It’s been about a year since, with heart-in-mouth, I electronically transferred a wodge of money to a complete stranger and bought my Alfa ONE backyard pizza oven. I’d been thinking about it for a long, long time, and during Lockdown #1, I asked myself, if not now, when? I really wanted to have one in the garden in France, but Brexit has thrown my retirement plans into doubt, and the truth is that Saturday night is pizza night, whichever country I’m in. I tracked my first attempts here and further progress in this post, but now I’ve had it a year, it’s time for a proper review.
I had been considering a slightly larger model, which was reduced in a sale and was therefore about the same price as the ONE. I think that was the Ciao, which can do two pizzas at once and comes on a base with wheels. This was a genuine dilemma, but in the end I doubted whether I’d ever be in a position to cook two pizzas at once. My production line is not quite that efficient, and I don’t have that much space in terms of preparation area. So I went for the ONE, even though I slightly worried that its diminutive size would make it less effective.
What do you get for your money? It weighs 55kg, which is about the weight of a small adult human. It can be lifted, but it’s more of a two person lift. It comes with feet, but any base/surface is going to cost you extra. I bought a small stainless steel table from Amazon, which is fine, though it’s not the outdoor kitchen of my dreams. Other than that, you get the oven, which is stainless steel and comes in an attractive hammered copper finish. It has a stone floor and an insulated domed roof, with a removable chimney and baffle. There’s a lift-off door and a fire grate, and you get a small pizza peel which I’ve not bothered to use. I use the peel I was already using, but I bought a turning/lifting peel, which I’m still mastering. I have not yet managed to get a suitable wire brush to clean the oven floor (I’m improvising). My main problem there is lack of space, so I can’t have anything with too long a handle.
All this previously documented and linked above. Photos on those earlier posts too. The video above shows some of the pizzas being made, though you’ll have to excuse the one-handed pretend dough stretching and pizza turning. I’m really much better at it with two hands. Also, because I was doing it one handed, and close to a naked flame a lot of the time, I did vertical video and then had to crop, which is not ideal.
Apart from the turning peel, the essential items are an infra-red thermometer for measuring the temperature of the oven floor, and a set of sturdy heat proof gloves, such as you use with a woodburning stove. You’ll also need to give some consideration to the wood you use, and learn to plan ahead.
The air temperature in the oven gets very hot very fast. But the floor takes longer. I said in an earlier post that it takes at least 30 minutes, but actually it’s more like 45. It really is worth waiting for the floor temperature to get up because it makes a huge difference to the quality of your bases. It’s also sensible to let the flames die down so that the pizza cooks in the (considerable) residual heat. This might slow down your pizza nights as you add a bit more fuel now and then and wait for the flames to die down. I think this is one of the side effects of the smaller size.
In terms of wood, most of the kiln dried stuff you can buy commercially is, unfortunately, ash. Ash is a bit shit: doesn’t burn very hot. What you want is oak and birch, and you sometimes get this as part of a delivery, but it’s the luck of the draw. I buy my wood from Certainly Wood: it’s kiln dried, so there’s no burning of low quality wet wood around here, because it’s bad for the environment. Certainly Wood offer a couple of products of interest to the back yard cook. You can get a supply for smaller-cut logs, and you can also get apple wood logs for extra flavour. The smaller cut logs save a lot of time with the hand axe. More importantly, they’re much more suitable as kindling for the very efficient Scandinavian woodburning stove we have in the house.
But here’s a tip if you want to get the temperature really high in your oven and you’re struggling with ash: coffee logs. You get 16 of these in a bag, and, once you’ve lit your fire with regular wood, you just need about three of the coffee logs to get the oven hot enough for three pizzas and (if required) a roast chicken. And we’re talking hot. Not to mention the warm feeling you get burning a recycled product of the vast coffee industry.
That’s really the amazing thing about the ONE. Yes, the fire is small, and the space you have to work in within the dome is cramped (getting those coffee logs in can be a bit of a faff), but it’s incredibly fuel efficient. The equivalent of a couple of standard logs – or three coffee logs – is enough for my traditional three family pizzas. And afterwards, you can chuck in a spatchcocked chicken or small roasting joint, and cook it ready for the next day. The chicken I do for 30 minutes in total, turning it around after 15 minutes. It doesn’t burn, but it cooks brilliantly. And then, if you felt so inclined, you could bake some kind of tart or custard in the remaining residual heat. As an alternative to barbecuing, you could fire it up and cook some chicken pieces, or fish, and roast some Mediterranean vegetables. It really uses very little fuel.
Once I learned to be patient with the heating up, my pizza game was lifted up a notch. All I need now is for my grown up daughters to stop living, ridiculously, away from home – or at least to be around on a Saturday night. The old black magic.