After several weeks of testing the Uuni Pro, I’ve learned to recognize a certain look in my husband’s eyes. Every evening, he walks into the kitchen as I begin dinner prep. As I start to reach toward the dials on the stove, he shouts, “Are you using the oven?”
Before I can respond, he sprints out to our backyard patio and fires up the Uuni Pro oven with propane. It takes around twenty minutes to heat up, about the same time as our conventional gas kitchen oven.
Whether I'm cutting up broccoli or salting chicken thighs, he snatches about a third of it and sticks it in the Uuni Pro for a few minutes, or even a just an instant. Whatever comes out looks infinitely more elegant, nestled in one of Ooni's cast-iron pans and dusted with char.
If you use propane, the Uuni Pro is so quick and easy that I can hardly begrudge him the effort. My toddler might, though. A few nights ago, she asked, curiously, “Why is all my food black now?”
Tough nuggets, kid. You live in a house with a pizza oven now.
Homemade pizza is irresistible, but making it is a deceptively simple process. Many home pizza cooks crank their ovens to the standard 450 degrees, but aspiring pizzaiolos know that that’s just not hot enough. You need higher temperatures to bake that perfect crisp, yet tender crust, with toppings that are still fresh and moist and speckled with just the right amount of char.
You can find plenty of pizza oven hacks online, from buying pizza stones, using your grill, or lining your oven with tiles. My husband and I tinkered with the idea of building our own brick backyard pizza oven, but were put off by the space requirements, the effort, and the expense.
Clearly, we were only one family of many who longed for an affordable, easy to assemble, and effective backyard pizza oven. When Ooni launched their Kickstarter in 2012, it quickly blew past their funding goal.
They're currently in the process of transitioning their company name from Uuni to the more easily-readable Ooni. In the meantime, however, their ovens are still known as the Uuni 3, which is sized to make 12-inch pizzas, and the Uuni Pro, which can make 16-inch ones. They also sell a series of oven-compatible accessories and cookware.
When you unbox the Uuni Pro, it seems entirely nonsensical that such a thin, light, oven could produce as much concentrated heat as a squat, heavy brick oven. Ooni keeps the material thin by insulating the stainless steel with ceramic fiber.
The Uuni Pro is great-looking, a sleek and gleaming metal spaceship with a long, decagonal chimney and squat legs. I found it easy to assemble. Most pieces just click into place, although you will need to use the included Allen wrench to screw in a couple pieces.
It has a footprint of about 19.29 by 29.13 inches, and you'll also need space for a propane tank. It comes with a wood and charcoal burner, and you can purchase an optional gas or pellet burner.
If you're considering the Uuni Pro, I recommend shelling out for the gas burner bundle. Ooni informs me that the majority of their customers prefer using charcoal, but having a gas burner made the oven so much quicker and more versatile. I would also consider the cover to be a necessary accessory. The Uuni Pro is a large object to stow away. If you live in an area with a lot of rain or snow, it would be a good idea to protect it from the elements.
It's advertised as being easily transportable, since the legs fold down and the tall chimney easily clicks out of place. However, if you’re planning on bringing it to a friend’s backyard party, please be warned that it does weigh 57 pounds in total, and has four loose tiles of cordierite stone in the bottom.
While the Ooni Pro is easy to assemble, there is a bit of a learning curve when it comes to cooking with it.
Part of the appeal of a conventional oven is that you can set a temperature, put your food in it, and walk away (most of the time). But the Uuni Pro takes a lot more attention. Testing with an IR thermometer showed that the temperature varied in different parts of the oven by as much as a hundred degrees.
When I tried to cook larger items at lower temperatures, like chicken thighs or rice casseroles, I needed to monitor my dishes constantly for doneness and to prevent the outside from scorching. After a few days, it didn't seem to be worth the trouble.
And while the surface of the cordierite pizza stones does get to 800 degrees within the advertised 20 minutes, I do recommend that you let the oven preheat for at least an hour. For the first ten pizzas that we made (what we won’t do in the name of testing!), the pizzas stuck relentlessly to the stones. There was also a ten-minute heat recovery time between pizzas, whether we were using charcoal or propane.
To address the sticking, I tried flouring the pizza peel, or sprinkling cornmeal on the stones before sliding the pizza on. Everything just sparked and went up in flames, coating all my pizzas in bitter charcoal dust. I resigned myself to misshapen pizzas until we finally called in a professional—a friend who owns a pizza food truck explained that the pizza was sticking because the stones weren’t hot all the way through.
An hour's preheating meant that the pizzas started sliding easily off the stones. Preheating also helped counteract the heat loss, with both propane and charcoal. Once I gave it an hour to build a good charcoal base, making the wood-fired pizzas got much quicker and tastier. You can only take so many shortcuts.
If you’re concerned with heat loss while slow-cooking, you can also switch out the open pizza door for a closed door with a thermometer. I didn’t end up doing this, since I preferred using my conventional oven for longer-cooking items. If I wanted to check the temperature while flash-firing a pan of green beans, I used Ooni’s handheld infrared thermometer.
You don’t technically need Ooni’s proprietary cast-iron cookware, but you may want to consider it. My 10-inch and 12-inch Lodge cast iron skillets fit fine, but the door is only 5.9 inches tall. My Le Creuset Dutch ovens don't fit, so Ooni makes their own casserole pan.
Finally, my local pizza expert said that if you’re worried about dough sticking to the bottom, you might want to buy a wooden pizza peel. As there is an approximately a 100 percent sure that I will light a wooden peel on fire, I personally will not.
Ooni's main goal was to make a backyard pizza oven affordable, which is why the baseline price doesn't include items like a cover. $600 isn't exactly a drop in the bucket, but for its size, you get quite the bang for your buck. If you really want to save some dough (ha!), the Uuni 3 has most of the Uuni Pro's functionality at a lower price, just with a smaller door. Since I ended up cooking most of my larger items in my conventional oven, the Uuni 3 might be the way to go.
Still, my family and I have been having a ton of fun with the Uuni Pro. A perfect pizza takes a handful of simple elements—dough, tomato sauce, and cheese—and turns it into something sublime. But a huge part of its allure is the process of making it yourself.
I don't know anyone who has been anywhere near an outdoor oven and resisted the urge to just start poking random things in there. Just like lighting sparklers or sitting around your backyard fire pit, an outdoor pizza oven like the Uuni Pro lets your inner pyro come out to play…and you get to eat afterwards, too. We've had pizza almost every night for a week. I'll check with my doctor, but so far, I don't see any reason to stop.