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How to throw a portable pizza party in your backyard

Mar 29, 2024

Who doesn’t love pizza?

Crust, sauce, cheese, toppings: It’s the perfect recipe for a dinner everyone will love.

My husband and I recently bought a portable outdoor pizza oven (ours is an Ooni), and we have been churning out pizzas for friends and family with abandon.

It took a few tries for us to get the dough right, and I’m still experimenting there — sourdough and fermented dough are next on my agenda — but what we’ve accomplished so far is so fun and easy that I wanted to share.

There are lots of options for portable pizza ovens, but we wanted an oven that was small enough to transport to the cabin or friends’ houses, and we were also hoping for some wood-fired flavor. We landed on the Ooni Fyra 12, which is fired solely through wood pellets — the same kind we use in our Traeger smoker/grill. It weighs about 20 pounds and has a carrying case (purchased separately) so is easy to transport, too.

We have the operation down pat now, after figuring out that you must add a small scoop of pellets after every pizza to keep the fire hot. We also purchased a metal peel and a metal turner, the former of which makes launching pizzas into the oven a breeze, and the latter of which ensures an evenly cooked crust, since you can do quarter or eighth turns every 15 seconds.

RELATED: 12 great Bay Area pizza joints — and 12 reasons why you should eat there

It’s a very active process — no sitting and waiting for your pizza to cook — but also extremely fast. A 12-inch Neapolitan pizza cooks in less than two minutes. My husband and I usually tag-team: He mans the oven while I stretch the dough and top the pizzas.

It’s fun to have a toppings bar so everyone can make their favorites or whip up a fun new creation. I prep the toppings and sauce beforehand — usually the day before so that I’m not exhausted by the end of pizza day — and make the dough for the crust the day of the party. Thanks to my trusty stand mixer, the dough comes together in a matter of minutes.

One batch of crust makes six 12-inch pizzas. I figure on about a pizza and a half per person, especially since we always have salads or other side dishes. Leftovers are great reheated or eaten cold from the refrigerator the next day.

I’m including the crust and red sauce recipes I use, along with a fun list of topping ideas and some combinations to try. A big bonus of making pizzas: Leftovers from other meals can be toppings! Scraps of chicken from rotisserie or beer can chicken, bits of ham, that half-carton of mushrooms languishing in your refrigerator drawer — all make great toppings.

You can make these in your home oven or grill with a pizza stone, too. I’ve seen recipes that use a broiler to mimic the intense heat of a wood-fired oven, but many gas grills also reach high enough temperatures to cook a Neapolitan.

Use 00: It’s more expensive, but if you want perfectly pliable dough, seek out 00 flour, which is finer than all-purpose. I have found it at specialty markets but usually order it from Amazon for a better price.

Invest in a scale: If you don’t already have one, you’ll need a cooking scale to weigh out the flour, water, salt and yeast for the crust, if you want it to be perfect every time.

Less is more: Scant sauce and limited toppings will ensure that your crust is crisp and not soggy. I use less than a quarter cup of sauce on each pizza and leave the middle of the pie nearly sauce-less.

Grate your own: Pre-grated, bagged cheese does not melt as well. My food processor’s grater attachment can take down two pounds of mozzarella in just a few minutes, and it’s well worth the cleanup. You can also tear fresh mozzarella into small pieces and use that, but beware that there’s lots of moisture in fresh cheese, which can affect how well your crust cooks. Use it sparingly. If you can find whole milk mozzarella, absolutely use that, but the part-skim stuff in most grocery stores works fine, too.

Tears are your enemy: If you get a hole in your crust, sauce and cheese will stick to the pizza peel and make your pie impossible to launch. You can try re-rolling and shaping the dough, but don’t try and top it and cook it with a hole. I speak from experience.

More flour is better: Before you add toppings to your crust, make sure you generously flour the peel you’ll use to launch it. Shake the peel to make sure the crust moves freely, then add the toppings. If it doesn’t move, lift the crust and add more flour before you top it.

Work swiftly: The longer your crust is on the peel, the more likely it will stick.

I always have the basics — pepperoni, sausage, mozzarella, parmesan, green peppers, green olives, onions and mushrooms. Sausage and mushrooms should be sauteed first.

In place of red sauce: Tapenade or olive paste, pesto or plain or flavored olive oil

Vegetable toppings: Artichoke hearts (diced small for quick cooking), fresh or pickled jalapenos, thinly sliced zucchini, halved cherry tomatoes, broccolini (blanch it first)

Other meats: Rendered bacon, pre-cooked shrimp, pulled pork, cooked chicken, prosciutto

After-oven additions: Fresh basil; arugula tossed in lemon juice, salt and pepper; olive oil; hot honey

Makes enough for about a dozen pizzas

Adapted from “The Outdoor Cook” from America’s Test Kitchen

Process all ingredients in a food processor until smooth, about 30 seconds. Transfer to a bowl and refrigerate until ready to use.

Makes enough for six 12-inch pizzas

Adapted from Ooni

RELATED: More great Bay Area pizza: Readers share their favorites

Tip: You can freeze leftover dough. Wrap individual balls tightly in plastic wrap. Thaw and allow to rise for 30 minutes before using.

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RELATED: 12 great Bay Area pizza joints — and 12 reasons why you should eat thereUse 00:Invest in a scale:Less is more:Grate your own:Tears are your enemy:More flour is better:Work swiftly:In place of red sauce:Vegetable toppings:Other meats:After-oven additions:RELATED: More great Bay Area pizza: Readers share their favorites