Ooni (nee Uuni), has been around for a few years now, but its latest oven, the Koda 16, launched in March. Just like everyone else, I’ve been cooped up at home for weeks with nothing but all of the projects I would get around to one day.
At the top of my list was learning how to make decent pizza at home (we don’t have many decent pizzaiolo’s in my town). I’d been hearing about the Ooni oven for a while — mostly via Neven Mrgan’s great Instagram feed — so I sprung for the Koda 13” and started firing some pies.
I was immediately enamored with the eye popping results. Chewy, crispy, well cooked Neapolitan-style pizza within 30 minutes of taking it out of the box. And I’m not exaggerating. After a couple of pizza launching disasters (this is not as easy as it looks, people), I was eating the product of my own hands and the Ooni’s 800+ degree baking surface. While not even an advanced amateur chef, I have always had somewhat of an aversion to single-use gadgets. Technique always wins, right?
The problem with that thinking is that it is really impossible to cook true Neapolitan pizza at home in the US because our ovens just don’t get hot enough. A ton of experimental dough situations have resulted in a few workable New York style pizza recipes for 500 degree ovens. But for thinner crusts there is zero substitute for that true 800-1000 degree cooking environment.
The Ooni delivers that in under 20 minutes attached to a bog standard propane tank. It’s brilliant.
Ooni co-founder Kristian Tapaninaho started messing around with building a decent pizza oven in 2010. He got into making home pies and realized that there was pretty much no way to do it other than building a large, expensive oven in his back yard. He began prototyping what became the company’s original oven in 2012, and he says that the original oven’s design stemmed from a super simple yet super obvious (in hindsight) design constraint: what could they ship affordably?
Due to shipping restrictions, it had to be under 10 kg and had to fit in a certain footprint. Every piece of design work on the first oven stemmed from those constraints. Why, for instance, does the Ooni oven have 3 legs? Because the 4th one would have put them over weight.
Within those constraints, the original oven took shape — delivering that super high-heat surface with a simple wood-fired unit that more than doubled its original funding goal on Kickstarter. Kristian and co-founder Darina Garland defined this high-heat, high results at-home outdoor pizza oven market at scale, along with other later entrants like Roccbox.
I had a bit of a chat with Kristian about how Ooni was doing lately, with the specter of coronavirus and the new business realities that have resulted.
“This COVID-19 situation began for us in mid January as our suppliers started informing us that they were delaying return to work from Chinese New Year,” Kristian said. “At the time, the worry was if we’d have enough supply for the summer which is, of course, peak season for us. As our supply chain was restarting, it was clear that we’d have similar lockdowns in our main markets as well. Overall, however, we started the year at a strong inventory position which helped buffer any interruptions.”
He says that Ooni was lucky given that the initial production run of the Ooni 16 was already in warehouses by the time things got really hairy in Edinburgh and the surrounding areas. And the team was fairly ready for the new challenge of stay-at-home work.
“Much of our team comms already happened over Slack so the team’s been really quite well setup for working from home,” he told me. “We have great relationships with our 3rd party logistics providers and while they’ve been incredibly busy, they’ve been able to maintain a good level of service, at least in the grand scheme of things.”
In addition, Ooni has just launched the Fyra, an updated version of the original Ooni 3. It’s a wood pellet-powered design that offers a similar “get up and go” quick pizza path. The wood brings an additional smoky flavor, of course. At 23 pounds, it’s a super portable wood version of the gas stoves I’ve been playing with.
Yeah, but how does it work?
Once Kristian saw that I was playing with my Ooni 13, he offered to send the newly launched 16″ model over to play with. I jumped at the chance to make a bigger pie.
My experiences with the Ooni ovens so far have been nothing short of revelatory. Though I’ve pondered indoor options like the Breville Smart Oven, I knew in my heart that I wanted that brilliant taste that comes from live fire and the high heat that would let me enjoy super thin crust pizzas. I’ve now fired over three dozen pizzas in the Ooni and am coming to know it a bit better. Its recovery time, rotation needs and cooking characteristics. I have never used a more enjoyable cooking utensil.
I’ve tried a few dough recipes, because I know I’ll get questions about it, but I’ve used two to good effect. Ooni’s own recommended dough (though I hydrate a bit more) and this Peter Reinhart recipe recommended to me by Richie Nakano.
The pizzas that result are bursting with umami. The oven enables that potent combination of cheese, sauce and randomly distributed carbonization that combines into the perfect bite. Your pie goes in somewhat pedestrian — whitish dough, red sauce, hunks of fresh mozzarella — and you see it come to life right in front of your eyes. Within 60-90 seconds, you’ve transmogrified the simple ingredients into a hot endocrine rush of savory, chewy flavor.