A: For people who enjoy entertaining, a pizza oven—either wood-burning or gas-fired—offers a fun addition to an outdoor kitchen or backyard. Unlike traditional ovens, these babies sometimes reach temperatures as high as 800 degrees and produce a blistered, Neapolitan-style pizza in minutes; they can also be used for calzones, steaks, poultry, and bread.
Most models don’t have racks or shelves. Rather, your pizza cooks right on the oven’s piping-hot floor, which is usually made of a high-temperature-resistant composite material or covered with fireproof tile. Outdoor pizza ovens vary a great deal in size, substance, and shape, presenting an enticing array of options.
DIY-ers can jump right in with a build-your-own-oven kit. Just ask Gregory Kay, president of Chicago-based Lightology and a pizza aficionado. A few years ago, he built a wood-burning oven in the outdoor kitchen of his Lake View home.
Kay ordered the interior of the oven from EarthStone Ovens (Glendale, Calif., earthstoneovens.com) and installed it himself, with help from a few handy pals. The kit, which cost about $3,300, included detailed plans, concrete blocks, and fireproof tiles that Kay used to build an igloo-shaped oven. He encased it in a streamlined frame, finished the project with a stucco façade, and presto! Three days later, he was turning out beautiful pizza pies. “I’m a good mechanical guy and my friends are carpenters,” says Kay. “If you’re handy, you can handle this project.”
Un-handy homeowners, don’t despair. A local contracting firm can be brought in to do the dirty work. Jakob Schneider, a contractor and cost estimator with Lake Bluff–based Krügel Cobbles (3337 W. Berwyn Ave., Lake Bluff, 847-234-7935, krugel.com), says that from a construction standpoint, installing a wood-burning pizza oven is not that different from building a fireplace or grill in an outdoor kitchen. The Krügel crew also uses prefab oven kits and adds custom façades. The homeowner chooses the project materials: brick, stone, stucco—almost anything goes. Expect the whole thing to cost between $3,000 and $5,000.
Prairie Plus (509 Madison St., Oak Park, 708-848-4128, prairieplus.com), a cabinet, kitchen, and bath design firm, carries freestanding wood-burning units (starting at $2,500) that are about 43 inches wide and made from a lightweight brick-like material that’s cast as one solid, oven-shaped form, rather than built from individual bricks. The ovens weigh 350 pounds but are relatively easy to handle because they arrive pre-assembled. They’re weatherproof, too.
More portable options are emerging as the pizza craze gains momentum. Chicago Brick Oven’s (chicagobrickoven.com) wood-burning Amici ($4,000), designed by pizza-loving celebrity chef Mario Batali, arrives fully assembled and on wheels. Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet (kalamazoogourmet.com) recently debuted an even simpler option: a 30-inch gas-powered outdoor tabletop oven ($6,495). This sleek stainless steel model boasts the same convectional capabilities as a wood-burning oven. Two composite stones radiate heat from above and below, while a gas flame creates the illusion of a full-blown fire. Temperatures climb up to 800 degrees in minutes.
Before you tie on an apron and cue up “That’s Amore,” consider square footage. Larger wood-burning ovens put out a lot of smoke. An oven’s chimney should be located at least 20 feet from neighboring windows. City dwellers with postage stamp–sized yards may have to skip the wood-burning oven and go with gas (or takeout pizza) instead.
1 Garden designer Terrence Terhaar installed a wood-burning brick oven in a Lincoln Park yard.
2 Not ready to commit to a full-scale masonry project? Consider this gas-fired tabletop oven from Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet ($6,495).
3 The Vesuvio ($9,950-$13,000), designed by celebrity chef Mario Batali for Chicago Brick Oven, can be installed in less than an hour.
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