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Big Slice of Knowledge: How To Buy The Right Pizza Oven

A pizza oven can be a rather large purchase, and like most large commercial kitchen purchases, it is best to have a little information going in so you don’t end up purchasing something you will later regret.  Pizza ovens come in all shapes and sizes, and no matter what your needs, there will be one that fits them.  The hard part is sorting though the plethora of different options to find a model that suits your operation.  Here are a few pointers for those beginning their search for the perfect pizza oven.

Deck, Conveyor, or Other?:  Depending on the type of operation you are running, you first need to decide on what kind of commercial pizza oven to choose. 

  • Conveyor pizza ovens require the least amount of labor to operate.  A cook can prep his pie, put it on the conveyor belt, and return when it is exiting the baking chamber.  These are especially useful in operations that feature pizzas (or flatbreads) on their menus, but that don’t have the need to dedicate an employee to the pizza unit for a full shift.
  • Deck ovens are the industry standard for pizza ovens.  Their bottom-up heating is perfect for making pizza, though they can be used to bake and roast as well.  There are two main kinds of decks: stainless steel, and stone, brick or ceramic (referred to as hearth).  Traditionally, stainless steel decks are used when pizzas are to be cooked on pans, as high volume use of pizza screens or metal pans on stone decks could eventually deteriorate the stone.  Deep dish pizzas are one example of a pizza that is always cooked in heavy iron pans.  Pizzas are usually cooked directly on hearth decks, and the end result tends to end up a bit crispier. 
  • Brick ovens are hearth deck ovens with a brick lining that covers the entire interior of the oven.  They retain heat extremely well, and the dry consistent cooking makes for a crispy pie every time. 
  • Countertop ovens are ideal for instances when space is an issue, or when pizza and flatbreads represent a small portion of the menu.  Countertop pizza ovens come in all shapes and sizes, ranging from small 12”-13” ovens that hold consistently at one temperature (perfect for frozen pizzas or flatbreads), to hefty 4-deck brick lined countertop ovens that are ideal for pizzerias just looking to add a little more cooking space. 
  • Believe it or not, there are also wood fire pizza ovens.  These ovens have hearth decks, and are either brick lined or highly insulated to retain heat and limit fuel usage.  The high heat wood fire provides quick cook times, and superb crispness and flavor.  They are traditionally used for higher-end or gourmet pizzerias, and most, if not all, are intended to be built into a wall and showcased as a centerpiece display oven (see below for more information on display ovens).

When Should I Purchase A Display Oven?:  Display model pizza ovens are intended to be used in open kitchens, or higher-end pizza operations.  They are constructed a bit more eye-appealing than base stainless steel models (though some elegant stainless steel display models are out on the market), and are intended to be built into a wall.  These ovens, more often than not, end up as the centerpiece of the restaurant and encourage customers to watch their pies be made from scratch.  They have the same inner construction as their high-end BOH counterparts, but their exteriors tend to be less plain.  Many of the display models are typically top-of-the-line models, such as brick and wood fire ovens, as these are the models that owners tend to showcase.

How Important Is Volume?:  Volume is incredibly important when selecting a pizza oven for several reasons.

  • The size of the oven required is the most obvious factor dependent on volume.  High volume restaurants will want to avoid countertop ovens (except as a way to expand their cooking space), however, they may also want to avoid conveyor ovens as well.  A large pizza ovens can usually hold up to 6 – 18” pizzas, which will take around 10 - 15 minutes to cook.  A double or triple stack set of large deck ovens will have the best ticket turnover, and are the most common in high volume pizza kitchens.
  • Moreover, high volume kitchens may want to avoid conveyor ovens because pizzas can’t be rushed or prioritized in conveyors.  It is more of a “set it and forget it” oven.  If a ticket gets misplaced, the order has to go to the end of the line.  Additionally, high volume pizza operations tend to have at least one person dedicated to making pies on any given shift, so it isn’t usually as necessary to allow someone to leave the pizza unit, especially during a rush.
  • Another reason it is important to gauge how often you will be using your pizza oven is utility costs.  Pizza ovens need to be extremely hot, and can create costly energy bills.  It is important to get an oven that can provide adequate cooking space without going overboard.

Gas Or Electric?:  Since pizza ovens require a significant amount of energy to bring to temperature, utility consumption is an important issue to address ahead of time.  Natural gas tends to be the slightly cheaper option; however, many of the ovens that cook with natural gas also come in liquid propane models if natural gas lines are not readily available.  There are also a large number electric pizza ovens that offer the same features of gas ovens, such as hearth decks, and although they may cost more to operate, depending on utility prices. These are great for businesses that don’t necessarily want to install gas lines.  It is important to know your utility costs before making any final decisions.

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