Archive for ‘Thoughts’

Is the Halo Versa 16 Worth Buying?

Is the Halo Versa 16 Worth Buying?

With Ooni and Gozney waltzing around as the peacocks of the outdoor pizza oven industry, if you are asking “which pizza oven should I buy?,” I am betting that you are researching what they have to offer before you look elsewhere. Why wouldn’t you? Both companies were established over a decade ago and the reviews speak for themselves to paint both brands as reputable.

It wasn’t too long ago that those two brands were the only options if you were looking to create pizza from your backyard (beyond building a makeshift oven yourself, which is an endeavor rooted in costly time and research itself). Not anymore. The wonderful thing about being a consumer in the outdoor pizza oven market in 2022 is that there now exists a plethora of options.

You can make pizza using a $97 charcoal-fired Expert grill from Wal-Mart or even the big $1,699 Dome oven from Gozney. Price points vary, and because of that, and depending on how much you are willing to spend, there are options for everybody.

However, if you want to cover all your bases, you should consider looking at what the Halo Versa 16 has to offer. The Halo Versa 16 is, from my point of view, the most innovative pizza oven in the outdoor pizza oven game today.

The Halo Versa 16 Pizza Oven

Halo Versa 16 pizza oven
The Halo Versa 16 pizza oven.

Halo Products Group began advertising for its pizza oven, the Versa 16, in late 2021. Earlier this year, I started seeing ads for it. The Versa 16 features a rotating stone via button access (runs on two D batteries or by AC adaptor), boasts an impressive 12 minute preheat time and is capable of making 16″ pizzas with its dual burner system (one in the back and an infrared burner underneath the pizza stone).

At the time, I was uninterested. Having been gifted a Bertello pizza oven for Christmas, I was still enthralled by the act of baking an authentic Neapolitan style pizza in 90 seconds or less.

Time ensued, and two things happened: Halo Products Group began shipping the Versa 16 in March of this year, and over time I became disenchanted by being restricted to only 11″-12″ pizzas in my Bertello pizza oven, and not only that, but because the Bertello runs so hot, the user’s only option is to make a Neapolitan style pizza.

I love all styles of pizza. While I like Neapolitan style pizza, I discovered that it is not my favorite. It is too soft, and I have to wish you a great deal of luck if you like pizza with more than one topping when making a Neapolitan pie, because it is more geared towards minimal toppings with high quality ingredients to bring out maximum flavor.

Considering Ooni Over Halo?

A month ago, I started researching pizza ovens that could make a large 16″ pizza. It is no surprise that my initial search led me to both the Ooni Koda 16 and the Ooni Karu 16. The Koda 16 is $599 and the Karu 16 is $799. I didn’t even bother looking at Gozney’s offering of the $1,699 Dome, because it was (is) far out of my budget, and the portability factor is nonexistent. I also scratched the Karu 16 off my list of potential purchases, because while I concede that it is a quality oven, $799 for a door and a little bit more insulation did not tickle my fancy.

So there I was, dead set on the Koda 16. I watched a couple of videos featuring the oven on YouTube where users were demonstrating how to make a New York (my favorite) style pizza with a Koda 16. Santa Barbara Baker of YouTube was instrumental in initially influencing my decision. These days, Santa Barbara Baker uses a Karu 16 for his large pies.

The glaring issue I noticed is that, because of the burners in both the Koda 16 and Karu 16, making a large pie is tricky. Out of the box, those types of ovens are one trick ponies. They run super hot, and you have to manually remove the pizzas and turn them. If you are making a large pizza, you have to be careful not to burn the back of the pizza while waiting for the bottom of the front of the pizza to set before turning. Ooni users’ solution for this is to turn the heat setting down to ‘super low’, but even then, you have to be precise and careful or otherwise ruin your pizza. That means you will need to spend an indefinite amount of time practicing before you can confidently make a large pizza with one of these ovens.

In the grand scheme of things, the technicalities outlined above are not a big deal, but they aren’t exactly consumer friendly. Pizza is an investment of time, money and patience. A lot of people love the idea of making pizza at home, but I can personally tell you there is a steep learning curve to pizzamaking if you are new to it. By all means, if you have been making pizza in your home oven for years and you are ready to take the next step, go for it, but a lot of potential outdoor pizza oven buyers are like how I was when I first started, and with that consideration needing to be recognized, it would be wise to acknowledge the pitfalls along the way to creating the best pizza possible with the utmost adequate equipment. A willingness to patiently learn and accept imperfections along the way overcomes the trepidation of slinging a tremendous pie one right after the other. I digress.

As my Koda 16 desires started to fade, I found Pala Pizza’s YouTube review of the Halo Versa 16. To paraphrase one thing he said in the 4-minute clip: he claimed that if you are looking to make a large New York style pizza, look no further. The Halo Versa 16 is what you want. At this point, the Versa 16 had my curiosity, but that line gained my attention.

Making a New York style pizza at home had eluded me since the beginning of my pizza journey. My home oven doesn’t cut it. I tried using my trusty, old pizza stone by preheating it for an hour at 550, turning on the broiler function for 10 minutes and then launching, but the problems that persisted are that, no matter what I tried, the undercarriage of the pizza would never be properly brown despite the preheat time; what I would have to do would be, I’d bake the pizza, remove it from the oven for five minutes while turning the broiler back on, add the pizza back to the stone for a few minutes to finish the bottom with the oven turned off. This would cook the bottom of the pie to my preference, but by then the cornicione (rim of the pizza) would become too hard and my cheese would burn.

Asides from that, my oven only has one rack, the heating is overall spotty and inadequate, and it was simply a frustrating experience time and time again. Perhaps I should have tried using a pizza steel instead of a stone, but that would have been an extra $150, and I’ll explain the advantages of the Versa 16 shortly.

Pulling the Trigger on the Halo Versa 16

Halo Versa 16 pizza oven box
The Halo Versa 16 pizza oven prior to unboxing

I was hesitant to go with the Halo Versa 16 pizza oven, at first. I was so enamored with Ooni’s customer service, and I was skeptical of giving a new company a chance. For reference, I felt let down by the Stoke pizza oven, and in the barbecue side of things, the manufacturer of my favorite drum smokers was bought out and shut down, so I wanted to make sure I picked a reputable brand that I could feel connected to.

Living on a rural road, I was nervous that, upon purchase, Halo Products Group would choose an insufficient shipping partner to deliver my pizza oven and that I would not receive it without difficulty. I emailed Halo, and they responded to me within 30 minutes letting me know that they would inform their shipping manager of my preferences in regards to shipping me the oven. Lo and behold, I received my Versa 16 in two days, and I was already pleased by the customer service reception.

The build quality is downright impeccable. There is absolutely nothing that is cheap about the materials going on. The design itself was clearly well thought out and implemented. I love how the opening is vast and is big enough to accept a large peel as well as the ability to cook pan pizzas from a Chicago style deep dish to a Detroit style pie.

Halo Products Group’s Customer Service is Incredible

I cannot emphasize this point enough, although this post might begin to sound like a love letter to Halo Products Group. Upon putting the finishing touches of putting my Versa 16 together, I noticed that the rotator wheel was uneven. I was initially upset, as I had a few dough balls fermenting in my refrigerator for a cook, and I quickly reached out to Halo. Much like my previous email attempts, they replied in less than an hour and I had a new rotator wheel delivered to my door step in two days.

Not only that, but let’s discuss the warranty that comes with the Halo Versa 16: it is the best of any pizza oven on the market right now, and this point is a non-negotiable, undebatable fact. Halo Products Group stands behind their products with a five year warranty in addition to the standard one year warranty. You won’t see this same offer elsewhere.

Halo Products Group has made me feel like part of the Halo family from the get-go. I was already in love with the pizza oven before I even tried it out. Not only that, but how can you not love the name? Halo is the same name as the greatest FPS video game series of all-time, and Versa? I drive a Nissan Versa! What a double whammy!

First Bake on the Halo Versa 16 Pizza Oven

The Inner Workings of the Halo Versa 16 pizza oven
Burn-off of the Halo Versa 16 pizza oven
Pineapple and jalapeno pizza
Influenced by Stranger Things, this is a New York style “try before you deny” pizza featuring jalapeno and pineapple as the toppings, made in the Halo Versa 16 pizza oven.

My first impressions of the Versa 16 involved checking out the inner workings of the oven. It features a hinged lid where you can remove the tray and clean out any crumbs or debris hassle-free, and underneath that you can see the parts and components that get this oven running optimally.

To see how the oven would run, and to burn off any factory residue, I fired it up. Within 20 minutes, with the heat set to high, the stone temperature readings were at 760 degrees according to my infrared thermometer.

The first pizza I cooked in it, and you can check out my recipe for this New York style pizza dough here, was the above “try before you deny” pineapple and jalapeno pie. It was outstandingly delicious.

My recommendation is that you use a screen if you are going to cook a large 15-16″ pizza in the Halo Versa 16, for two reasons: 1.) it is difficult to launch a 15-16″ pizza onto a 16.5″ stone, and 2.) the screen will assist in preventing the bottom of the pizza from burning before the top of the pie is finished. After a few bakes, I have discovered that I prefer removing the screen two or three minutes into the cook and launching the pizza back onto the stone to finish.

Prior to my purchase, I read every single thing possible that I could about this oven in order to prepare myself on how it will bake, especially regarding the creation of a New York style pizza.

In 15 minutes, with the heat on low, stone temperatures were at almost 600 degrees, and that is when I launched the pizza. I cooked it on low for two minutes before cranking the heat up to high. You want these temperatures in about the ballpark of 600 because a New York style pizza typically cooks for around five minutes. I gathered this information prior to my purchase, and I wanted to pass this token of pizza wisdom along to any other prospective buyers.

A ‘Neo-Neapolitan’ Pizza Bake

A Neo-Neapolitan pizza with Calabrian peppers and basil, baked in the Halo Versa 16 pizza oven
A Neo-Neapolitan pizza with Calabrian peppers and basil, baked in the Halo Versa 16 pizza oven
The open, airy crust of the Neo-Neapolitan pizza with Calabrian peppers and basil, baked in the Halo Versa 16 pizza oven
The open, airy crust from the Neo-Neapolitan pizza.

Still, you might wonder if the Halo Versa 16 is capable of cooking a proper Neapolitan pizza.

The honest answer is no. Not a traditional Neapolitan pizza that would call for temperatures that exceed 870 degrees. However, Halo Products Group has never advertised that this oven is geared towards making Neapolitan style pies. It is capable of so much more.

The above pizza is what I would call either a rustic pizza or a Neo-Neapolitan pizza. A Neo-Neapolitan pie is a cross between a Neapolitan and a New York style. In this batch of dough, I used 00 flour, which is in tune with a true Neapolitan, but I also added sugar and oil to it. Toppings included Italian bomba sauce with Calabrian peppers, Flatiron Pepper Co. crushed Calabrian pepper flakes, mozzarella cheese, parmigiana-reggiano and basil.

For this bake, I preheated the oven on high for 30 minutes, launched the pie and finished it off in about three to three and a half minutes. I launched the pizza directly from a peel for a true hand-tossed experience.

With a little practice and tinkering of the heat settings, you can optimize your pizza experience by baking a pie exactly how you like it.

I have yet to try baking a pan pizza in the Versa 16, but that will happen sooner rather than later, and I will update this review with my results.

Is the Halo Versa 16 Worth Buying?

Absolutely, yes, unless you are only interested in baking Neapolitan style pizzas. If that’s the case, look elsewhere, but Neapolitan style pizza is boring, to me, at this point.

You might say, “Well, I already throw down a mighty fine New York pie in my home oven!” I understand. I’m not able to do so, so the Versa 16 was a no-brainer for my outdoor cooking repertoire. Furthermore, firing up the home oven during, say, the summer is a less-than-thrilling experience. Even if you have seemingly mastered New York style pizza in your home oven, I am willing to bet that the Versa 16 is superior given that it gets hotter than any home oven out there, as I don’t know any home ovens that are exceeding temperature controls of 600-650 degrees and higher.

Between the rotating cordierite stone, the dual-burner system, Halo Products Group’s incredible customer service and the fact that the oven is a bargain at only $499, you can’t go wrong. The Halo Versa 16 churns out amazing pizza.

Stoke Pizza Oven: An Honest Review

The 13" gas-powered Stoke Pizza Oven
The 13″ gas-powered Stoke Pizza Oven

August 2022 update: I no longer recommend this pizza oven. At least until Stoke decides to change its regulator or go back to the drawing board in order to engineer a pizza oven with a better way to cook the bottom of the pizza. As is, the stock regulator is no good and the design of the wall in the back is troubling.

In the original review, I mentioned Stoke recommending a different regulator. Well, after one use, my burner went out as a wire was burnt up from the power of the new regulator. I contacted Stoke, they sent a new burner. After one use, the same thing happened again. I suppose the regulator that they recommended to me was simply too powerful for the neighboring wires in the burner.

I’m sad over it. I was excited to continue using the oven, but at its current state, I can’t even fire it up.

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In recent years, I have used multiple outdoor pizza ovens. From the Bertello to the latest Blackstone pizza oven conversion kit, it has been fun jumping into the backyard pizza oven game by learning new techniques to cook up pies. I was given the opportunity to try out the 13″ gas-powered
Stoke Pizza Oven this month, and because I enjoy giving new culinary gadgets a try, I couldn’t wait to give it a shot.

For the purpose of full disclosure, I am an affiliate with Stoke. They are a brand new company entering the world of pizza ovens and are seeking out brand ambassadors in order to grow the brand. If you have a formidable social media following in the realm of grub slinging, you can reach out to be an affiliate. As a result of this, I received the 13″ Stoke gas pizza oven, a peel, a pizza cutter and a care package from DeLallo Foods featuring flour, pizza sauce, pesto sauce and a stick of pepperoni.

Otherwise, right now — as of the time of this posting — you can purchase their ovens at a discount for their Father’s Day sale. The gas pizza oven that I am using is $345.99 and the 16″ gas pizza oven is $475.99; they also offer a $345.99 wood-powered model that is fueled by pellets. These are $100 discounts until just after Father’s Day.

Regardless of my partnership with them, I am bound by honesty. I only use products that I believe in. I hold such products to a standard, because if I think something is not up to par, it will not be part of my outdoor cooking arsenal. There was a glaring issue which was subsequently corrected when I first received my oven, and I will cover that.

The average brand ambassador will shill for a brand without question; a great brand ambassador will provide quality feedback paired with constructive criticism for a brand in order to promote growth and progressive improvement of a product or service.

First Impressions of the Stoke Pizza Oven

While awaiting the 13″ gas pizza oven, I couldn’t help myself but read up and research what other people were saying about it.

If you peep the Amazon reviews, you’ll be a witness to a mixed bag of thoughts. One glaring complaint that avidly made the listings in the negative reviews of the Stoke Pizza Oven is that the stone doesn’t get hot enough. This instilled some doubt in my mind as I awaited the pizza oven. Furthermore, there is only one comprehensive review of this oven on YouTube, via RodrickViews. He backs up the negative reviews showing proof that the stone simply was not getting hot enough to cook the bottom of the pizzas. He heated the pizza oven for over two hours and the temperatures of the stone were never exceeding 400.

I noticed in all the Stoke Pizza Oven promotional videos, nobody was showing the undercarriage (bottom) of the pizzas. Stoke wasn’t nor was anybody else on social media. That is concerning, considering that the browning of the bottom of the pizza is inarguably the most important part of a great pizza asides from the leopard spotting of the rim (outer crust).

When I received my oven, I set it up immediately to test it out. I was already expecting the stone temperatures to be low after the aforementioned research. The first thing I noticed when I unboxed the oven is that the stone itself is rather thin. I’m thinking of eventually replacing it with a pizza steel.

For a test, to see if I experienced the same issues as everybody else, I fired up the oven. After 45 minutes, the stone was only reaching a maximum temperature of 472 degrees in the back of the oven. What separates the design of the Stoke Pizza Oven from, say, an Ooni, is that there is a big wall that stands between the flame and the stone. I suspected that the wall was being used as too much of a buffer for the flame, which was preventing the stone from reaching higher temperatures.

At this state, the oven is completely unusable. You cannot expect to cook a good Neapolitan style pizza when the stone temperature is between 350-400 degrees.

Stoke Pizza's recommendation for a different regulator.
Stoke Pizza’s recommendation for a different regulator

I reached out to Stoke and explained that the stone was not getting hot enough. Within an hour, Stoke responded to my email and explained that it is a regulator issue, and they recommended a different regulator from Amazon.

I wound up purchasing the new regulator, but I was still skeptical. However, asides from that, I was impressed by the customer service given the response within an hour of sending out the email. This was even in the evening, past 7pm.

First Cook With the Stoke Pizza Oven

The Stoke Pizza Oven roaring like a dream with the new regulator.

Once I made up some dough and had the new regulator in possession, I gave it a go. I had never used a regulator with a PSI gauge before. I followed Stoke’s instructions to merely go with a 1.5 setting, barely above 0 on the gauge.

The results? The flame was roaring. It is now such a strong flame that it rolls underneath the stone. Within 15 minutes, the back of the stone was reaching 650 degrees. At 30 minutes of heating the Stoke Pizza Oven, the back of the stone was at nearly 900 degrees.

I was ready for some pizza. I had five dough balls made up, and my quasi-nephew was hungry for a slew of pies.

A salami pizza with a pesto base that was cooked in the Stoke Pizza Oven
A salami pizza with a pesto base that was cooked in the Stoke Pizza Oven
The undercarriage of the salami pizza with a pesto base that was cooked in the Stoke Pizza Oven.
The undercarriage of the salami pizza with a pesto base that was cooked in the Stoke Pizza Oven.

My first attempt using the Stoke Pizza Oven was with a pizza featuring salami with a pesto sauce base.

As you can see, it was a rousing overall success. There is actually color on the crust. If I had used the stock regulator that came with the oven, I wouldn’t have achieved any browning whatsoever on the bottom of that pizza despite the top of the pizza looking nice. That is the qualm I have with Stoke’s marketing team and some of the current ambassadors at this time: the top of the pizza will look great with the stock regulator, but the bottom will not. With the new regulator (at the proper, safe settings*), the bottom will cook like a dream.

A Margherita pizza in the Stoke Pizza Oven

The final pizza, after a few basic pepperoni pies, was a pseudo-Margherita pie in the Stoke. It was my favorite of the bunch, without question, as an unabashed fan of the simple style of pizza.

The original issue I had with the oven was resolved. The new regulator corrected the problem that would have occurred with the stock regulator. My recommendation to Stoke Stove is to begin sending these gas pizza ovens out with a new, powerful regulator, because at the time of this writing, the stock regulator is terrible unless you are a fan of pale, white crusts with zero browning nor flavor. I’m a straight shooter and that is simply a fact at this time.

It is a simple request of Stoke Stove to do this in the future, because a typical consumer should not be expected to receive a new oven with an underpowered regulator out of the box. I had no problem buying the recommended regulator, because of the fact that I was gifted the oven as a partner with the brand. However, if I had spent the money to buy the oven, I would have been miffed.

Furthermore, the pizza stone should be thicker, in my opinion. I am worried of the durability, but the tests of time will reveal how long it will last. Again, I may replace it with a steel.

I’m loving this Stoke Pizza Oven after the regulator change. I can’t wait to have the opportunity to throw down some more pies with it, because you can’t beat cooking up restaurant-quality pizza in your backyard.

Final Thoughts: Should You Buy a Stoke Pizza Oven?

Even with my complaints, from the big one (the stock regulator being subpar) and the rather inconsequential one (the stone being a bit thin), I highly recommend the 13″ gas-powered Stoke Pizza Oven, but it is imperative that you replace the regulator for a properly cooked undercarriage of a pizza.

Even with the purchase of a new regulator along with the oven, the Stoke Pizza Oven (with the current sale pricing going on) is cheaper in price than other brands like Ooni or Gozney.

I may be an affiliate with Stoke Stove, but again, I refuse to use products or services I do not believe in. All of the opinions expressed in this post are of my own subjective opinions backed by anecdotal experiences and do not necessarily reflect the thoughts of anybody else. I will never blindly recommend something if I do not personally think it is up to par.

I have not yet tried any pan pizzas in my Stoke Pizza Oven, so that will eventually be a test soon enough. However, I am already loving the hand-stretched Neapolitan pies I have cooked in it, and also once again, I can’t wait to have the time to make more pizzas with the Stoke.

I now have an appreciation for the high wall in the back of the oven, because I suspect the pan pizzas are going to be incredible when I do cook them, as cooking with the heat setting on low and the high wall will provide enough of a buffer for the time needed to cook a pan pizza all the way through.

Stoke Stove is brand new to the game of the outdoor pizza oven frenzy. I do not drone on and on over the stock regulator in order to be a menace but to provide the feedback needed for the company to grow. I fully believe that there will be changes in the future simply based on what I see from the customer service being top notch regarding feedback and complaints. In a year from now, my qualms about the stock regulator may be irrelevant. Who knows?

In your search for an outdoor pizza oven, definitely give Stoke a priority in your considerations. I will be posting recipes in the coming future that will pair fantastically with a Stoke Pizza Oven.

The New Blackstone Pizza Oven for the 22″ Griddle

The brand new Blackstone Products Pizza Oven Conversion Kit
The brand new Blackstone Outdoor Pizza Oven Add-On for the 22″ Blackstone Griddle

About a month ago, Blackstone Products announced the release of a new outdoor pizza oven. Technically, it is called the Blackstone pizza oven conversion kit, or the Blackstone pizza oven add on. It is a Wal-Mart exclusive, website only, and it is for the 22″ tabletop models.

I was lucky enough to get my hands on one. In the last couple of years, I have become a pizza-making fiend. Prior to 2020, the thought of making homemade pizza left me in trepidation. Pan pizza is easy to throw together, but hand-tossed? It was always an exercise in failure. Being stuck at home more often during the pandemic afforded me the time and patience to delve into the world of pizza, and over time I have learned how to make a halfway decent pie.

My better half surprised me with an outdoor pizza oven (a Bertello) for Christmas last year. It heats up to over 900 degrees, and it is perfect for making 10-to-12 inch Neapolitan style pizzas. That pizza oven works great, but given the small opening of the door and the extreme heat, there isn’t a lot of options to do other styles than just a Neapolitan pie.

Enter the Blackstone Pizza Oven Add-On

I was skeptical.

When I watched the first couple of videos of the Blackstone pizza oven conversion kit in action, I noticed a difference between it and other outdoor pizza ovens, like Ooni and my Bertello oven.

Unlike most outdoor pizza ovens, the heat source isn’t coming from the back. That is the case with my Bertello: the fire source roars from the back of the oven with flames rolling over top of the pizza. The pizza sits on a pre-heated, piping hot stone and the bottom cooks up while the residual heat of the flames kiss the top of the pizza to finish it in about 90 seconds.

In the style of the new Blackstone pizza oven, the heat source is coming from the bottom-sides. This product features not one, but two pizza stones: a round stone that sits on the floor of the oven and a square stone that sits above the pizza. There are two mechanisms of cooking at play here. When you pre-heat the oven, both of the pizza stones heat up, so when you load your pizza, the heat coming off the top stone provides aid in cooking the top of the pizza along with the bottom stone. It is like a tag-team in action.

The pizza oven add-on itself is heavy. It is about 50-lbs. Installation is fairly simple. You remove the griddle-top from the 22″ Blackstone base, remove the ‘leg’ stubs on the bottom, add your heat shield, re-add the legs, sit the pizza oven accessory kit directly onto the base and — using a screw-driver — install the handles to the sides, door and the little base on top.

With the door of the oven closed, you can heat the oven up to 600 to 700 degrees in about 20 minutes, based on my anecdotal experiences. Within 30 minutes, you will be tapping it up to a surplus of 800 degrees.

One of the things I love about this pizza oven is that it is quite large. The round pizza stone that you cook on is a 15″ stone, so you can cook a large family style pizza. In addition to that, the opening is big enough to accompany pans. I love making bar style, Chicago style and Detroit style pizzas. With the adjustments of the two temperature control knobs, and a little practice, you can subjectively dial in the temperature to cook pan pies to personal perfection.

My First Pizza on the Blackstone Pizza Oven

14" pan pizza on the new Blackstone Pizza Oven Add-On
14″ pan pizza on the new Blackstone Pizza Oven Add-On
Right out of the Blackstone Pizza Oven
A slice of the pie

I was eager to test out the new Blackstone pizza oven, but I didn’t have any homemade dough, so I ran out to the grocery store and bought a pound of dough.

After letting the dough sit out for about an hour, I stretched the dough out in an oiled 14″ pan. I made a pizza that I can only call the ‘House Divided’ pizza with Rao’s marinara sauce, a blend of mozzarella, parmigiano reggiano and provolone cheeses, half pepperoni, green peppers, diced onion; half Italian sausage, pepperoni, jalapeños, banana peppers. This pie finished in only seven minutes and I capped it off with a drizzle of Mike’s Hot Honey.

I turned the burners down, because I wanted the dough to cook without burning the bottom crust.

Neapolitan and New York Style Pizza on the Blackstone Pizza Oven

As soon as I was afforded the time, I whipped up a Neapolitan style pizza dough: a 24-hour room temperature ferment with minimal yeast, bulk proofed for 24 hours and balled up four hours prior to cooking.

A pepperoni Neapolitan-style pie on the Blackstone Pizza Oven
A pepperoni Neapolitan-style pie on the Blackstone Pizza Oven

Boar’s Head pepperoni, a mix of white cheddar, mozzarella and Colby Jack cheese and a homemade sauce (San Marzano style tomatoes, salt, fresh basil, garlic and a pinch of oregano) was the ticket to a wonderful pizza.

With this style of pizza, I left the burners on high, with the door closed, rotating it every 45 seconds. It finished in about two minutes and thirty seconds. Yes, it took a little longer than a traditional Neapolitan pizza, but the results were still fantastic.

A New York style pizza in action on the Blackstone Pizza Oven
A slice of New York style pie on the Blackstone Pizza Oven
A slice of New York style pie on the Blackstone Pizza Oven
Bottom crust of a New York style pizza on the Blackstone Pizza Oven
A perfect under-carriage

I subsequently tried my hand at a New York style pizza. Once again, similar to the Neapolitan style pie, since NY-style is actually a derivative of Neapolitan pizza, I cooked it up with the burners turned on high, door closed. The only differences are that I was more rough when I stretched the dough, so the cornicione (rim of the pizza) was less poofy, and this dough was only about 55-56% hydration compared to the 60% hydration in the above Neapolitan pie.

Detroit Style Pizza in the Blackstone Pizza Oven

A Detroit style pizza in the Blackstone Pizza Oven
A Detroit Style Pizza in the Blackstone Pizza Oven
Detroit style pizza cooking away in the Blackstone Pizza Oven Conversion Kit
Hot & fresh Detroit style pizza cooking away in the Blackstone Pizza Oven

Detroit style pizza might just be my favorite style of pizza in the world, so I am biased in everything I write in this realm of things. I have been making this style of pizza in my home oven for about a year and a half. Typically, it takes 16 to 18 minutes to cook one in the said home oven, and I never have been able to acquire a perfectly browned, crispy crust no matter what. There are many reasons for this, and I think it is due to the fact that my home oven is old and inferior compared to many other ovens out there.

The Blackstone Pizza Oven Add-On perfectly accommodated the 10×14 pan I used for the Detroit style pie. With the burners turned down, I still managed to finish this pizza in nine minutes. Not only that, but the bottom of the crust was perfectly crispy. Again, it is something I have never experienced from my home oven, and the Blackstone pizza oven conversion kit finished it in roughly half the time.

Is the Blackstone Pizza Oven Add-On Worth It?

Considering that most outdoor pizza ovens are over $300 to $400 pending on what you are wanting to buy, my answer is a resounding yes.

The Blackstone pizza oven add-on sells for $227 on Wal-Mart’s website. If you already have a 22″ Blackstone griddle, that is an incredible price for what is a capable, heavy duty, thick and well-made pizza oven. Even if you don’t have a 22″ griddle, the price of the griddle and pizza oven add-on is significantly less than other stand-alone pizza ovens on the market, especially when you factor in the potential for large pizzas and the ability to cook pan pizzas. As I said earlier, many outdoor pizza ovens only give you one option of pizza: Neapolitan, since the heat source is usually incredibly hot. You can do multiple styles in the Blackstone pizza oven.

One might ask, “Well, I have a home oven that I can cook pizza in, even New York style at 550-600 degrees.” Sure, go ahead and use your home oven if it fits the bill for you, but what about during the summer months when it is far too hot to heat up your home? Enter this pizza oven.

I have been having a blast with this new oven. I am in no way, shape or form affiliated with Blackstone Products. I am merely an advocate. I only tout and endorse products I truly believe in and personally use. I will never post about something that does not live up to the hype.

I am not sure how long the new pizza oven accessory kit will be available, so get it while you can. I will be posting pizza recipes in the near future that will go along with the use of this pizza oven.

Grizzly BBQ is a Member of Team Caribeque

Grizzly BBQ is a Member of Team Caribeque

If you have been following Grizzly BBQ over the years, you know that one of the mainstays in the rubs and seasonings that I’m frequently using in recipes is oftentimes one from Caribeque.

I will always be a man of my word and only promote products that I fully believe in and personally use. If there is something that I dislike, I won’t use it again, nor will I promote it, simply put.

The first time I heard about Caribeque was back in 2016, when a friend of mine — Brad Woods from Ohio, a top notch home chef who could hit big on Instagram if he posted more often — started avidly posting on social media about using Caribeque Honey Heat on smoked pork. I was intrigued, because not only did I trust his opinion in the realm of culinary dealings, but I thought the name of the product to be catchy (excellent marketing from the first step).

When I barbecued for the first time ever in December 2016, I tried Honey Heat for the first time ever, and I was hooked. Rubbed on a small pork butt, I smoked it in my old vertical offset Brinkmann Trailmaster stick burner, and the results were overwhelmingly fantastic. Keep in mind that this was before I became a regular poster on the grilling and barbecue community on Instagram, so I had no idea who was behind the Caribeque name or anything about the small company itself. I just knew that I loved at least one product from the line of rubs and seasonings.

Bottles of Caribeque AP rub and Caribeque Smack Sauce

Fast-forward to July 2017, when I bought a bottle of the (then) new rub, ‘AP’ (All Purpose), along with two bottles of Smack Sauce (incredible on burgers, pulled pork tacos, French fries, as a chicken dip, etc.), I posted the photo above to Instagram. I believe that was my first time officially posting about Caribeque. I didn’t have many followers at the time — under 100, I believe — and yet Kurt Halls, the man behind the idea of Caribeque, not only reposted the photo to the Caribeque Instagram, but he reached out to me in a message to thank me for the support and to get to know me.

In the near-four years since then, only one or two other small BBQ-related companies have reached out to me in any kind of capacity like that (shout out to Mitch & Louise Swank from Hutch’s BBQ Sauce and The Killer Cook). Kurt spoke to me like a long-time friend and treated me like an equal in the culinary world, when at the time I knew nothing about how to take a halfway decent food photo, and I had zero pull or influence in the community. I have used products from at least one hundred different companies in the last half decade, and nobody else has made that kind of effort to engage with their loyal followers the same way.

Even if Kurt had never reached out, I would still be using the Caribeque line today, just because I genuinely believe in how fantastic of a collective group of products they all are for tossing on grub. In December 2017, I bought a couple bottles of the Big & Bold beef rub, and I was hooked from the get-go when I tried it on smoked’n’shredded chuck roast. Nowadays, I almost exclusively only use Big & Bold on burgers, because it has such a phenomenal flavor that compliments beef.

Over the last two and a half years, I can’t speak enough about how good of a person that Kurt from Caribeque is. When my mother had a stroke in November 2018, he reached out to me and asked me if I needed any help. When I disappeared from social media for most of 2019 while placing my energy into someone over any other life endeavor, Kurt reached out and asked if I was alright given the sudden absence. When I experienced perhaps the worst ongoing bout of extreme depression of my life starting on March 30, 2020, he and I commiserated over the pain of life circumstances as he shared with me the difficult times he has been through the last few years.

What other folks behind the labels of BBQ-based companies do that? While I love the products from Meat Church, Reload Rub and Grill Your Ass Off, they certainly never have despite the repeated support I’ve also shown them.

I never expected to be an official member of Team Caribeque. I would still be using Caribeque in the food that I sling weekly even if I had never been asked, but about a week ago, Kurt called and asked me to officially be a member. Hey, I was technically unofficially a member of Team Caribeque for the last four years, but now it is official.

Use code GRIZZLY for 15% off of any purchase at Caribeque.

The Key to Smoking a Great Brisket

Smoked, sliced beef brisket

If you held a gun to my head and delivered the ultimatum to me in the guise of a question of, “If you could only cook one food in the realm of barbecue for the rest of your life, what would it be?”, the subjective answer of mine is brisket.

The first time I ever tasted a smoked beef brisket cooked by someone at their home, and not at a restaurant, was in 2016. It was sitting in a foil pan, and it was chopped brisket, almost shredded. It sat in a mix of beef broth and juices from the meat itself. It was served for breakfast with biscuits. I ate mine on one of those said biscuits with a little bit of mayonnaise. Unconventional, but it was delicious. At that point in 2016, I had little to no knowledge about barbecue. If you have read my past posts, you will know that before 2016 my idea of barbecue was, well, barbecue sauce. I cannot emphasize how ignorant I was.

When I received my first smoker in December 2016, which was a used vertical Brinkmann Trailmaster stick burner smoker, I had brisket on my brain in terms of ideas of what I wanted to try smoking in the future, and so I hopped on Google and devoured all the information I could on how to smoke a brisket.

In that research, I learned that ‘chopped’ brisket was a variation of cooking it to the point of it being overcooked by traditional barbecue standards. I discovered that it was supposed to be sliced, and for the brisket to be considered true smoked beef brisket, that it would have to ‘pass the bend test’ as the slices would have to ‘fold’ over your finger when you hold it up, and furthermore, it would need to pass the ‘pull test’ where you take a slice of brisket and slightly pull it apart as it breaks into two pieces while still maintaining its sliced form, proving tenderness.

The brisket pull test

The brisket ‘pull test.’

Nonetheless, I did not smoke my first brisket until September 2017, and by that time I had been using my 22.5” Weber Smokey Mountain cooker since June of that year. A whole packer, which is what one calls a full brisket featuring its two parts – the point and the flat – in the barbecue world, was on my radar, but I was cautious. Before I continue, I want to mention that the point is the ‘fatty’ part of the brisket, often used to make burnt ends, and the flat is the learner part of the brisket.

I was daunted. When I was researching how to properly smoke a brisket, I discovered that it was allegedly the toughest food to properly cook in the barbecue world, and it served as some sort of litmus test for all true pitmasers.

With that said, when I smoked my first brisket, it was a four or five pound flat from Sam’s Club. On that day in September 2017, I was smoking a host of items in my WSM, from a head of cabbage with butter and Tony Chachere’s Creole seasoning (so good, by the way!) to potatoes and a pork butt for a family dinner.

Smoked and sliced beef brisket Smoked beef brisket

Somehow, I managed to cook it just right, and my family loved it.

My confidence skyrocketed, and just a few weeks later in October 2017, I bought a 12-lb. whole packer brisket from Wal-Mart. This time, instead of starting early in the morning like I did with the first brisket flat, I wanted to cook this one overnight. I started it at around 9 p.m. in my WSM with a mix of Kingsford charcoal briquettes, hickory and applewood.

When I woke up at 8 a.m. the following day, my WSM was still running at around 220-225 degrees, and the brisket was reading 180 degrees on my meat thermometer. Here is where I made a mistake: I wrapped it in foil and placed it back into the WSM. Now, the foiling of the brisket was not the mistake, but what I subsequently chose to do surely was. After another two hours in the pit, the brisket had not reached the internal temp of 200-202 like I was hoping for, so I removed it and placed it in my oven on 375 degrees. Yes, I really did that, and now I’m cringing.

Placing the brisket at that temperature in the oven wouldn’t have been the downfall if I had left it in there for a short amount of time, but it was in the oven for over an hour and a half, and when I removed it, I immediately opened the foil and sliced it up. Guess what? It was stringy. I made pulled brisket. I was so upset. After doing so well with the brisket flat, with this whole packer I failed. Now, was it still delicious? Absolutely. It was smokey, rich with flavor and tender, but that isn’t how I wanted to cook it. I made pulled brisket sandwiches that day, and the next day I made brisket chili with the leftovers. Not all was lost, but I learned a lesson on that day.

The beef brisket that I ruined

Here is the beautiful beef brisket that I subsequently ruined. I don’t have any post-shred photos because I was too upset with myself to take any.

You can’t truly hurry barbecue. Sure, you can wrap meats in foil – the ‘Texas Crutch’ method – and speed up the cooking process, but speaking of a process, that is exactly what barbecue is. I rushed this brisket and threw it in the oven at a high temperature to hurry it along, and I overcooked it.

Nowadays, I smoke my briskets in one of my Barrel House Cookers, hot’n’fast style. I will hang them in the BHCs until they reach an internal temperature of 160-165 degrees, wrap them in foil, re-hang them in the cooker and let it roll until I hit 198-202 degrees and remove it afterwards for a lengthy (one to four hours) rest in a cooler, wrapped in a towel.

Rest Your Brisket

That is the biggest key to smoking a great brisket. Resting it. Perhaps you thought my long-windedness was going to arrive to the conclusion of, ‘not hurrying it along,’ which is also important, but notice when I was describing my failure above, I immediately opened the foil and began to cut the brisket up. When you rest a brisket, you allow the juices – that would otherwise rapidly leak on out of the meat, along with the steam from the heat, causing the meat to dry up – to thicken and release more slowly, resulting in a juicy brisket.

Furthermore, resting a brisket allows the collagen within the meat to soften and
become gelatin. The fat further renders. The product itself is simply better.

I have smoked at least thirty briskets since that fateful day in October 2017, and it still haunts me. Luckily, that has never happened again.

While I do smoke 99% of my briskets in one of my Barrel House Cookers these days, last May I did complete another overnight smoked brisket in my Weber Smokey Mountain, and this time it was a success. When I smoke up the morning after I began the cook, I wrapped the brisket in foil, added some more charcoal to my WSM, and allowed it to ride for a few hours until it hit 199 degrees internally. Afterwards, it rested in a cooler for over two hours. The results were much better than they were from that day in October 2017.

The key to smoking a great brisket: be patient, allow it to ride out for the full cook and yield it the proper time it needs to rest before you slice it up.

Launching the Grizzly BBQ YouTube Channel

I have spent over three years toiling around with the prospect of putting together a YouTube channel for Grizzly BBQ.

Over the last year, I have posted a few videos that I had posted on Instagram, but they were hardly YouTube worthy. Being that the videos were from Instagram, they were short clips with nary any interaction involved. I suppose I just wanted to kick the channel off. I would have stopped procrastinating and started this YouTube adventure much sooner, but with 2019 being such a chaotic year, I had my priorities placed elsewhere. With more time available in my days in 2020, I am able to commit my energy into growing this cooking channel.

A few days ago, I cooked up a birthday dinner for my cousin Rachel’s 11-year-old son, and I decided to film bits and pieces of that day’s cook (which you can see above in my unofficial Grizzly BBQ channel introduction). I smoked a 10-lb. pork butt in my Barrel House Cooker 14D, and in my Barrel House Cooker 18C I smoked a 3-pound chub of bologna along with over 60 bacon-wrapped jalapeno poppers (some with cheddar cheese; others with cream cheese). Indoors, I deep-fried over 60 chicken wings and around 20 chicken legs/drumsticks.

Yesterday, I lightly documented my cook of a double smoked ham. It was a precooked ham that was smoked with hickory wood, so I fired up my offset stick burner smoker and smoked it in order to get it up to temperature (130 degrees) with a few split logs of hickory that I had on hand.

Somehow, prior to the cook from the other day, I had 49 subscribers to my channel. I believe I know the culprit behind that. Back in February, I posted a short clip to my @grizzly.bbq Instagram page where I was hot’n’fast smoking some burgers and bacon. I live on a rural piece of farmland, and my smoker is just in front of a fence that features a vast field behind it. Cows, being the curious animals that they are, lined up behind the fence where my offset smoker sits, and I shot a quick video cracking a couple of jokes. I said, “Welcome to my barbecue class. Grizzly BBQ. I guess these (alluding to the cows watching) are my students… and the product.” Somehow, this video has over 8,000 views at the time of writing this post. I reckon that is where the bulk of my subscribers have come from.

There are going to be some growing pains along the way. I am not used to filming my cooks in this manner. I’m used to posting short clips to Instagram. I’m new to video editing, and I have simply been doing so using an app on my phone, but in the near future I’m going to look into other forms of video editing software. I’m such an amateur right now. I’m filming with my phone and winging it.

I would like to invite you to come aboard and join me in this YouTubing adventure. Hit me up with some likes and a subscription. I would greatly appreciate it. I promise the videos will be better as time ensues. I won’t only feature barbecue, but I plan on doing other forms of grub slinging from grilling to griddling on my Blackstone griddles to documenting some indoor cooks.