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Outdoor pizza ovens make good pie

When Lelia and Frank Friedlander purchased their northwest valley home five years ago, they wanted enough square footage to live comfortably. They also needed some extra indoor and backyard space to run their business, TuffSkin, which specializes in surface protection for stone countertops. All of those boxes were checked, so to speak; however, one amenity that came with the home — a backyard wood-fired pizza oven — has turned out to bring the family (and company) more joy than expected.

“I’d say it was a nice cherry on top, not really a reason to buy the home, but we definitely enjoy it,” Lelia said.

The Friedlanders host company and family gatherings at their home, and the big attraction often is the blazing 800-degree outdoor oven. They frequently provide dough, cheese and marinara sauce and challenge, family, friends and employees to bring their favorite or most creative toppings. Pizza masterpieces are done in a few minutes, and their son, Jake, has embraced the head pizza-maker role in the family.

“We definitely learned a lot about pizza over the years,” Jake said, “and I know we’ve made some of the best pizza we’ve ever eaten in our lives with our own oven. It takes a lot of time to heat it up, but it tastes so good and now we have this communal element in our home, too.”

If you’re considering a pizza oven for your backyard, here are some considerations before you dive in:

Types of ovens, pricing

There are basically three types of pizza ovens: gas, propane and wood-fired. If you really want that wood-fired taste but don’t have the patience to heat a brick or stone oven up (it takes a few hours for the Friedlanders), you can opt for a hybrid gas model that allows you to place wood inside a stainless-steel oven to give the wood-fired taste with the gas-fired speed.

If you have a limited budget and want to dip your toes into the experience, you can get a small multifuel or gas-powered unit to sit on a stand or table. Most will cook one 12-inch to 16-inch pizza at a time. The units take about 15 minutes to heat up to about 800 or 900 degrees and only a minute or two to cook an actual pizza. Some, from a reputable brand like Ooni, can be found for as little as $400.

If you already have an outdoor kitchen and think you’d like to add a pizza oven to it, or are building a backyard kitchen and want to include one, there are plenty of countertop units available. A quality gas-powered unit for a backyard kitchen starts around $1,200, said Keith Rose, retail sales manager for Proficient Patios in Las Vegas.

“You can get some nice ones that work great in the $1,500 to $2,500 range,” he added.

Rose, who has been building backyard kitchens for almost 20 years, trusts recognized brands like Ooni, Summerset, Chicago Brick Oven and Forno Bravo.

Higher quality ovens hold in heat for longer periods. Manufacturers use unique concrete mixes for brick oven styles, steel structures and proprietary tile and mortar designs to get the performance and aesthetic that serves their audience. Some custom Forno Bravo ovens, for example, allow you to cook up to 200 pizzas in an hour. Depending on the quality and brand, there’s a lot to choose from between $2,500 to $10,000.

For pizza enthusiasts, wood-fired brick ovens will give you the most authentic wood-fired taste, Rose added. The downside is they’re the most expensive and involve quite a bit of cleanup.

“Wood-fired are generally bigger units and they will give you the best flavor, no doubt,” Rose emphasized. “A lot of people in Vegas are looking for something convenient, so the small countertop — propane or gas — ones are popular. You don’t have to buy wood, you don’t have to clean up after, and the pizza quality is still very good.”

Backyard kitchen design basics

If you’re looking to build an outdoor kitchen and are considering a pizza oven for it, keep some design basics in mind, adds Greg Sample, a landscape designer with CenterPoint Landscaping in Las Vegas. To him, the basics of good backyard kitchen design include a quality four-burner grill, shade, ample counter space and lighting.

Pizza ovens are eye-catching, and the quality is excellent, but they may also be a novelty item that goes underutilized. So it’s important to think through if it’s the right choice for you. Sinks and refrigerators are also backyard appliances that tend to go underutilized and may not be worth the cost, if you’re on a budget, he said.

If you do opt for a grill and pizza oven, avoid one common mistake, the kitchen design pro said. A pizza oven may need to sit a little higher for easier access, but keep counter heights the same. Avoid mixing higher bar counters into the design, if possible.

“When you serve people, you want a single solid surface so people can share what you’ve made for them. … If you have different heights, it can be a hindrance to that,” he said.

When you design your space, it’s also important to think of the triangle between the refrigerator, sink and stove in your indoor kitchen. The same rules apply for the outdoor kitchen, even though you may have a grill and pizza oven instead of a refrigerator and sink.

For example, you may find you move frequently between an ice bin or utility drawer, the pizza oven and the serving space. Items and appliances need to be in close proximity and easy to access.

“For us, when we design a space, you have to imagine how the person will move back and forth between the items we’ve installed in the outdoor kitchen,” Sample noted. “You also want to know if they’re left-handed or right-handed. That can influence where you place appliances.”

Ultimately, the decision to invest in a pizza oven probably comes down to three things: your budget, how much you’ll use the oven and how passionate you are about pizza.

“Pizza ovens intrigue people, especially when they see them in our showroom,” Rose said. “I tell them, ‘Honestly, the pizza will taste very, very good.’ These are not items you buy off a shelf in a big-box store. It just comes down to what you want to spend and if it’s really the right choice for you.”

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