibly high temperatures needed to cook a pizza. It never actually occurred to me that a pizza oven existed that would make that process easy.
Use wood, charcoal or gas to bake pizzas to restaurant-quality perfection with this simple backyard oven. The Karu 12 is the smaller model than the Karu 16.
Then I was introduced to Ooni, a brand taking the internet by storm because it was doing just that: making fully functional pizza ovens that required little assembly and minimal effort to make a pie that would rival the ones they’re churning out in Naples. When I was given the opportunity to try the latest model, the Karu 16, I jumped at it. I was curious to see if my dream of owning my own pizza maker could actually be straightforward and fun.
Spoiler alert: It 100% can be.
Like other oven models created by Ooni, the Karu 16 aims to make the process of cooking delicious, restaurant-quality pizza incredibly easy. The model itself is not massive, though with 16 inches of total cook space, it is bigger than some models that came before it and does require a good amount of outdoor space when you use it. (I initially thought I could try the Karu 16 out on my balcony and quickly learned that wasn’t going to happen.) Another important note: The Karu 16 features a chimney that releases heat from the oven, so you shouldn’t really use it indoors.
Assembling the Karu 16 is simple and pretty fast. Most of the oven itself is already put together; all you need to do is put the door on, add the fuel tray and install the chimney, which gently slides into the top of the oven without a fuss. The heaviest part, the stone, requires a bit of extra care and should be slid into the oven first before you assemble the other parts, but that’s about as difficult as the assembly process gets.
Once you’ve got your Ooni situated, the next step in your journey to pizza nirvana is to pick the fuel type you want to use. The Karu 16 works with wood, charcoal or a separate Karu 16-specific gas burner to reach a possible temperature of 950 degrees Fahrenheit and cook a large pie in 15 minutes flat. The digital thermometer beneath the oven itself lets you know what temperature your oven is at as the heat rises, while the transparent door allows you to see how the pizza is cooking inside.
If you opt for wood or charcoal, there’s a drawer in the back of the oven where you can place your materials and a cover that will contain the flames. To get the fire going, it’s a good idea to snag an Ooni Natural Fire Starter to make the process quicker. If you choose to go the gas route, there’s an area in the back to hook up your external gas burner.
From there, it’s just a waiting game. Not only are you waiting for the temperature in the oven to climb, you’re waiting for the internal stone that cooks the pizza to heat up as well — if you don’t give the stone time to get hot, it’ll impact the quality of your pizza. Fortunately, the Karu 16 is designed with optimized airflow engineering and a carbon-steel shell, allowing the oven to get hotter more quickly (more on that below).
Once the oven reaches your desired temperature, you can load your pizza into the oven using a pizza peel and let it cook. To make sure it cooks evenly, use the peel to rotate your pizza periodically once you notice one side getting more golden brown.
There is no doubt that the Karu 16, like the other ovens Ooni makes, is an incredible pizza oven that will create the most delicious at-home pizzas you’ve ever made. That being said, there’s definitely a bit of a learning curve, but that’s actually part of the fun.
Beyond choosing what toppings you want to experiment with, there are a few things to learn once you get your own Ooni. The first is how to get the oven hot, and how to make sure it stays hot to cook your pizza evenly.
During our testing, we only used wood and charcoal to heat our oven because the Ooni Karu 16 gas burner was still sold out. What we found is that getting the oven hot took a lot longer because of the unpredictability of the materials being heated. With a gas burner, maintaining heat would be a lot easier because it’s easier to control. After adding both charcoal and wood to the fuel drawer, we were only able to reach 500 degrees Fahrenheit, but mostly hovered around 400 because we opened the oven door frequently.
The biggest issue came with getting the stone to heat up. Though the oven was hot and cooked the top of our pizza to perfection, we struggled to get the bottom of the pizza golden brown. Basically, we learned that when using heating methods outside of gas, you need to let the stone heat up longer than you might think — maybe an hour or more — before you start cooking.
The second thing that’s important to note before getting yourself a pizza oven: You’re going to need a lot of accessories. Ooni suggests a list of essential add-ons, which are 100% necessary for the process. You’re going to need a peel, as previously mentioned, because you won’t be able to get your pizza in and out of the oven without one. (That also takes a bit of adjusting. Pizzas love to stick to the peel, so pro tip: Add a little cornmeal or semolina flour to yours to help it slide off more seamlessly. Avoid oil, because that can heat up and cause burns.)
You’re also going to need to invest in wood or charcoal, a heat exelorant, an Ooni Karu 16 gas burner if you want your oven to heat more quickly and special oven mitts that can handle that degree of heat. To make sure you’re not exposing your oven to the elements, you’re likely going to want to get a cover for it too.
- Ooni 16-Inch Pizza Peel ($59.99; ooni.com)
- Ooni Premium Hardwood Pellets, 20 Pounds ($24.99; ooni.com)
- Ooni Premium Natural Firestarters ($19.99; ooni.com)
- Ooni Karu 16 Pizza Oven Gas Burner ($99.99; ooni.com)
- Ooni Pizza Oven Gloves ($19.99; bestbuy.com)
- Ooni Karu 16 Pizza Oven Cover ($49.99; ooni.com)
All that is to say, your tab can add up quickly, but it’s also incredibly worth the cost if you’re ready to make the commitment to homemade pizza. The Ooni Karu 16 does work, and it works beautifully. Once you play around with heat and get your peel technique right, you will reap the rewards many pies over. The pizza comes out as the perfect Neapolitan-style pie — crispy and charred on the top, with an airy chewiness to the dough and gooey, stringy cheese that stretches for days. When you opt for wood, there’s the added benefit of a wood-fire flavor that only makes your pizza that much more comparable to what you’d get in a restaurant. And once you get really good at using your Ooni, you can experiment with other foods like baked pastas and even steak.
Not to mention, having an Ooni gives you an excuse to invite people over to help you experiment. Because the pizzas cook so quickly, you can make multiples in no time at all, and serve everyone their own pie. If you want to take your pizza party to the next level, everyone can craft their own pies and take turns cooking them in the oven.
Having an Ooni Karu 16 oven is both an investment in time and money, but it’s also one of the best projects you can undertake if you’re a massive foodie. The pizzas you will make once you’ve mastered your oven will truly be out of this world, and everyone who is lucky enough to try them will undoubtedly agree.