When Breville first sent me the Smart Oven Pizzaiolo to review, the company anxiously inquired if I planned to consult my professional pizzaiolo friend. I understood their hesitation. Wood-fired pizza seems like a simple dish, but it’s challenging to get right.
If I hadn’t been making wood-fired pizzas for months, it’s easy to imagine all the different ways I could have messed things up. I could forget to let the dough warm up and rise, or not check to make sure the pizza isn’t sticking to the pizza peel—the wide paddle that holds the pie—before sliding it into the oven. The dough could stick to my hands if I didn’t wipe my fingertips with oil before stretching it out. Oh, and too much fresh mozzarella often makes the center too soggy—so does too much pasta sauce. (Try drained, blended canned tomatoes instead.) It’s more complex than you’d think.
The upshot is that even for pizza novices, the Pizzaiolo is a remarkably easy, foolproof way to turn out restaurant-quality pie. To use the oven, turn the knob to your chosen type of pizza (frozen, NY, pan, wood-fired, etc.), slide the pizza in, and tap the timer knob to start the countdown.
No one needs an $800 pizza oven, but I have to say, I’ve fallen helplessly in love with this one. If you eat a lot of pizza, you will too.
Like all of Breville’s products, the Pizzaiolo has been designed within an inch of its life. First of all, the gleaming stainless steel box is remarkably compact, a mere 18.5 by 18.3 by 10.7 inches that fits on a narrow sliver of counter space in my cramped kitchen.
It’s as beautiful to look at as it is to touch, and it comes with some delightful proprietary accessories, like a oil-coated carbon-steel pan with a removable handle for pan pizzas (you’ll need to season it after use) and a tiny, proprietary stainless steel pizza peel that’s dishwasher-safe. The sliding slab of cordierite stone is also removable for easy washing.
It pulls a residential 1,800-watt current to heat up to a mind-blowing 750 degrees. Even with vents on the left and right sides, the insulation is so good that I can store its proprietary pans on top and pile books, receipts, and other detritus next to it without burning them. The heavy door insulates so well that I can also sit within a foot of it on a kitchen chair without getting roasted.
Inside, a 12-inch pizza sits on a small slab of cordierite stone that slides in and out of the door for easy access. Three different heating elements—one under the pizza stone and two concentric rings on top—ensure that no part of your pizza is either over- or under-baked.
An optimized interior heat shield protects your fragile toppings while your crust crisps, and an ambient air sensor and below-deck sensor makes sure the temperature remains consistent throughout the cooking process. I used an IR thermometer to check the temperature in different parts of the oven. Each time, the temperature was consistent with what the label advertised—400 degrees for frozen pizzas, 640 degrees for thin and crispy. It took about 15 minutes to preheat, which is around the same time as for my convection oven but is still remarkable, considering that it’s heating a few hundred degrees higher.
You may not feel like a real pizzaiolo if you’re not anxiously peering through the door, constantly rotating and manipulating your pie to make sure the high heat is touching everything correctly. But it does offer more peace of mind, especially if you have friends or small toddlers running around your kitchen and demanding your attention while you cook.
You can also switch from automatic to manual mode by pressing on the timer switch and turning on the timer knob. It comes with a magnetic cover that you can slap on top of the preset knobs, if you’d like to set the temperature and time yourself to roast vegetables or just exert a little more control over your pizza.
If you like to pretend that you have the guts and stamina to be in food service, Breville’s machines are fun to play with.
I made pizzas with a variety of doughs, using the recipe that Breville includes with the oven as well as premade balls of sourdough stolen, er, borrowed from a local professional pizza chef and Jim Lahey’s pizza dough recipe. For frozen pizzas, our two favorite (well, my kids’ favorite) pizzas are Newman’s Own pepperoni and Table 5’s cornmeal crust pepperoni pizzas.
The sourdough and the Breville recipe worked out the best; it’s probably not a coincidence that the 240-gram dough ball specified by Breville’s recipe makes a perfect 12-inch pizza that stretches edge to edge on the peel.
The Pizzaiolo has seven different presets, ranging from 350 degrees to 750 degrees; a wood-fired pizza is around 700 degrees. The higher the temperature, the less time the pizza spends in the oven. According to the presets, a wood-fired pizza bakes for two minutes; a pan pizza, 18. I tried baking pizza according to each setting, which was difficult for me since I have very firm pizza preferences.
On the whole, I was happy with the presets. To my chagrin, I ended up using the frozen setting a lot, which allowed me to skip many an emergency Domino’s call. Whenever I make frozen pizza, I’m usually in such a hurry that I don’t let my conventional oven preheat properly. But the Pizzaiolo forestalls that by beeping conveniently when it’s preheated and when the pizza is done. Both the Newman’s Own and the Table 5 came out perfectly done, with a crisp crust and perfectly melted cheese.
It’s also hard for me to judge the accuracy of the pan-style and New York-style pizza settings. As far as I’m concerned, it’s not a tasty reproduction of a pan pizza unless it’s from Pizza Hut and dripping with oil, and the only New York-style pizza that I’m aware of is the kind that’s the size of a newspaper broadsheet and sagging off a paper plate. The pan pizza was appropriately puffy and soft, though it was a little drier than I’d like.
But I couldn’t believe how delicious the “thin & crispy” and “wood-fired” settings were. Both produced pies that hit all my benchmarks: Small, evenly-spaced blackish leopard spots on the bottom; a crisp crust; and cheese and toppings touched by the barest hint of a flame. Toppings of all kinds, from delicate sliced padron peppers to huge chunks of sausage, came out moist and intact.
The Pursuit of Perfection
The perfect pizza crust is a holy grail. It makes some people (like me) a little ragey to go to a restaurant and spend so much money on a simple preparation of flour, water, salt, and yeast, just because I don’t have an oven that can get up to 800 degrees at home.
I’ve seen a lot of crazy contraptions designed for this purpose. Admittedly, the Pizzaiolo is a lot more expensive than decking out your stove with slate tiles, or any of the waffle-iron-esque doodads that you might have previously used to get a pizza crust on your kitchen table before now. It’s also not particularly versatile. While you can roast small veggies in it, none of my other pots or cast irons fit in the small pizza slot. Breville also warns you not to use Teflon- or nonstick-coated pans in it, or to cook meat, since the Teflon coating or rendered fat might cause a fire.
My husband also objected to the Pizzaiolo, just because it has a door and no open flames—no gas, no charcoal, no wood-fired pellets. It seems that food is less flavorful when there’s no smoke, and no danger or mystery.
But if your goal is to eat restaurant-quality crisp, crunchy pizza as often and as conveniently as possible, and you have money to burn (ha!), it’s hard to find a device that’s easier to use or yields better results than the Pizzaiolo. I fell into a weekly routine of taking the pizza dough out of the fridge before I picked my kids up from school, and then whipping up a quick broccoli or sausage pizza for dinner. It’s going to be hard to pack up this bad boy.