When I was first looking to invest in a personal pizza oven, I thought I’d likely wind up with something clunky — an apparatus that would mostly live in the storage unit, to be pulled out every so often for occasional use.
After testing the Stoke Pizza Oven — which promises all the features of a proper wood-fired pizza oven in a more portable package — for a few weeks, it turns out that the sleek, compact pizza oven is indeed a great addition to weekends in the country as I’d originally thought it would be — but it’s been even more fun using it around town, both in parks and in friends’ backyards. And that’s the case both for myself — a first-time wood-fired pizza oven user — and my husband co-tester, who just so happens to be a former pizza maker.
Getting Started with the Stoke Pizza Oven
Know your fuel options
The Stoke comes in wood-or gas-fueled models. I opted for wood-fired, because I think it makes a better-tasting pie and I also didn’t want to deal with the logistics of gas.
While Stoke’s tutorial on unboxing the wood-fired model demonstrates how to use the oven with wood pellets and a firestarter, the video also suggests you can use small pieces of wood or a mix of wood and charcoal, for lower-and-slower cooking. So far, I’ve only used small wood pieces and no synthetic fire starters, but the flexibility is nice — I plan to experiment with the wood and charcoal combo soon.
Stock up on those essential accessories
If you don’t have the gear needed to make pizza at home already — for example, a pizza cutter — you’ll need it to make the most of your pizza oven. Luckily, Stoke offers a package that contains a pizza peel, cutter, and carrying case. (In fact, as of this writing, all that comes included with your purchase.)
My testing kit came with a case, but no peel or cutter. I already have a cutter, but not a peel, which made cooking a little more difficult. In addition, beyond ensuring you have a pizza peel and the other mentioned accessories…bringing gloves wouldn’t hurt. Pizza ovens get hot.
Key Highlights of the Stoke
Assembly is quick and intuitive
Unlike many products that promise a quick and easy setup, the Stoke really was simple to assemble. While it took me a few minutes longer than the “as little as five minutes” quoted on the website to fully unbox and unwrap each piece and assemble them — it was probably close to eight minutes — the process was frictionless, with all the needed tools provided. The box came with setup instructions, but the design was intuitive enough that I didn’t need to read every single step to understand how the product pieces fit together.
It’s sleek, portable and compact
The wood-fired Stoke comes in one size: 13 inches long by 18.22 inches tall by 11.15 inches wide. Fully assembled, it weighs a little over 40 pounds, which means you don’t wind up tied to one spot because it’s too heavy to move. It’s also easy to clean and pack into the car (after letting it cool down, of course).
Since most of the mess is contained on either the stone or in the fuel chamber, transport is way less messy than I expected, as well. I’ve actually started keeping the Stoke stored in my trunk, so we can regularly cook pizzas on weekend camping trips.
I previously thought of backyard pizza ovens as big, permanent structures that wind up becoming their own design features, but the Stoke is also sleek in addition to small. In the park where we conducted the main tests, the Stoke attracted tons of attention and compliments from complete strangers. This product looks like it’s worth the money — and it makes a nice addition to a backyard, balcony or campsite.
Cooking is quick, and it’s easy to make adjustments on the fly
The Stoke has a few features that make it easy to monitor a pizza as it cooks — and, importantly, correct mistakes. There’s a built-in thermometer up front, along with a small peep hole that gives a view of the flame levels. the front compartment is easy to open; I did this often to monitor and rotate the pizza. In all, each pizza took about 10 minutes to bake.
As I cooked, I made adjustments to test different options, such as flipping over the pizza stone, dropping in more wood to keep the temperature stable and adjusting the flap on top of the chiminea. Wood-fired flames are ultimately more work to maintain than gas-powered ones, but in my opinion, the taste of wood-fired dough is irreplaceable.
Stoke Pizza Oven Pro Tips
While using the Stoke has been a great experience, I’ve discovered a few tips to keep in mind that will help determine whether it’s right for you — and if so, make your experience with it even better.
There’ll be a learning curve, even if you’ve made pizza before
While the product assembly for the Stoke was easy, there is definitely a learning curve to actually using it — not just for a first-time pizza oven user like me, but also for my husband, who was a professional pizza maker for years. This is compounded by the fact that the instructions say little to nothing about actually using the oven, only assembling it. (I consulted Stoke’s YouTube channel to help me get started.)
Heating up the oven takes time
One of the Stoke videos I watched claimed that the oven would heat to around 900 degrees Fahrenheit in 20-30 minutes. Yet on a sunny, somewhat breezy spring day in New York, even after roughly half an hour of heating and waiting and heating and waiting, ours only heated up to a max of 700º F.
That said, it’s important to note the thermometer relays the heat of the ovennot the heat of the pizza stone, so it can be difficult to determine whether the oven was truly hot enough for cooking based on the thermometer’s reading. The thermometer is also at the front of the oven, while the cooking pizza sits closer to the flames at the back of the oven, so it doesn’t offer a truly accurate reading of cooking temperature. Think of the thermometer as more of a guide; you can invest in a laser thermometer to mitigate the uncertainty, but simple trial and error also will get you where you need to go. We generally found it easiest to keep a close watch on the pizzas and rotate them frequently; if you don’t rotate it throughout, the back of your pie will get burnt.
Of course, you can use the flap on top of the chimney to send flames closer to the front of the oven. If you do this, just make sure your pizza isn’t of the oven, or it will get scorched.
Don’t expect restaurant-sized pizza pies
The Stoke is perfect for smaller pizza creations. That’s not a knock on the product — it’s simply not meant to produce large, restaurant-style portions. Since each pizza took about 10 minutes to bake, the process went best when we used it as a social activity, talking with friends while putting together our personal pizzas and trying each one as it was finished. However, if we had been planning to churn out a bunch of pizzas for eating together all at once, we would have been disappointed.
Stoke Wood-Fired Pizza Oven: The Verdict
The Stoke has turned out to be as easy to use in a backyard as it in the midst of crowded Prospect Park. Once you get the hang of it — knowing how to get the thing fired up, having the right accessories, and trial and error related to temperature — it’s a sleek-looking, easy-to-set-up, easy-to-break- down way to make delicious pizzas, complete with the wood-fired taste that gas-powered alternatives simply can’t achieve.
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