I tried out Solo Stove’s Pi pizza oven on some tough customers. There were audible gasps


Pros

  • Hot as blazes
  • Swaps between wood and propane
  • Wide mouth

Cons

  • Peel doesn’t come standard
  • Protective shelter doesn’t come standard

Can a pizza oven be an engineering wonder? Loaded with peripherals like an easy-leaning, all-weather shelter and a space-aged pizza peel, the Solo Stove Pi proves it can be.

Made by the folks who revolutionized the campfire (no, really, Solo Stove’s self-contained fire ring is amazing), the Pi oven comes in two fuel configurations, propane and wood. The cartridge-style swappable burner is a marvel and makes switching between them a breeze.

Those features help the Pi stand out in a crowded field, but what separates the concept is Solo’s two-footed leap into e-commerce, which includes wood refills and an inspired pizza-party-in-a-box. With a click and a front door drop-off, you’ve got a party. 

Also: The 5 best smokeless fire pits

Initially skeptical, I invited our dock neighbors in Marina del Rey, where we live on a boat, for a pizza chow-down. Did the Solo Stove Pi and Solo’s dough-to-order service meet the approval of these salty sailers? 

Read on to find out.

Specifications

Weight ‎30.5 pounds
Dimensions ‎22 x 22 x 18 inches
Installation type ‎Tabletop
Oven cooking mode ‎Conduction
Fuel type Propane
Material type ‎Stainless steel
Included components ‎Wood-burning assembly, Cordierite pizza stone, pizza maker
Optional components All-weather shelter, infrared thermometer, aluminum peel

What you get (and what you don’t)

Let’s talk about the hardware. 

The coolest part of the Solo Stove is that it swaps effortlessly between propane and wood. There’s something about the authentic smoky ambiance of a wood-burning oven I can’t resist. 

A wood-only package is available, but fortunately smarter heads prevailed when I got my Pi with the optional propane burner. It’s not a cheap upgrade, adding around $175, but it’s worth it in my book. 

That’s because the wood burner option is a lot of work to tend, which is fine for a few pies but adds an order of complexity to an afternoon-long pizza party. 

Getting the ambient chamber temp up to about 850 degrees with the wood takes some doing. Keeping the oven at optimal temperature over an extended period if you’re cooking a bunch of dough requires feeding the oven regularly. Using good wood helps, but if you want any chance of mingling as host, tending a wood fire is a tall order.

Fortunately, the burner assemblies swap in and out as easily as a 1980s video game cartridge. The oven itself resembles one of the Solo Stove fire pits. It’s a sleek stainless-steel cylinder that fits comfortably on a sturdy folding table or the available stand. There are a number of available accessories.

Accessories:

  • Pi Stand: A dedicated space for your Pi Pizza Oven, ingredients, and pizza cooking tools
  • Bamboo Peel: Stretch dough or launch and serve pizza on this versatile peel
  • Stainless Peel: Launch and pull pizzas with the peel custom-designed for Pi
  • Stainless Turner: Turn and rotate pizzas mid-bake like a pro
  • Silicon Mat: Keep utensils close by with extra heat resistance
  • Pizza Cutter: Slice and share your home-spun creations with precisions
  • Pi Shelter: Protects Pi from the elements

Some of these tools are essential to use the oven (a pizza peel is a must with an oven that reaches 900 degrees in propane mode, and the shelter is essential if you plan to keep the oven outside). The rub is that most of these accessories aren’t included with the basic package. Instead, you have to buy a bundle, and the costs do add up. 

For example, as of this writing, the Pi Pizza Oven is $400, which is a decent price for a high-quality wood burning pizza oven. But add a propane burner and the price jumps to about $575, still competitive with other major brands but getting pricey. A starter bundle adds a peel and a cutter but bumps the price to around $620. If you want the shelter and a pizza turner, the price is up to $685. And the ultimate package, which includes the Pi Stand, brings the price up to $805, around double the wood-burning oven alone.

At a minimum Solo should include a peel and shelter as standard kit. I wouldn’t consider the oven functional without them.

One quick note, if you already have a Solo Stove fire pit, you should consider the newly released pizza oven attachment, which converts your fire pit into a wood-fired pizza parlor. 

Man making pizza with the Solo Stove Pi on a dock beside a boat

The oven will eventually live on the boat. But since she’s made of wood we thought we’d test it on the dock first.

Greg Nichols/ZDNET

Dough to your door

What really stands out for me is Solo’s dough delivery service. Somehow this feels like the perfect balance between convenience and DIY. You get all the ingredients for a pizza party in a freezer box. 

The company seems to be positioning itself to be more than a durable goods brand with e-commerce offerings like an artisan pizza box, dough-only options, and oak firewood. That fits Solo’s brand, which straddles durable goods and lifestyle and is beloved among the outdoorsy set in the same way that, say, Yeti coolers are. Solo’s other brands include folding kayak company Oru, swimwear purveyor Chubbies, and Isle Paddle Boards.

Also: The best meal kit delivery services: Let’s get cooking

But back to pizza. The 12-pizza box includes 12 Neapolitan dough balls, a 23-inch pepperoni stick, three balls of mozzarella, and four pouches of San Marzano tomato sauce. You can buy the kit as a one-off or you can subscribe for a 10% discount. It’s a cool concept, subscribing to a ready-made pizza party and planning regular hooplas around delivery time.

The nice thing about all these ingredients is that they can be frozen. We have limited fridge and freezer space on Lindy, our WWII era sailboat, so we decided to chow down the day after the pizza box arrived.

Family preparing pizza on a dock

Cheese, please! Little kids can get in on the action too.

Greg Nichols/ZDNET

The ultimate test 

Dock dwellers are an interesting breed. Living and recreating on boats, they can tolerate a lot and are generally pretty easygoing. 

On the other hand, this salty crew doesn’t hold back from sharing an opinion, and boy can they get boisterous. Cooking for a couple dozen people is always daunting, but doubly so when you know you (and everyone else) will be hearing honest feedback.

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I set up the Solo Stove Pi on a folding table on our dock and swapped out the wood burner for the propane burner attachment. This was easy with the included hardware and requires no tools. I used our grill propane tank and hand-screwed the Pi’s propane hose in. I hadn’t tested the propane function previously and I was nervous the burner would take some finessing. However, the burner fired on the first click of the piezo auto-ignition, which you fire by turning the burner knob to on. 

I let the Pi heat up and took readings with an infrared thermometer. After 10 minutes, the pizza stone on the bottom of the Pi oven was over 500 degrees. After 20 minutes it was around 670 degrees. From there the stone inched slowly hotter, topping 720 degrees. The ambient temperature would have been much hotter to keep the stone at that temperature. Solo claims the temperature reaches 900 degrees with the propane attachment, and that seems legit. 

What about hot surfaces? I was testing the oven off the boat because, well, it’s a wood boat. But I had it placed on a plastic work table, which proved no issue at all. The oven stayed cool underneath, even at full blast. The sides were warm but didn’t present any risk of burns. That’s a departure from Solo’s original fire pit, which gets hot on the sides. 

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The top of the oven, naturally, was a different story. “Caution Hot” is emblazoned on the stainless steel in relief letters. Holding my hand near the top of the oven, it’s a definite burn surface. But you’d have to be trying pretty hard to ignore the fact that the oven is on. It’s very quiet but there’s definitely a heat bubble in the air around it and the flames inside are conspicuous.

People enjoying pizza from Solo Stove Pi next to boats

A happy crew (chef smiling contentedly in background).

Greg Nichols/ZDNET

Prepping the pizzas

I opted for working on a floured surface rather than cornmeal. After a light dusting, I worked the dough balls gently with my hands, flattening and stretching. Never use a rolling pin with pizza dough.

Solo’s dough has a great feel — very stretchy and silky smooth. I was a big bread maker before moving onto the boat (limited space makes it less practical) and I was impressed with the quality of the dough, which I had been letting proof outside the fridge for a couple hours.

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The sauce comes in big plastic pouches; I sampled it and was likewise impressed. The San Marzano sauce is slightly sweet but not overly so, bright but unobtrusive, just like a good pizza sauce should be.

The cheese balls were the biggest surprise. They were some of the tastiest whole milk mozzarella I’ve had, way better than the grocery store mozzarella I usually buy. The cheese was creamy and soft but not watery or rubbery.

Finally the pepperoni. This was one big stick of meat, 23 inches in total. I cut it up thin and arranged it with the other ingredients. 

Out of the oven

I tried a cheese pizza first just as the first guests were sauntering up. The pizza slid off the floured peel with a couple jerks of the wrist. 

The secret to cooking a good pie in a hot oven is to watch it like a hawk. This isn’t like a residential oven where you set a timer. The oven has a much hotter zone toward the back, so rotating the pizza is critical. After about a minute I slid my peel under the pizza pulled it out a few inches to where I could safely grab it with my fingers, and gave it a quarter turn. A pizza turner would have been nice, but I didn’t get one in my bundle.

Repeating the turn method every minute or so for the next four minutes, I gave the pizza an appraising glance. I love a toasted crust and burn marks on my cheese. I also find one of the things that separates experienced bread makers from novices is tolerance for a bit of char. So back in for another 30 seconds to get this first pie scorched to perfection.

When I pulled the first pie out, my dock buddies gave an audible gasp. It didn’t look homemade. It was a gorgeous, brown crusted pie with perfect dollops of cheese melting into a thin smear of sauce. I slid the pizza onto a cutting board, let it rest for 30 seconds, and then sliced it up. 

So how was it? The usually chatty dock gang was silent. Then one of them let out an expletive I probably shouldn’t print here. Unanimous approval. The oven’s intense heat left the crust crispy on the outside and perfectly moist and chewy inside. The quality ingredients and dough did the rest. It was a success.

The smell of that first pie enticed more neighbors. I got to work prepping more pizza. I ended up making all 12 that afternoon and found I could keep up a good rhythm. The pizza oven became a gathering place, each pie a little masterpiece of expectation and delivery. I let kiddos make their own and soon some buddies were manning the peel and sliding the pizzas in themselves, taking obvious pride in the results.

It was a total success, and it couldn’t have been easier thanks to the ingredients that arrived by mail.

Bottom line 

Pizza ovens in general are awesome. They’re an event, whether you’re making lunch or catering your own backyard (or dockside) party.

Solo’s pizza oven with swappable burners is top-quality. It burns hot and is easy as pie to set up, clean, and stow. I wish it came with more accessories standard and I do recommend one of the bundles that includes the cover and a peel. As long as you’ve got all the components you need, you can’t go wrong.

The real standout for me was the digital dough service. I’m considering subscribing as a way to force myself to make dock pizza parties a regular event. It’s a ton of fun, you can’t beat the pizza, and it brings people together. Factor in the convenience and you’ve got yourself a winning combo.

Alternatives to consider 

Ooni is the leader in the sector. Its Koda 12-inch oven is more affordable than the Solo Stove Pi and it’s a quality product, although it doesn’t get quite as hot as the Pi.

A quality gas oven in a nifty form factor. There are multiple color options available also. And it comes with the peel (c’mon, Solo Stove, make it standard!).

A perfect gift for someone who wants to DIY their dough making. King Arthur is the most reputable brand of commonly available flours. And it comes with a peel!

Originally published at www.theshocknews.com

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