The Ooni Karu 12 is a portable, multi-fuel pizza oven that will take homemade pizza to the next level. But is it a must-have for all vegans this summer? We put it to the test to discover whether it's worth the investment...
Ooni Karu 12 multi-fuel pizza oven | £299 | Tester: Sally FitzGerald
Portable pizza oven that can be fueled by wood or charcoal, or gas if a burner is bought separately
For true pizza aficionados, an outdoor pizza oven can elevate your pizza-making from good to great. The Ooni Karu 12 multi-fuel pizza oven is easy-to-use and (with a bit of practice and a good vegan cheese) delivers delicious, restaurant-quality results. Highly recommended.
- Reaches temperatures of 500 degrees and can cook pizza in just 60 seconds
- Portable design means you can pack it away when not in use, and it’s suitable for even a small garden
- Multi-fuel options allows for wood, charcoal or gas burner cooking
- You’ll need to invest in some key accessories, such as the Ooni Gas Burner if you want to cook with gas, a pizza peel and potentially an infrared thermometer, which all adds to the initial starting price of £299
The Ooni Karu 12 is a sleek piece of kit that packs away neatly. Photo © Vegan Food & Living
The Ooni Karu 12 multi-fuel pizza oven is arguably the sports car of outdoor pizza ovens. It’s attractively compact and sleek, with a brushed metal chassis that catches the eye with its clean, minimalist design. It’s seriously nippy too – capable of cooking a pizza in just 60 seconds, thanks to its ability to operate at a cheese-bubbling temperature of 500 degrees.
Using the Ooni is a revelation and, once you’ve tried one, you won’t want to go back to cooking pizza in a traditional oven.
The best portable pizza oven?
The Ooni Karu 12 is Ooni’s versatile entry-level pizza oven.
Straight out of the box, it’s easy to set up. Simply unfold the three legs, screw in the chimney, slide in the fuel basket and slot in the 33x33cm pizza stone.
The oven comes with front and back covers, plus a cap for the chimney. Useful accessories can be purchased separately, including a shovel-shaped pizza ‘peel’ and a handy carry cover. After all, this oven is designed to be portable.
That said, the Ooni Karu 12 has all the cooking power of a larger brick pizza oven.
Built to cook 12-inch pizzas (although it can do a whole lot more than just pizza…), the Ooni Karu 12 allows for three different fuel options for maximum cooking flexibility.
You can fire up the oven with wood and/or charcoal, while an Ooni gas burner gives you a propane gas option. One thing to watch out for if you are interested in the gas option is that the burner has to be purchased separately and will set you back £79.99.
We used a combination of organic lumpwood charcoal and local kindling wood when we tested the oven, which we found was a winning combo as it provides lasting heat, with a hint of wood-fired smokiness flavouring the pizza.
Making authentic wood-fired pizza
That’s the goal here – to make pizza that you’d get in an Italian trattoria (or at the very least, your local pizza restaurant).
A traditional oven just can’t cut it.
Yes, you can cook pizza on a pizza stone in the pursuit of a crisper base. But it can’t match the 500 degree temperature needed to cook a perfect pizza nor give it that authentic flame-cooked flavour.
Where a pizza might take 10-12 minutes in a fan oven at 220 degrees, an Ooni can turn out a pizza with a puffy outer crust and a gooey, vegan cheesy centre in under a minute.
Try out this recipe for something different: Romanesco pizza with cashew cream, salsa verde and pine nuts
Tips for using the Ooni Karu 12 for best results
The secret to restaurant-style pizza isn’t just about higher heat.
The shape of the Ooni Karu 12 is designed to maximise airflow across the pizza stone, while ceramic fibre insulation helps keep the heat in.
It’s why Ooni is confident enough in its product to offer a ‘Great Pizza Guarantee’. This promises that if you can’t make great pizza with the oven you have 60 days to return it for free… Or Ooni will buy it back from you.
Of course, you might not make great pizza the first time out – we certainly didn’t, but it still tasted delicious.
The oven needs to operate at a high temperature to cook effectively, which means keeping the charcoal or wood topped up and regularly monitoring the heat. More often than you’d think.
We left ours without topping up the wood between pizzas, and while the pizza did cook eventually, it took more like 3 or 4 minutes. No fault of the pizza oven – complete user error. It’s obvious when you think about it – to get temperatures like 500 degrees, it’s going to need fuel, and plenty of it.
An infrared thermometer can be useful here as the stone really does cool down quickly. You’ll be unsurprised to learn that Ooni sells those too.
But how much pizza can one household need?
There are also a number of cast iron pans for sale in the Ooni online store and these illustrate that Ooni pizza ovens aren’t just for cooking pizza.
Flip the vent in the chimney to reduce the airflow and the Ooni can become a quasi-barbecue/oven.
It’s not necessarily ideal for cooking vegan burgers and sausages, but it can roast potatoes, bake naans and flatbreads, blister tomatoes and char fresh asparagus, or even do a mean pasta bake.
You’ve seen Italian restaurants make use of their pizza ovens for more than just dough, now’s your chance to experiment too. You can be cooking outside all summer long!
A mix of charcoal and wood creates the perfect flame. Photo © Vegan Food & Living
Handy pizza oven accessories
Making good pizza also depends on the quality of your dough and how well you’ve kneaded it and proved it. It might take a while to get the consistency right, especially if you don’t stretch your dough thin enough.
Plus, as we discovered, you need to put enough flour on your pizza peel so the dough doesn’t stick when you try to slide it onto the pizza stone. Seriously, if you think you’ve got enough then add a little more just to make sure. We didn’t do this with our first pizza and spent two minutes trying to force it off the peel and into the oven. Rookie mistake.
Using an Ooni is a different way of cooking, so Ooni tries to make your task easier at every turn.
The company’s website has tutorial videos and recipes you can try, plus a wide range of accessories to purchase, from natural firestarters to pizza topping stations. You can even buy pizza dough balls ready-made.
For us vegans, there’s even a handy Free From Starter Kit that includes packets of pizza sauce, yeast, a bag of gluten-free flour and vegan mozzarella.
The never-ending debate about vegan cheese
There’s no doubt about it, you’ll need to experiment with the vegan cheese that you use.
We used Ilchester Vegan Melting to create a vegan margherita, which did melt nicely in our tests and had a pleasingly stringy texture, but wasn’t 100% what we were looking for. We’re going to keep experimenting to find the right cheese, because even though Ooni is a brilliant oven, unfortunately it can’t make miracles happen to suddenly turn vegan cheese into a true replica of its dairy counterpart.
Our advice is to use a good pizza sauce and load up your dough with veggies. You could even leave off the cheese entirely if you really can’t find one that works for you.
You've got perfect pizza in just a couple of minutes, and you can have a lot of fun creating it. Photo © Vegan Food & Living
So, is an outdoor pizza oven worth it?
Only you can really answer that as it comes down to how much you’ll use it. If you love cooking, love pizza, and don’t want to be stuck in your kitchen all summer, we definitely think so, because this oven is meant for cooking way more than just pizzas.
For vegans, there’s another good argument for saying ‘yes’.
While you can get a vegan pizza at most good pizzerias on the high street these days, generally you only get to choose between one or two options and you have no control over the cheese that’s used.
If you really love pizza, the Ooni gives you the opportunity to make your own pizzeria-quality pizza, but with whatever topping combo your mind can dream up.
And if you really can’t stomach vegan cheese in any scenario, you can leave it off altogether.
It’s about having the flexibility to enjoy your pizza exactly as you like it, no cutting corners and no compromising just because you’re vegan. We’ve had to do enough of that in the past. Not anymore.
Now’s the time to claim back our love of pizza and be able to have a version that even a Neapolitan wouldn’t turn his nose up at.
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In the mood for making pizza now? Find your perfect recipe in our ultimate vegan pizza recipe guide