Fuel: Wood, charcoal and gas
Maximum pizza base: 12-inch
The set up
The first thing that strikes you about the oven is its simplicity. Straight out of the box, it’ll take you no more than a couple of minutes to set up and all you have to do is attach the chimney, fold out the legs and install the stone, fuel basket, front and back covers and you’re good to go. If you’re planning to cook on gas, all you have to do is unscrew a back plate (just two screws) and screw on the gas regulator, which attaches to your cylinder. If you’re using gas, you also need to remove the front cover, the chimney, and replace the chimney with a stopper, which takes two minutes, max.
If you’re cooking with wood (hardwood, preferably, as it burns hotter) or charcoal, you simply fill the basket with your fuel, and light it up using some firestarters and the flames will begin licking the ceiling of the oven.
The efficient burner meant that we were soon topping up the wood supply, keeping an eye on the chimney smoke to tell us when the burner needed more – when the smoke thins out, it’s time to top up the burner. The engineering of the oven ensured a healthy draft of air and within 20 minutes the centre of the stone was up to temperature. The Karu doesn’t come with a built-in thermometer, but that’s because you really need to use an infrared thermometer aimed at the pizza stone to get the green light for cooking. When you hit 400C, you can reduce the airflow by adjusting the chimney vent, so things don’t get too hot inside.
The handles of the oven and fuel door remain cool to touch throughout cooking and the oven door is designed to be removed and replaced with one hand when your other is poised with a peel loaded with dough.
In order to keep the weight of the oven down, so it’s portable, Ooni has opted for a thinner pizza stone that can lose heat when the door has been opened multiple times during cooking and cold dough has been laid down on the surface.
However, it doesn’t take long (around five minutes) to get back to the right temperature so that you can keep cooking and this is a small price to pay for the benefits of being able to make mobile margheritas by taking the Karu with you on days out. And it’s this portability that really sets the oven apart, as the chimney and the fuel basket fit inside the oven itself and the legs of the oven collapse so that everything can be put inside a specially designed carry bag that’s sold separately (£39.99, Ooni.com).
We couldn’t wait to test Ooni’s claim that the oven can transform all your prep work in the kitchen into delicious pizza in 60 seconds, which requires the centre of the pizza stone to reach 400C.
With everything up to temperature, it was crunch time and we were expecting our learning curve for fired pizza to be pretty steep, but were astonished with the results of our first few attempts at margheritas. The porous cooking stone, made from cordierite, absorbed any moisture in the dough to produce a lovely, light and crispy base every time. Oozing cheese and just-cooked toppings finished our very first Italian masterpiece.
The door opening of the oven is sufficient to let you practice your pizza peel technique, coaxing the dough off the flour-coated peel into the oven with a few forward and back strokes. Similarly, when the pizza is on the stone, the opening gives you ample room to get your peel in there to give the base a couple of turns to ensure crust and toppings are all evenly baked.
After mastering (and not massacring) the margheritas it was time to get a little more adventurous with more toppings, which again resulted in pizzas with crispy bases charred with flavour and a crust that had a lovely rise throughout.
In just our first session with the oven we were already getting adventurous and trying our hand at Calzone (folded pizza that resembles a pasty), which worked really well once we’d figured out that we needed to reduce the airflow and stunt the flames so that the raised calzone crust didn’t burn on top.
This is the real joy of the Karu, in that its simple but effective design really takes the guess work out of perfecting good pizza making technique and if you do have a disaster it’s easy to figure out what went wrong very quickly and get it right on the next go.
The next time we fired up the oven, we did so with charcoal, which expanded our range even further as it allowed us to cook non-pizza dishes, low and slow, adding wood just as the oven was reaching cooking temperature to impart some smoky flavours to a roasted chicken dish.
The verdict: Ooni Karu 12 pizza oven
With every oven sold, Ooni offers its “great pizza guarantee,” which states that if you aren’t cooking great pizza within 60 days of buying the oven, they’ll buy it back from you. After using the oven on different occasions to cook with all three fuel sources, it’s easy to see why Ooni is so confident in its product because it flattens out the learning curve that many people expect to experience when they first flour up their peel.
Consistently, the oven churns out 12-inch discs of deliciously cooked dough with minimal management in terms of keeping the oven up to temperature and the only time you’ll experience any problems is when you don’t keep your eye on proceedings when the dough is in. The Ooni Karu 12 is only multi-fuel option in the range (apart from the pricier Ooni Pro 16), it’s a real confidence-builder, which offers gas for ultimate control of flame and temperature, charcoal to expand the range of dishes you can produce and, of course, wood for the traditional trattoria flavour. Finally, the built-in portability adds another dimension to how and where you can enjoy your new-found skills as a pizzaiolo.