Review: Solo Stove Brings ‘Brick Oven’ Pizza to Your Backyard

As a passionate Solo Stove fire pit owner, I was excited to try the company’s Pi Pizza Oven. It sells for $625, but it’s often discounted (it’s Currently $470), the Pi is meant to be a “beginner’s” portable alternative to one of the custom backyard pizza oven setups you see in magazines.

Solo Stove refers to the Pi as “the pizza oven for everyone.” I want to stop here to add that I have a relationship with cooking. I love food, but I’m not particularly patient in the kitchen — or the backyard kitchen in this case. This is especially true if the recipe is complicated or if you don’t feel like I have the right tools to try something new with confidence. So, a pizza oven “for everyone” spoke to me directly.

There was a bit of a learning curve regarding getting the pizza in and out of the oven, but after reading the user manual for the cover, exploring countless online pizza forums and making several attempts, I actually ended up with a delicious pizza. I would recommend Pi Pizza Oven to anyone looking for a portable alternative to dedicated outdoor pizza ovens. You probably won’t make a perfect pie the first time around (I certainly didn’t), but Solo Stove’s Pi makes it as painless as possible.

Likes

  • portable
  • Tons of accessories
  • Can be used as propane (with additional optional gas burner) or wood

You do not like

  • Sharp learning curve to get pizza out of the peel and into the oven (and back out again)
  • Too expensive for a “newbie” product

Pi Pizza Oven Basics

Made of stainless steel, the Pi is definitely not a brick oven. However, Solo says he can cook the pie similarly quickly — in just two minutes — using propane or wood. To use propane, you have to purchase an optional gas burner for an additional $270 (currently $175).

I received the Pi Essential Bundle for Wood and Gas ($1,105; currently $795). This all-in-one kit includes the oven and gas burner accessory, plus a pizza stone, an infrared thermometer, a paddle (called a peel) for getting the pie in and out of the oven, a second crust for flipping the pizza while it’s cooking, a pizza cutter and an oven lid when not in use.

The user guide offers suggestions for homemade dough and some full recipes, if you want extra help. In short, the basic package provides everything you need to make pizza without ingredients.

Two peelers, an infrared thermometer and a pizza cutter come with the Pi Pizza Oven Essential Bundle.

Megan Wellerton/CNET

Preparing the oven was easy, too. It comes fully assembled, with ingredients you can add or remove depending on whether you’re using wood or propane. The default option is wood, but I didn’t have anything on hand on my first day of testing, so I started with propane via the gas stove attachment. The gas stove attaches seamlessly to the back of the oven with a hose that connects to your propane tank.

Cut small pieces of wood, insert the ash pan and set fire to it. Then add the fuel mesh and the wood pieces. Use the included attachment to open/close the back securely.

Megan Wellerton/CNET

The wood option features a tailgate that opens for ventilation, an ash pan, a wood fuel grill and a number of tools because you don’t want to touch the door directly when it’s hot. Solo Stove suggests using 5-inch by 2-inch pieces of kiln-dried wood.

Next, add the pizza stone, which comes in two parts that fit perfectly inside the oven, and start preheating. Solo Stove says the oven takes about 15 minutes to reach the desired range of 650 to 800 degrees Fahrenheit. While it’s heating, prepare your pizza. The Pi can hold up to 12 inches of pizza, which is usually a medium-sized pizza in restaurants, or a couple smaller.

I’ll note here that I had to use a lighter to get the gas going at first, which Solo Stove says shouldn’t be the case. (The oven has an igniter, just like a regular propane grill.) I’m not sure what happened there, but no matter what I tried, I ended up resorting to a lighter. Then, magically, I tried again and it worked beautifully. I am willing to print this error due to user error, but it is worth bearing in mind if you are facing similar issues.

You can use store-bought or homemade dough to make pizza. Solo Stove says you can cook frozen pizza in the oven, but you should let it thaw first, because frozen pizza placed on a pizza stone can cause it to crack.

Use the infrared thermometer to check your progress. According to the Solo Stove, getting the correct temperature range is a critical step to getting delicious bubbly cheese and a delicious crust. I found this part somewhat unreliable, because pointing the thermometer an inch or so from the last location resulted in a huge temperature change, sometimes as high as 50 degrees. To try to ensure the best possible results, I waited until each reading was in the 650- to 800-degree range, even if there was some temperature discrepancy.

Once the Pi is set up and preheated, it’s time for the best part: the pizza.

test it

I’ve made eight pizzas using this oven, trying different combinations of store-bought and homemade dough (plus two frozen pizzas) and switching between propane and wood. My first attempt was comical. I read the user manual several times before setting up the propane tank, preheating the oven and preparing two pizzas, one for me and one for my husband. I followed the instructions to flour the surface of the crust and dough to loosen the stickiness and started with just one pizza to keep things simple.

Once the oven had reached temperature, I confidently stepped outside with the crust holding the uncooked pizza and the smaller crust to flip the pizza over once it was in the oven to ensure a more even baking. Solo Stove says pizza cooks in two minutes, so you have to work fast, which may have been the start of my problems.

Pizza won’t budge. We have tried several things but to no avail. In the end, we had to use the smaller crust to “roll” the pizza into a very temporary calzone shape to get it in the oven at all. We also couldn’t get it out of the oven. Again, we used the large and small crust to get it out. My husband eats a “calzone”, but it was a failure overall.


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For my pizza, I tried more flour, evenly coated on the bottom of the pizza and on the stainless steel peel. Same result. What started out as a beautiful uncooked pizza turned into a chaotic mass of dough, sauce and cheese every time we tried to move it either in or out of the oven. Mine didn’t even pass the edibility test because whatever pile of ingredients we managed to get into the oven was cooked too unevenly to be salvaged.

Fortunately, I gradually improved after each attempt. The third and fourth pizza, also made using the same store-bought dough as the first two, worked better. But instead of opening the dough out of the fridge, adding some flour to it and peeling and tossing the ingredients, I worked the dough a bit with flour on my hands and basically reshaped it, getting rid of some of the stickiness while I was working.

I quickly learned that if a pizza didn’t budge while you’re baking it on the crust, it won’t budge when you try to get it into the oven, no matter what technique you use.

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You can cook thawed frozen pizza at Pi Pizza Oven, too.

Megan Wellerton/CNET

Next I tried 2 medium thawed pizza (remember, don’t put frozen pizza directly on the pizza stone or else it may break) store bought frozen pizza, thin crust and regular crust. These worked very well and were easily transferred from the peel to the oven and back out again. It was also easy to operate the oven with the smaller chaff.

In the last round of testing, I used this pizza crust recipe to try a pair of homemade mini pizzas. This test scared me, but it turned out well. The dough was easy to work with and produced a nicely toasted crust with a flaky outside and a softer middle. This dough also goes from the crust into and out of the oven much easier than store-bought dough.

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The homemade dough plus the wood fuel yielded the tastiest results.

Megan Wellerton/CNET

Whether you use wood or propane is a matter of preference. Propane is simpler, because you don’t have to care about fire as much. But the wood-fueled oven was more satisfying, both in terms of creating a campfire-like cooking experience and an overall better taste. The last pizza I cooked using homemade dough and wood (photo above) was definitely the best overall. This is partly due to getting more familiar with the oven over time, but also because the homemade pizza and wood oven make a great combination.

last thoughts

Pi Pizza Oven is easy to make and there are plenty of accessories available to help you make great pizza. There was a specific learning curve to prevent each pizza from sticking to the crust and in some cases taking it out of the oven. But it became easier. I’m sure pizza-making enthusiasts have many personal tips and tricks to make this learning curve a lot smoother. (Please share if you do!) Until then, Pi Pizza Oven is a well-designed and mostly easy-to-use product that makes good pizza in your own backyard.

If you’re a pizza lover, but don’t have the budget to install a full brick oven on your patio, the Solo Stove pizza oven is a great alternative.

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