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 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
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
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
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.