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Mid-Size Steel Pizza Ovens

Much like the small, portable pizza oven market, the mid-size steel pizza ovens are a relatively new phenomenon. Their genealogy can be traced back to Italy in the 1990’s, and the market for White Ovens, ovens where the oven chamber and the fire box are separated, and heat is “pumped” from the firing chamber into the oven chamber. The name white oven results for the idea that there is no black from the wood-fire in the oven chamber.

These white ovens were used by hobbyists and people living in the country, where firewood was plentiful and even free. The idea for building a Black Oven, a traditional pizza oven as many of use (and those in Naples) would know it, where the fire is inside the oven chamber took hold in the late 90s and early 2000’s, lead by two of the incumbent producers—Fontana Forni and Clementi. Both companies continue to sell white ovens, calling the Wood Ovens (Forno a Legna), compared with their Black Ovens (Forno per Pizza).

In the early 2000s, Alfa Forni, then known as Alfa Caminetti and Alfa Retrattari (Fireplaces and Refractory materials) got into the mid-size steel market, and the market was born.

Mid-size steel pizza ovens are lighter and easier to set up than mid-size refractory ovens, and they heat up a little bit faster. Prices are comparable between the two types of oven. Compared with either a full-size refractory pizza oven, or a pizza oven kit, mid-size steel pizza ovens have a number of advantages, which goes a long way toward explaining their popularity. They’re easy to move and set up, the can be placed either on a metal stand or an outdoor kitchen countertop, and they’re easier to fire. Where a full-size assembled refractory oven or a pizza oven kit is a real project, a mid-size steel pizza oven is more like a high-end grill. Just set it down and start using it.

Today there are at least five Italian producers, two US oven producers (actually made in the US) and a swarm of C-tier producers who purchase ovens from factories based in China and sell them under their own brand. One Chineses factory has at least five different resellers in the US selling the exact same oven. The top tier Italian brands are Fontana Forni, Alfa Forni and Clementi, followed by Rosso Fuoco and Forno Venetzia. In the US, there are Forno Bravo’s Bella product line and Il Fornino. The Chinese ovens are also too numerous to mention, with brands including Ciao Bella, Empava, Kucht, Belforno, Pinnacolo, and more.

Mid-size oven typically have a square or rectangular cooking floor roughly 24×24″, 24×32″ of 32×32″, large enough to make one or two traditional 11″ Italian pizzas, as well as baking, grilling and roasting. Most mid-size steel pizza ovens can be fired either by wood or gas, and a few offer simultaneous wood and gas cooking (though that often requires putt the gas fire on one side and the wood fire on the other, which basically consumes most of the oven’s cooking floor surface.

The amount and quality of insulation varies widely. Beware of inexpensive ovens made in China. They will almost certainly have a small amount of insulation in the dome, meaning the oven won’t hold its heat, the outer shell will get hot and the powder coat will blister and turn black and it can even be difficult baking multiple pizzas. There won’t be much retained heat for baking and roasting. Many low-end ovens will have zero insulation under the cooking floor. Many ovens utilize a barrel vault dome shape, which is inefficient compared with a true dome shape that is slope from side to side and from front to back. The oven vent and chimney connection is typically inside the oven chamber, which is also less than ideal, as it is an inefficient way for the oven chamber to breath, and it can be difficult to control the air supply to the oven, requiring you to manage both the oven door and the damper on the chimney—if there is one.

Beware of the oven producer’s claims over how many pizzas you can cook at the same time. They are counting 10″ pizzas set right next to each other—something you would never do. Be sure to read our “how big is that pizza oven, really?

Prices range widely, from about $1,000 for a 30″-ish Chinese oven to $7,300 for a multi-fuel 32×32″ oven from Fontana Forni in the US. That’s quite a gap. One other thing. The high-end Italian mid-size steel pizza ovens cost more than double in the US what they cost for the US. Interestingly, a few Chinese brands are trying to sell in Italy, and their ovens are roughly the same price as the local Italian-made ovens. Global markets can be interesting. One thing that does tell you is that the Italian brands are not very good value, or a very good deal.

Still, if you have the budget and the space, a mid-size steel pizza oven is a big step up from either a small portable pizza oven or a countertop pizza oven. And if you want to buy a Chinese oven eyes wide open, you’ll have a lot of fun. Probably more fun than buying a fancy, $1,000 small, portable pizza oven that only pops out pizzas. One at a time.

Should you buy a mid-size steel pizza oven or a mid-size refractory pizza oven? Read our comparison between the two similarly sized ovens.