As an enthusiastic owner of Solo Stove, I was excited to try the Pizza Owen company. Sold for $ 625, but often discounted (is), Pi should stand as a portable, “starting” alternative to one of those custom backyard pizza ovens you see in magazines.
Solo Stove calls Pi as “a pizza oven for everyone.” I have to take a break to add that I have a connection with cooking again. I love food, but I’m not particularly patient in the kitchen – or in the backyard kitchen in this case. This is especially true if the recipe is complicated or if I don’t feel I have the right tools to confidently try something new. So, the pizza oven “for everyone” addressed me directly.
There was some learning curve in terms of putting and taking pizza out of the oven, but after reading the user manual from cover to cover, researching countless pizza forums online and many attempts, I really ended up with a delicious pizza. I recommend the pizza oven to anyone looking for a portable alternative to custom outdoor pizza ovens. You probably won’t make the perfect pie the first time (I certainly didn’t), but Solo Stove’s Pi makes it as painless as possible.
- Tons of accessories
- Propane (with optional gas burner accessory) or wood can be used
I do not like
- Steep learning curve to put the pizza from the crust in the oven (and out again)
- Expensive for an “initial” product
Pizza oven basics
Made of stainless steel, Pi is definitely not a brick oven. However, Solo says that he can bake a pie similarly fast – in just 2 minutes – with propane or wood. To use propane, you must purchase an optional gas burner for an additional $ 270 (currently).
I got a Pi Essential Bundle for wood and gas ($ 1105; currently). This comprehensive kit includes an oven and gas burner accessory, as well as a pizza stone, an infrared thermometer, a spatula (called a crust) for pulling and removing the pie from the oven, another crust for turning the pizza while cooking, a pizza cutter and a lid for the oven when not in use.
The user manual even gives suggestions for homemade dough and some complete recipes if you want extra help. In short, the Essential Bundle provides everything you need to make a pizza without ingredients.
Setting up the oven was also easy. It comes fully assembled, with components you can add or remove depending on whether you use wood or propane. The default option is wood, but I didn’t have anything on hand for the first day of testing, so I started with propane over gas burner accessories. The gas burner is seamlessly screwed into the back of the oven using a hose that connects to your propane tank.
The wood option has a rear door that opens for ventilation, an ash pan, a wood fuel grate and a few tools because you don’t want to touch the door directly while it’s hot. Solo Stove suggests using a piece of 5 x 2 inch dried wood in the oven.
Then add the pizza stone, which comes in two pieces that fit perfectly into the inside of the oven, and start reheating. Solo Stove says it takes about 15 minutes for the oven to reach the desired range of 650 to 800 degrees Fahrenheit. While it heats up, prepare the pizza. Pi can accommodate a 12-inch pizza, which is usually a medium pizza in restaurants or a few smaller ones.
I’ll mention here that I initially had to use a lighter to run the gas, which Solo Stove says shouldn’t be the case. (The oven has a lighter, just like a regular propane grill.) I’m not sure what happened there, but no matter what I tried, I had to resort to a lighter. Then, magically, I tried again and it worked great. I’m willing to attribute this to user error, but it’s worth keeping in mind if you run into similar problems.
You can use store-bought or homemade dough to make pizza. Solo Stove even says that you can cook frozen pizza in the oven, but you need to let it thaw first, because frozen pizza that is put on the pizza stone can cause it to crack.
Use an infrared thermometer to check your progress. Getting the right temperature range is a critical step towards achieving that delicious frothy cheese and toasted crust, according to Solo Stove. I found this part a bit unreliable, as directing the thermometer just one inch from the last location resulted in significant temperature variation, sometimes up to 50 degrees. In order to try to ensure the best possible results, I waited until each reading came in the range of 650 to 800 degrees, even if there was some variability in temperature.
Once the Pi is set and preheated, it’s time for the best part: the pizza.
I made eight pizzas using this oven, trying different combinations of purchased and homemade dough (as well as a couple of frozen pizzas) and switching between propane and wood. My first attempt was comical. I read the instructions for use several times before setting up the propane tank, preheating the oven and preparing two pizzas, one for me and one for my husband. I followed the instructions to flour the surface of the crust and dough to soften the sticking and I started with just one of the pizzas to simplify things.
When the oven reached the temperature, I confidently went outside with the crust holding the uncooked pizza and a smaller crust to turn the pizza over when it was in the oven to ensure a more even baking. Solo Stove says pizzas cook in 2 minutes, so you have to work fast, which may have been the beginning of my problems.
The pizza didn’t budge. We tried a few things to no avail. In the end, we had to use a smaller crust to “wrap” the pizza in a very improvised form of calzone so we could bake it at all. We also couldn’t get it out of the oven. So we once again used both large and small bark to remove it. My husband ate “calzone” but all in all he was unsuccessful.
For my pizza, I tried more flour, more evenly coated on the bottom of the pizza and on the stainless steel crust. Same result. What started out as a lovely uncooked pizza turned into a messy lump of dough, sauce and cheese every time we tried to transfer it either to – or from – the oven. Mine didn’t even pass the edible test, because whatever pile of ingredients we managed to put in the oven baked so unevenly that it couldn’t be saved.
Fortunately, it was progressively getting better after each attempt. Pizzas three and four, also made from the same dough bought at the store as the first two, worked much better. But instead of unrolling the dough from the fridge, adding a little flour and crust and adding the ingredients, I worked out the dough a little more with flour on my hands and essentially reshaped it, getting rid of some of the stickiness while I was working.
I quickly learned that if the pizza doesn’t move while you prepare it on the crust, it won’t move when you try to put it in the oven, no matter what technique you use.
Next, I tried two medium thaws (remember, don’t put a frozen pizza directly on a pizza stone because it could break) store-bought frozen pizzas, one thin crust and one plain crust. They worked extremely well and were easily transferred from the crust to the oven and out again. They also turned easily in the oven with a smaller crust.
For my last round of tests, I used this pizza crust recipe to try a few smaller homemade pizzas. I was scared of this test, but it turned out really well in the end. The dough was easy to make and gave a nicely baked crust with a crispy exterior and softer middle. This dough is also much easier to transfer from the crust to and from the oven than store-bought dough.
Whether you use wood or propane is a matter of preference. Propane is simpler because you don’t have to worry so much about fire. But the wood-burning stove was more satisfying, both in terms of creating a more enjoyable campfire-like cooking experience and a better overall taste. The last pizza I cooked from homemade dough and wood (pictured above) is definitely the best overall. This is partly because you have become better acquainted with the oven over time, but also because homemade pizza and a wood stove are a great combination.
The pizza oven is easy to set up and there are many accessories available to help you make a great pizza. There was a certain learning curve that not every pizza stuck to the crust and in some cases took it out of the oven. But it got easier. I’m sure pizza making enthusiasts have a variety of personal tips and tricks to make this learning curve a little smoother. (Share them if you do!) Until then, the pizza oven is a well-designed and mostly easy-to-use product that makes a good pizza in your backyard.
If you are a pizza enthusiast, but do not have the budget for the complete installation of a brick oven in your yard, the Solo Stove pizza oven is a great alternative.