The most important aspect of pizza is the crust, and a conventional home oven does not achieve the high temperatures needed to cook pizza crust properly. There is a whole subculture of pizza enthusiasts seeking a solution to a higher temperature cooking environment short of buying a wood-burning pizza oven.
Everyone acknowledges the wood-burning oven is the best choice but it costs thousands of dollars and requires hours of preparation time when you want to use it. One shortcut gaining in popularity has been to modify outdoor grills with pizza stones. The Pizzeria Pronto oven is essentially a purpose-built outdoor grill. It contains a gas burner beneath a double pizza stone — the company sells the same stone combination for conventional grills — with a top that is open in the front so you can slide the pizza onto the stone.
The oven will “only” get up to 700 degrees while a real wood-burning oven can reach 800 degrees. However, it is ready in 15 minutes — you just connect it to a propane tank and turn it on. The results are quite good — much better than anything I’ve been able to achieve with a conventional oven (and I’ve tried every trick out there). Because the oven is fairly small, you’ll only be able to make a plate-sized pizza and it takes some practice to negotiate the pizza through the short opening. However, the small size is a plus since you can take it with you on vacations, and the clever design allows it to sit on a table so you aren’t forced to slide pizzas while on your knees.
Other than the oven, pizza-making requires little infrastructure, so I like to think of this little thing as a tool that enables vegetarians to compete with the portable outdoor cooking fun that was previously the exclusive province of meat-eaters.
Here are a couple of additional thoughts:
I use two pizza peels with the oven. They have to be less than 13” in width in order to fit inside the opening. When the uncooked pizza is first slid into the oven, I use a very smooth wooden peel made by Epicurean.
Even when you coat the peel in flour, pizza dough tends to stick to the peel — one of life’s major frustrations as attempting to liberate it with more flour often means you end up poking a hole in the dough. The Epicurean peel gives you the best chance for a pizza to slide properly of any I’ve tried. I don’t know how anyone gets an uncooked pizza to slide off of a metal peel. By contrast, to remove the pizza, you want a peel with an extremely thin edge to liberate the crust from the stone. Since in the Pizzeria Pronto the stone is extremely hot, you also want one made of metal, so you don’t burn or discolor your wooden peel — charred wood does not add to the flavor of your pizza. I use this 12” one. Two peels also allows a bit of pipelining in the pizza-making process.
Because this oven heats the air by heating under the stone, the bottom of the crust can burn unless you use the right recipe. I’ve had excellent results with the pizza dough recipe in the book Flour Water Salt Yeast by Ken Forkish, owner of Ken’s Artisan Pizza in Portland, Oregon. (This book, by the way, is a Cool Tool in and of itself. Absolutely stunning results using only four ingredients, your hands, and a plastic tub.)
Combine Ken’s recipe with this oven and you can achieve a crust with a crisp exterior and puffy interior you might have thought was completely beyond your grasp.