You can make great pizza in a home oven. But because the temperatures of most top out at 500 degrees, you can’t get truly professional-quality results. For that, you need a temperature of 700 degrees or more. One option is installing a dedicated pizza oven in your kitchen or backyard, but that’s both expensive and permanent. Enter portable pizza ovens, of which there are two types. Indoor pizza ovens are midsize electric appliances that sit on the kitchen counter and generally resemble a toaster oven or oversized waffle iron. In previous tests, we learned that good performance will cost you: The best model we found, the Breville Smart Oven Pizzaiolo, runs about $1,000. All the other models we tested performed no better than a home oven (and often much worse). Outdoor portable pizza ovens, which we hadn’t tested before, can be used in your backyard, at a tailgate, or at a campground. Instead of being powered by electricity, they’re fueled by propane gas and/or wood or charcoal. Cooking pizza outdoors presents its own set of challenges, but these ovens are an intriguing option for anyone who loves pizza or throwing parties.
To see if portable outdoor pizza ovens could allow us to make truly professional-quality pizza at home, we purchased six models, priced from about $260 to around $700, including models from the big-name pizza oven companies Roccbox and Ooni (formerly Uuni). All could be powered by propane. Three were multifuel models that also could be heated with wood fires, and two of those models could also be heated with charcoal. We baked dozens of thin-crust and Neapolitan-style pies, first using propane to heat all the models and then using wood and/or charcoal to heat the multifuel models. Our goal: a pizza oven that quickly and reliably got scorching hot, baked excellent pizzas in a variety of styles, and was simple and convenient to operate.
Before we started cooking, we had to assemble the ovens. Most were quick and easy to put together. One propane-only model came fully assembled, so all we had to do was unfold its legs and slide in its baking stone. The other two models that run on only propane required a bit more work, including installing their gas burners and placing the baking stones above them. The multifuel models also required some assembly, such as attaching a chimney or doors and securing their gas burners to the back of the ovens with screws. Some of those assembly instructions were a little unclear, but the models still weren’t difficult to put together. At most, they required just an Allen wrench or screwdriver and no more than 30 minutes of our time.
Once assembled, the models looked very different. One was cylindrical with a domed top and looked like a multicooker or air fryer. The others were roughly rectangular, and most were very bulky. The three biggest models weighed more than 40 pounds and were about as wide and long as a big cooler, though the exact shapes varied considerably. The others weighed less than 30 pounds and were much more compact. Since these ovens are not meant to sit outdoors year-round and need to be sheltered from rain and snow, a compact design was a real perk. One oven in particular was slim enough to tuck under our arm.
Setting up the ovens for use with propane gas was easy. All we had to do was connect the regulators and hoses attached to the ovens to standard 20-pound propane tanks, just like we do with gas grills. To ignite each oven, we simply pressed in a dial, twisted it to high, held it for a few seconds, and released it when we saw a flame. Once the ovens were hot, which took 20 to 30 minutes depending on the model, we could adjust the heat by turning the dial.
There was a learning curve with all these ovens. The first few pizzas we made were burnt around the edges or on the bottom. The social media pages for many of the companies are full of posts about tweaking the hydration of the pizza dough or experimenting with different temperature settings. For many people, tinkering with ingredients and settings is part of the appeal of owning a pizza oven. But the best ovens had a few key design features that made them easier to use right away.
Each model had a single gas burner that was responsible for generating all the heat inside the oven. For an oven to work well, its burner had to heat the baking stone plus the air inside the oven, and its walls and roof had to direct the heat back onto the pizzas as they baked. It’s no surprise that the location of the burners was perhaps the biggest factor in determining how hot an oven got and how well it performed.
In the ovens we tested, the gas burners were located in two different places: either beneath the stone or at the rear of the oven. The burners of two of the ovens were located under their stones, and we could barely see them. After preheating these ovens on high for 20 minutes, the maximum amount of time recommended by their manufacturers, the average temperatures of their baking stones were about 580 and 625 degrees. Though hotter than a stone heated in a home oven, both were cooler than the 700-plus degrees we wanted. (Because most companies caution that heating the empty ovens for too long can damage them, we didn’t extend the recommended 20-minute preheating time.) Although the walls of these ovens directed some heat toward the surface of the pizzas, the majority of the heat was concentrated in the baking stones and below it. Using these two ovens to bake pizza was akin to cooking the pizzas in a skillet on a stovetop burner; the pizzas baked from the bottom up and the crusts absorbed a lot of heat in the time it took the toppings to cook through. All the pizza crusts—whether they were meant to be chewy thin-crust or light, airy Neapolitan-style—dried out a little and were even a bit crunchy. They were delicious, but they weren’t true to the intended style.
The gas burners of the remaining four models we tested were located at the rear of the ovens. The flames generated by these models arced up and over the baking stones, and these exposed flames made for hotter—and better—ovens. When we followed the manufacturers’ instructions for preheating (20 minutes for all except the largest model, which required 30 minutes), the stones reached between about 695 and 770 degrees, nearly 200 degrees hotter than the coolest oven in the lineup. In addition, the intense flames that traveled up the rear of the ovens and over the tops of pizzas cooked the surfaces of the pizzas at the same rate as the stone cooked the bottoms, translating into tender crusts and evenly melted cheese.
No matter where the gas burners were located, the baking stones in all the ovens heated unevenly, so we had to rotate every pizza to ensure even baking. One model, however, was designed in a way that caused it to heat very unevenly. Its baking stone was up to 250 degrees hotter at the back than at the front. We frequently had to rotate the pizzas we made in that oven, and the sections that were close to the flame still tended to scorch. The best models had features that helped minimize the difference in temperatures for more evenly baked pizzas. Two models had specially angled ceilings or metal plates that directed and distributed heat over the pizzas. Some also boasted thick walls and either double-walled insulation or insulating ceramic fiber in the walls and oven floors to help pizzas cook more evenly.
Once we had tested all the models using propane, we tested the three multifuel models with wood and, with compatible models, charcoal. To switch fuels, we simply had to swap out the gas burner for attachments designed for burning wood or charcoal. It was a simple process. One oven had a cylindrical, vented chamber that attached to the underside of the oven with a quarter turn. The other two models were equipped with triangular, perforated trays that could be filled with wood, charcoal, or a combination of the two. These trays slid in through the mouths of the ovens and dropped into place behind the baking stones.
Unfortunately, this was when things stopped being easy. The areas in which to burn the wood and charcoal, even in the largest ovens, were still fairly compact. As a result, we had a terrible time finding food-grade wood that fit. The narrow opening (about 3½ inches by 2 inches) in the cylindrical chamber was especially challenging. The trays meant for coal and wood on the other two ovens tapered to about 6 inches at their narrowest points. It was easier to cut wood to fit in them, but we still needed an axe and the space (and the confidence) to wield it.
There’s always an element of experimentation to wood-fired cooking, and learning to produce great results from a wood fire can be fun and rewarding. But due to how these three ovens were designed, it wasn’t always fun, and the results were often not worth the prolonged effort. The small fuel chambers limited us to small fires that had to be monitored constantly. The cooking surfaces did eventually reach upwards of 700 degrees, as they did when heated by the propane burners, but we struggled to maintain those temperatures. At one point, a robust flame died in the time it took one of our testers to stretch and top a pizza, which couldn’t have been more than 90 seconds. These models really required two people: one to maintain the fire, and one to prepare and monitor the pizzas. Even in large professional ovens, pizzas cook too quickly for them to pick up any wood-fired flavor. Since you're not choosing wood for flavor, there’s no real incentive to use wood as fuel in these ovens when gas is such an easy, clean, and reliable option. All in all, using wood was a frustrating, high-maintenance affair with little payoff.
Lump charcoal, which can be used in two of the models, was much easier to source and pile into the tray-style chambers. The heat produced was steady and consistent, but it wasn’t as intense as the heat produced by gas or wood. Some companies suggested adding wood to charcoal for a burst of heat during pizza making. We tried this and the ovens did get hotter, but the extra heat was short-lived and the process finicky. Charcoal would be ideal for low-and-slow cooking such as roasting meat, but that’s a secondary use for a pizza oven.
We were surprised by our results until we remembered that custom-built wood-fired pizza ovens are designed differently. First, they’re big enough to accommodate full-size logs or big piles of charcoal. Second, the process for building the fires is also different. Generally, the fires are lit near the door of the oven, thereby heating up the baking surface at the front of the oven, and then the embers are pushed to the back. Those big piles burn hotter and longer than the fires we could build in these small outdoor ovens, and they require less vigilance to maintain.
If you have visions of spectacular weeknight pizza dinners or gathering your loved ones together for backyard pizza parties, we highly recommend the propane-powered Ooni Koda. The exposed flame at the rear of the oven cavity heats the stone to 750-plus degrees and cooks pizzas quickly. It can make many styles of pizza, from chewy thin-crust to light, airy Neapolitan-style pizza. It was by far the most user-friendly model to operate, and it was the smallest and easiest to assemble, transport, and put away after use. At about $300, it’s considerably less expensive than the Smart Oven Pizzaiolo by Breville, our favorite indoor pizza oven, and most of the other outdoor pizza ovens that we tested.
If you’re inspired by the challenges of heating an oven with wood or charcoal, consider the Ooni Pro instead. At about $700, it’s more than double the price of the Koda; it’s more than double its size and weight as well, but it’s also more versatile. The company also sells an attachment for burning wood pellets to heat the oven. A unique set of adjustable vents in the chimney and ceiling change the flow of air and amount of smoke in the oven for slow cooking or roasting. It’s more than most home cooks need, especially if it will be used primarily to make pizza, but it’s an excellent oven.