The Pizza Dilemma
If you are like me, you like the idea of making your own pizza at home. You’ve probably tried it, as I have. Heck, I’ve even tried it on the grill. Turns out it is a lot trickier to make a good pizza than it looks. Why?
It isn’t the dough. You can make that yourself, or buy it fresh or frozen at the supermarket. Heck, most pizza joints will sell you a ball of fresh dough for next to nothing. So, that isn’t it.
It isn’t the sauce. The sauce varies, sure, but you can buy a jar of it, or just a can of crushed tomatoes and use that along with a sprinkle of Italian seasoning, and the sauce is taken care of.
And you already know it isn’t the cheese, as it is unlikely you are making your own by hand in the basement. Heck, even if you are actually doing that, you have to admit that fresh mozzarella from the supermarket is remarkably close to what you are making, even though it isn’t nearly as fun.
So what the heck is the secret? Why do we order pizza after pizza from the delivery places? Because of the time it takes? Well, a little, but if you buy the dough, the sauce, and the cheese, how long does it really take you to throw them together?
And if you are making your own pepperoni, I’m impressed – I really am! But, if you are doing that, I’m guessing you also have a bunch of it lying around, so it isn’t going to take a lot of time to fling it onto the top of a pizza.
Nope, it isn’t the time, or the cost, or lack of a recipe handed down for generations. It is the oven.
The Secret is in the Oven
But, everyone has an oven. Sure, but unless you have a dedicated home pizza oven (they exist, but are rare, expensive, and take up space in an already packed kitchen), your oven only gets to 500 degrees. And even then, that’s the ambient temperature of the air. Throw a pizza stone in your oven, and not only can you only get it to your oven maximum (500 degrees), it takes around an hour to heat that stone up to a full 500 degrees. Compare that to the 700 degrees of a commercial pizza oven, and you’ve started to get a handle on the problem.
There are some other differences too, of course. Moisture is the enemy of a crispy crust, so the trapped steam inside your oven when the water is driven out of the moist pizza dough isn’t doing you any favors. If you try and cook your pizza on a non-porous surface, steam will shoot out the bottom and get trapped there with nowhere to go, and nothing to do other than make your crust soggy. A pizza stone or screen will help a lot with this, but the temperature thing along with the build-up of humid air inside the oven are getting in between you and a good pizza.
Pizzacraft thinks they have the answer to this problem. They started by making an oven that sits on top of a propane tank and has a dedicated, high BTU burner. This is a great idea. It can get super-hot, and because it is outside, as long as you don’t pile dried leaves on top of it during use, it is safe, and any smoke will just go up into the sky and join all the other clouds of smoke as they make their future plans for world domination.
The only snag is that it has to be done outdoors. I like grilling in the winter, but many don’t. And even I am not going out in the rain or heavy snowfall to try and cook things. Oh, and while everyone else is outside in 100 degree, humid heat? Yeah, that’s when I’m inside with the AC cranked, looking for things I can microwave.
This new version uses the engineering from the outdoor version, but fits over a standard gas burner on your stove. The only limitation is that it can’t be electric – it must be gas. Also, if your burners are the 18K BTU burners that my Viking had, you can still use it but will have to turn them down a bit, as 15K is the recommended maximum. That will work just fine for any ordinary cooktop. Just put it over your largest burner, as the hotter the better (within the 15K limit, of course).
Difficult? Not so Much.
It is easy to assemble and comes in large parts that mostly friction fit together and don’t need screws.
The handle needs screws, which is good because you don’t want that bad boy coming off during a really hot pizza making session.
Does it Really Get that Hot? Really?
How hot will it get? They claim 600 degrees, and I have a professional Raytek infrared heat gun that will attest to that. After about twenty minutes on high, the pizza stone within the unit got to a bit over 600 degrees. The temperature gauge on top was a pretty good estimate of the pizza stone temperature rather than the top of the dome, which was about 100 degrees cooler than the stone.
I used the Pizzacraft pizza peel to insert my assembled pizza and recommend it. I already have a wooden one, which I enjoy, and a synthetic one, which is big, heavy, and hard to store. But, the Pizzacraft peel is metal, which makes it easier to slip off the pizza onto the stone (use a lot of cornmeal between the two for best results). It is the perfect width to fit their oven. And, finally, the thick rubber handle stays cool and folds easily for storage. Just buy the two together. You won’t be disappointed.
The high heat, coupled with the steam absorption of the internal pizza stone along with the steam vents on the top of the lid, made quick work of my pizza experiment. I left it in for about three minutes, turned it around using the peel (not as hard as it sounds as after three minutes the dough is firm and starting to become tasty crust), and in another four minutes, pulled it out of there. At that point, I could have put in another pizza right away, if I had a large group to feed. I didn’t, so I cut off the burner, but left the door shut so everything would cool down nice and gradually from the insanely high heat.
And What Came Out?
The result? Awesome pizza, that was easy and quick to make at home. Seven minutes to assemble it the way I like it (lots of cheese, light on the sauce, natural pepperonis), another seven to cook it, and I was done. Oh, and the preheating takes twenty minutes, which is a far cry from the hour it takes for a pizza stone sitting in a home oven to hit 500 degrees. And, even so, it will never reach 600.
Lots of fun, quick and easy to assemble for use, or disassemble for storage in a nearby closet. It is a great family activity, too, as nobody is too young to put on pepperoni (but leave the cooking to the adults, of course).
Sean Logue, 2016