What Difference Does a Pizza Oven Make?

pizzerialocale Neighborhood Neapolitan

Ask any pizza maker, and you’ll find that one of the first and most important parts of creating the perfect pizza is the oven. And not just any oven, either! Where and how you cook pizza makes a world of difference. In fact, not having just the right oven can delay the opening of a pizzeria.

We know what we’re talking about. We opened the original Pizzeria Locale in Boulder back in 2011, but our initial plan had been to open in 2010. We had everything planned and prepared, and we were ready. We’d even engaged Naples’ primo pizza-oven maker, the famous Stefano Ferrara, to come and build our new fixed brick oven.

Ferrara is a third-generation Italian craftsman who builds every oven from scratch, with his hands in the traditional way to guarantee the best performance in cooking and heat retention. We wanted the very best for Pizzeria Locale, and that was what we got.

Sometimes, however, even the best-laid plans go awry. Stefano had packed the shipping container with everything he’d need for our oven and shipped it to Boulder, including the dirt he would need to make his concrete. U.S. Customs was not amused and flagged the dirt as a biohazard! They impounded the entire container and destroyed it.

We were naturally beside ourselves with anxiety: It looked like we weren’t going to have our oven. We called Stefano in a panic, and he kindly put us to the top of the list for a partially built oven that would arrive in a few months. 

So it was that after a short delay, a forklift moved our new oven into position and we were proud to finally open on January 25th, 2011.

Why was it worth all that anxiety, all that waiting, all that work?

Stefanos’ ovens are special for a number of reasons. They’re hand-built using only the best quality materials, following a process that has been handed down over three generations. These ovens retain heat for a ridiculously long time—every morning we use the oven to bake the bread for Frasca next door without lighting a new fire. The ovens burn at about 850 degrees, meaning the pizza bakes in 90 seconds; and that cook time is what gives Neapolitan pizza its trademark leopard spots and wet center.

But there are other ovens for other pizza needs. As Pizzeria Locale expanded, we realized we needed to bake the pizzas in this traditional way but also needed an oven that was fast. The Stefano Ferrara oven wouldn’t be able to keep up with busier pizzerias: traditional wood fire ovens can only bake four pizzas at a time. We also knew firsthand how many months of training it takes for a chef to successfully work a busy night on the traditional oven. 

So we engaged a group of engineers to come up with an entirely new design, an oven that could bake pizza in our style but also bake many pizzas at a time.

What we produced is a rotating, gas smart oven. The new oven has flames in the middle and sides—so guests still get the all-important leopard spots on their crust. Infrared heat that turns on only when needed bakes the bottom of the pizza, so that no matter how many pizzas are in the oven at a time, they all come out perfectly blistered. The oven even looks similar to the Stefano Ferrara oven, with thick oven walls covered in tile ensuring heat is retained and higher temperatures are reached.

You won’t find these smart ovens anywhere else. They bake pizzas in a whole new way… but the flavors themselves? They are as old—and delicious—as Naples itself!