By Eric Barton
City & Shore Magazine
The crane that pulled up outside Aaron Brooks’ house was massive. Like high-rise-construction-site huge. He was kind of stunned by it.
Brooks is the head chef at Edge Steak & Bar in Miami, and he had decided not long after buying a home last year that he wanted a serious pizza oven for the backyard. He had one designed custom from a company in California, called Forno Bravo, in black and white tile to match his new home’s color scheme. With a base of 28 inches – enough for pizzas and roasts – it cost five grand.
And then he watched the crane pick it up and carry it slowly, precariously it seemed, over his home.
“I really just had to laugh to myself,” he says. “All this for a good pizza?”
If you’re the type who’s serious about making a good pizza at home, all of this might not surprise you. And more people these days are spending thousands – sometimes tens of thousands – to install a pizza oven at home that can rival the best Italian restaurants.
The first thing to consider is whether you want your pizza-making operation inside or out, says Joseph E. Feinberg, vice president and partner of Allied Kitchen & Bath in Oakland Park, which has been designing and installing custom indoor and outdoor kitchens for 36 years. There’s an obvious convenience factor in having an indoor oven, Feinberg says, because you won’t have to battle summer heat or worry about rainstorms interrupting your pizza party.
“You first have to consider how often you’re going to use it,” Feinberg says. “Ask yourself how serious you want to get about making a good pizza.”
For beginners, a portable countertop unit, starting at $600, might suffice and provide a fine pie, says Tim Brohawn, managing partner of Fuse Specialty Appliances in Fort Lauderdale. But for serious pizzaiolos, indoor units run into the five figures, and look more like the hearth-style ovens you see in restaurants. Among them is an $11,500 open-faced GE Monogram unit Fuse says matches a modern, upscale kitchen.
But Feinberg and Brohawn both agree the indoor pizza oven has its drawbacks. First is how its fueled, as most indoor ovens only use electricity. Then there’s the issue of the heat they generate – a good pizza oven might reach 1,000 degrees – providing a challenge to even the best AC units.
The pizza oven designed specifically for outside kitchens, meanwhile, has lots of advantages, most notably that it’s where most Floridians want to spend their time. “The outdoors is where people want to be,” Feinberg says. “It’s an extension of your own home and opens up a lot more opportunities for entertaining.”
There are lots of options for outdoor pizza ovens, from wood-pellet-fired portable units that can be set up on any tabletop to the tiled dome units, like the one Brooks carried over his house with a crane.
It’s easy to imagine the pizza oven as a focal point to even the most handsome of outdoor kitchens, Feinberg says, and it can become a spot where people gather to watch the process. Allied is often working pizza ovens into the design of outdoor kitchens these days, he adds, sometimes with seating to watch the pizza crust char and the cheese bubble and melt. Expect to spend upwards of three grand on a good, built-in unit for a backyard, with prices going up past $40,000 for the high-end, custom-built models.
Where the pizza oven gets placed in your backyard kitchen is crucial. While it can provide that focal point to a design, it also needs good ventilation, something Brooks found out the hard way. After installing his near the house, he watched the exhaust darken his paint. In the end, he had to pay another couple of grand to have a company extend the chimney so that it rose above his roof.
Aside from the design, the main consideration is how to fuel your outdoor pizza oven, Brohawn says. Electric power is easy but limiting. Brooks went with wood-only, which requires more work to get going and time to heat up. The most versatile is a gas-powered oven that can also burn wood, which allows for a quick gas-only setup for, say, a Tuesday night. Then, when friends come over on a Saturday, it’s time for the longer process of adding logs to the gas flame to char pizzas with the rich flavor that only wood imparts.
“If you’ve been to a coal-fired pizza house, it’s just like that,” Brohawn says. “We’re talking about the authentic Italian restaurant experience.”
For the larger units, it’s also not just about the pizza, he says. Roasted meats and vegetables also get a smoky flavor by spending time in the high-heat ovens.
Brooks says he’s been experimenting with his since the crane dropped it into his backyard. “The thing gets ripping hot, so you really do have to figure out how to use it,” he says.
After burning trays of veggies, he figured out they’re better off cooking in the front of the oven, right on the hearth, rather than further in, where flames can lick the ceiling. Pizzas also need just a few seconds, maybe a minute and a half, depending on how hot it gets inside, something best figured out with an infrared thermometer.
It takes a bit of work to figure out cook times, even for a pro chef like Brooks. But he says it has been easy to get the wood started. The oven often stays hot for 24 hours or more, meaning it’s even easier the next day to get the temperature up.
“[This] was a pretty big endeavor we got into,” Brooks says. “But we’re at a point now where we’re cooking pizzas, pork chops, whole squash or sweet potatoes, sausage, fish, seafood. This is a pretty awesome unit.”
Photo: The stellar pizza Chef Aaron Brooks now makes at home had a long road to fruition, with a crane lifting it to a spot where it now creates a focal point to his backyard. To see all of the pgs. 24-26 of our digital edition, https://bit.ly/3bASyV7
(Photo courtesy Chef Aaron Brooks)