Ooni Karu 16 Review
This outdoor pizza oven makes full-sized pies
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It’s hard to make homemade pizza taste as good as a restaurant. The dough and toppings are easy enough to master, but the resulting pizza rarely turns out the same. That’s because residential ovens don’t get nearly as hot as commercial ones: Your favorite pizza spot’s oven can reach 800° to 900°F! Until recently, you had to commit to building an oven into your backyard setup if you wanted something that could reach those temperatures. Today’s portable outdoor pizza ovens have solved this problem.
Unfortunately, these ovens are sometimes small, and they usually make you choose between cooking with propane or wood pellets. With the Ooni Karu 16, you get the best of both worlds—a pizza oven large enough to make full, 16-inch pizzas using charcoal, wood, or propane as the fuel choice.
About the Ooni Karu 16
- Dimensions: 33 inches x 20 inches x 32 inches (H x W x D)
- Cooking surface: 16.7 inches x 16.7 inches
- Weight: 62.6 lbs (28.4 kg)
- Materials: Powder-coated carbon steel and stainless steel
- Features: Built-in digital thermometer, multi-fuel option, hinged door with glass viewing panel, large cooking area for 16-inch pizzas; additional accessories and oven cover available for purchase separately
- Fuel Type: Multi-fuel: Wood, charcoal, and propane (gas burner sold separately)
We’ve tested several outdoor pizza ovens, but few of them offer multi-fuel options. They’re not usually as large as the Karu, either. This oven provides 16 square inches of cooking space compared to the 12 inches available in most pizza ovens. It’s also larger than most because it can be used with wood, so it features a large chimney. You’ll want to keep that in mind before trying to use it on an apartment balcony! That said, the large size wasn’t a detriment to using the oven if you have a dedicated space for it.
How to use the Ooni Karu 16
Once you get the Karu set up (a process that’s as easy as sliding on the chimney and screwing on the door), you’ll need to choose your fuel type: propane or charcoal/wood.
To use the propane attachment, the wood-burning tray and grate are removed and replaced with a slide-in gas burner. From there, getting started is as easy as attaching the hose to a propane tank and turning on the dial. It took a little less than 30 minutes on the highest heat settings for the pizza stone to reach 900°F, the appropriate temperature for cooking Neapolitan-style pizzas. The temperature is adjustable using the dial, so you don’t have to blast it at high heat all the time. That allows you to cook at lower, 500°F temperatures for New York-style pizza.
For a more rustic experience, place the wood-burning tray back inside the oven and cook the old-fashioned way with fire. Start by loading the tray with lump charcoal and a few fire starter cubes. We’ll add some wood later, but the charcoal creates a good base for the fire. It helps establish a coal bed that will sustain the heat throughout the cooking time. Open the chimney baffle and ceiling vents to maximize airflow inside the oven and wait until the charcoal is glowing white and no longer produces smoke. That took about 30 minutes, give or take.
Once the coal bed was established, we found it necessary to add wood to get to the proper Neapolitan pizza temperatures. Charcoal alone took too long (over an hour) but adding a few chunks of wood increased the heat to over 900°F in just 15 minutes.
Keep in mind that the wood has to be a specific size, though. The Ooni definitely isn’t large enough for full-sized logs! We chopped our own kindling from a camping firewood bundle at first. Then, we moved on to using store-bought wood chunks for barbecues or chimineas. These were much easier because they don’t require an ax to prepare, and you can also purchase Ooni’s premium assorted oak pack, which are specifically sized for the Karu 16.
When you’re finished cooking, simply turn off the propane burner or shut down the chimney baffle and ceiling vent to extinguish the wood fire. The exterior of the Karu stays hot for at least an hour after cooking, so you’ll want to wait until it’s fully cooled to put on the pizza oven cover.
What we like about the Ooni Karu 16
It can be used with multiple fuel sources
The best part about the Ooni Karu 16 is the versatility. If you purchase the gas burner, you can make pizza in this oven with three different types of fuel: charcoal, wood, or gas. The Essentials Guide that comes with the users manual details how to get started and cook a pizza with each type of fuel.
It gets hot enough to cook restaurant-style pizza
We were pleased to see that the Ooni Karu got up to 900°F when using the propane burner, so the stone was heated enough to cook a pizza in as little as 60 seconds. It didn’t get quite hot enough when using charcoal alone, but a charcoal-wood mixture brought the temperature over 900°F.
It was also easy to regulate the temperature with either fuel source to cook with lower temperatures. That’s ideal for New York-style pizza, which cooks better at 500°F, or non-pizza recipes like infused oil, roasted vegetables, or desserts.
It’s large enough for full pizzas
The Ooni Karu 16 is large enough to make full, 16-inch pizzas. Most of the pizza ovens we’ve tested tap out at 12 inches, which is great for a personal pizza but not large enough to feed a crowd. The extra space in the Karu 16 is helpful when cooking other items in the oven, too. The oven’s interior is tall enough to bake a loaf of bread and plenty big enough to cook steak or roasted vegetables in a preheated cast-iron pan.
Its built-in thermometer is accurate
Before we started cooking, we were skeptical about the built-in thermometer. You see, there’s a difference between ambient oven temperature and the temperature of the pizza stone, and air in the oven tends to heat up more quickly than the stone itself. That could lead to tossing in a pizza before the stone hits proper temperatures, and the cheese will melt before the bottom cooks all the way through.
Luckily, the mounted thermometer is designed correctly and it displays the stone temperature. We used an infrared thermometer to test it, and the temperature on the handheld thermometer always matched the digital thermometer attached to the oven.
It’s easy to clean
The exterior of the Ooni Karu 16 was simple enough to clean. Once the oven has cooled, wipe down the exterior with a wet cloth to remove any dirt or dust.
After cooking a few pizzas, we noticed some build-up on the stone itself from excess flour, cheese, or toppings that slid off the pizza. To clean the stone, Ooni recommends firing the oven at its highest temperature and letting the items burn off. Any burnt bits can be swept out using a brush when the oven is cool. You can also flip the stone from time to time, too, to alternate which side is used to cook the pizza.
Keep in mind that cooking with charcoal or wood is a bit messier than propane. You’ll want to clean out the tray from time to time to prevent accidentally blowing ash onto your cooking pizza. The oven is small enough to clean by hand, but you can also use an ash vacuum.
It has a door
The oven door is unusual for a portable pizza oven, but we were glad the Ooni Karu 16 had one. It’s glass, so you can still see inside to view the cooking pizza, but the door helps insulate the oven and maintain its temperature. It’s also a great feature when using the oven to cook bread, as the door helps the heat and humidity stay inside the oven.
The accessories are useful
The Ooni doesn’t come with any additional accessories, but we love the options in their shop. In addition to picking up a cover to protect the Karu from the elements, we definitely recommend grabbing a pizza peel. The perforated peel is perfectly sized for 16-inch pizzas, and the tiny holes in the steel ensures excess flour falls away from the dough as you slide the pie into the oven. If you’re planning to cook more than pizza in the oven, the cast iron grizzler pan is a great option for roasting meats and vegetables.
What we don’t like
Regulating the temperature with wood takes practice
Regulating temperatures on wood-fired ovens or charcoal grills takes a little practice, so bear with yourself as you go through the learning curve.
After starting the initial fire, you’ll want to adjust the chimney baffle and ceiling vent inside the Karu to affect the airflow throughout the oven. Fully open vents create powerful flames and increased heat, while closed vents reduce the airflow and slow the heat.
You’ll also need to learn how to time when you add extra charcoal or wood to the oven. We found it best to add a few chunks of wood before firing a pizza to create the perfect cooking environment. After a few sessions, we felt like pros, but you’ll probably want to practice before you invite friends over for a pizza party.
It doesn’t make great pizza with charcoal alone
The Karu is designed to work with both charcoal and wood. That said, we found the pizza didn’t turn out quite as restaurant-quality with charcoal alone. Ooni doesn’t actually recommend charcoal-only use for pizza, either, explaining that charcoal doesn’t provide the same flame exposure as wood.
Instead, we found it best to use a bed of charcoal to create a steady base temperature inside the oven. Then, add wood a few minutes before adding each pizza to create the right flame profile.
The type of wood is very specific
You can’t use any wood for cooking pizza in the Ooni. You’ll want to use a hardwood variety, like oak, pecan, or mesquite. Softwoods like juniper contain a lot of sap, adding smoke and unpleasant flavors to the pizza. The wood also has to be cut into 6-inch pieces that are small enough to place into the firebox. You can buy specially-sized wood from Ooni, chop your own, or use hardwood chunks designed for smokers.
Its large size makes it hard to store
Compared to other outdoor pizza ovens we’ve tested, the Ooni Karu 16 is big. It’s not only long and heavy, but the tall exhaust vent adds an extra 18 inches of height. Of course, this large size helps us make large, 16-inch pizzas. But it’s not low-profile enough to move around a lot, so you’ll want to find a dedicated space on your patio or deck for storing it.
The propane burner is a separate attachment
Switching from wood to gas is as easy as loosening the screws in the back of the oven, removing the draft defender plate, and installing the gas burner. You need to take out the wood-burning burner tray and grate, too, which means you’ll have to find somewhere to store these items while you use the propane. The same is said for storing the gas burner when you’re burning with wood.
This may not be a huge deal for you, unless you’re someone who frequently loses things (like me). We suggest selecting a dedicated place for these items like in a cabinet near the oven so you don’t tear apart the garage looking for them when you’re in need.
Ooni offers a one-year standard warranty with the Ooni Karu. If you register the pizza oven within 60 days of receipt, Ooni will extend that to a three-year warranty. The warranty covers material defects in materials and workmanship but does not protect against reasonable wear and tear, water damage, or use of the oven with improper fuels.
Ooni also offers a 60-day guarantee for purchases made through ooni.com. If you aren’t happy with the pizzas made in the oven within 60 days, you can return it for free.
Should you buy the Ooni Karu 16?
Yes, if you love having options when you make pizza
After cooking several Neapolitan- and New York-style pizzas with charcoal, wood, and propane, we loved almost everything about the Ooni Karu 16.
Compared to the Ooni Koda, our runner-up when testing outdoor pizza ovens, we found the Karu performed just as well with propane. The propane was convenient and made it quick and easy to cook one or two pizzas on a weeknight. The wood-burning option takes a little longer to get started, so we’ll save that for weekends or days when we have more time. This fuel source also takes a little practice, but it’s worth the effort. Cooking with wood was fun, and it was the perfect choice for throwing a pizza party. Everyone who came over got to practice their pizza-making skills!
The Karu is also larger than the Koda (producing 16-inch pizzas versus 12-inch pizzas), but it’s also about twice as expensive. So it begs the question: Will you take advantage of the larger cooking area, the built-in thermometer, the oven door, and the multi-fuel option? If so, this oven is a great fit! You may find yourself using it to cook more than pizza, making it a staple addition to your outdoor cooking space.
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.