WHAT IS IT?
We’re longtime fans of Kalamazoo’s barbecues, so when the company offered to send us their new Kalamazoo Artisan Pizza Oven to test out we jumped at the chance.
Then we got worried. From the photos online, this looked like a device you order when building an outdoor kitchen — something big, bulky and heavy, requiring a crew of workers to install — not something you set up outside the building to host an office pizza party. Nevertheless, we were determined to make it work.
And it’s a good thing we did, too. This oven was more compact than we thought from viewing the photos, simple to set up and operate, let us easily produce restaurant-quality pizzas in three minutes, and helped us a host one of the best parties of the year.
There are a couple ways you can get the oven, either through an authorized dealer or directly from the company website. Dealers will often be a part of the assembly process and may even give you a tutorial on how to use it. We had to resort to using the instruction manual.
The big surprise? It’s an incredibly easy cooking device to assemble, taking one staff writer five minutes — which was less time than it took us to unpack it. That’s because each piece simply stacks up on the other, allowing the grooves and weight to securely hold itself together. This not only makes the oven great if you have to put it together on your own, but also allows you to use it for special events away from home. Granted, it will take time to cool down after your event before you can transport it in a vehicle, but having that option available opens up the possibilities for what you can do with this oven.
The oven’s lines are beautiful, clean and simple, and the basic stainless steel allows it to work well in both modern and more classic design settings. It weighs in at only 150 pounds, and with a 30 x 30 footprint it can actually fit in numerous spots.
WHY WE LOVE IT
We used the oven over two days, so that we could experiment with the settings. (And so that we wouldn’t mess up the company pizza party on the second day.) Here’s what we learned.
Cooking temperatures are reached in as little as 20 minutes. We roasted tomatoes, asparagus and baby potatoes in oven-safe pans, and they worked really well. If you like to roast veggies in the oven, this gives you that same flexibility, but with the aromas and charring that comes with using a barbecue. There are even recipes for making cookies, pies, roast chicken and other meats in the oven, which offer a lot of versatility and can be fun for a full day of entertaining.
After a 45-minute pre-heat we were ready to bake Neapolitan-style pizzas, and those cooked for 3-5 minutes each. Keep in mind that Neopolitan-style pizzas have very thin crusts, which means the oven’s high heat crisps them up and makes the toppings bubbly very quickly. These worked best during our first shot at the oven. We also cooked a couple gluten free pizzas, and those thin crusts worked just as well. All you need to do is keep an eye on the pie, turning it periodically to ensure that one side doesn’t burn.
Thicker crusts take more finesse because you run the risk of burning the toppings while leaving the crust raw on the inside. We quickly learned how to adjust the temperature for different crust thicknesses, rising the bottom heat more and reducing the top heat to even things out. Our best results came from rolling out the thicker dough, brushing some oil on the top, and cooking that for about 5-10 minutes. We then removed the par-baked crust, placed toppings on it, and cooked for another 5 minutes.
Yes, this was a bit more work, but it was also lots of fun. You have to play with the oven to see what works and what doesn’t, and laugh when you mess up — which will happen. But the experimenting and figuring out how things cooked in this oven brought everyone in our office together, allowing us to hang out and chat more. It created a sense of community that often comes with great holiday barbecues, and offered almost as much enjoyment as eating the actual pizzas.
Almost. Because, at the end of the day, those fresh pizzas that we baked ourselves were pretty awesome.