Tag Archive for ‘pizza’

Why I Love Pizza: Explaining My Obsession With Mastering Dough

New York style cheese pizza from the Halo Versa 16

New York style cheese pizza from the Halo Versa 16

October is National Pizza Month, so it is fitting to pen a love letter to my favorite baked goodness on the planet. Pizza has always been one of my top three favorite foods of all-time, but the meaning of pizza, for every person, is subjective.

For some, pizza means a quick stop at Pizza Hut, Domino’s, Papa John’s or Little Caesars, meant for a quick meal after a long day with no intentions of cooking dinner.

For others, pizza must be enjoyed at a higher level, from fresh dough at a local shop crafted by the hands of a pizzaiolo, a pizza chef, who has been creating pizza from scratch for (a) decade(s). This is not a knock on the aforementioned popular national chains in the United States, but objectively you cannot top a pizza concocted with love — featuring the freshest ingredients — coming out of an oven (depending on the style) that is anywhere from 600 to 925 degrees.

I am 31-years-old at the time of writing this love letter to pizza. I remember growing up in the late ’90s in southwestern Virginia. Often on Saturdays, we would go to the mall in Claypool Hill, shop around at the K-Mart connected to it, and visit a local place called Italian Village. I would be remiss to describe the pizza as great, but to a child it was a shining beacon of flavor: fresh dough with a ton of mozzarella cheese, greasy pepperoni slices abound, a simple tomato and basil sauce with a hint of oregano (I couldn’t detect these flavors at the time, but my memory is not lying to me), made with a New York style-inspired sauce.

I would sit and watch the cooks at the Italian Village stretch and toss the pizza dough in the air, spellbound by what was happening. It was fascinating.

I did not learn how to cook until I was a month away from turning 21-years-old. One day, out of the blue, I decided that I wanted to cook a boiled egg. A day later, I experienced my first attempt at cooking any semblance of a pizza: it was a frozen pizza from the grocery store, from Tombstone. I popped it into the oven and, wanting to brown the top of the pie to finish it off, I activated the broiler setting. Three minutes later, not understanding how quickly the broiler function worked, I burnt that pizza to an unrecognizable existence.

Time ensued, and I eventually found a comfortable ground with the Mama Mary’s ready-to-bake pizza crusts that are available at just about any grocery store, sitting on the shelves in a pack of three. Jarred sauce, Hormel pepperoni and a ton of pre-shredded cheese was all I needed to fulfill my meaning of pizza in my quest to satiate a desire for it at the time.

As the years passed by, I did well to cook multiple items, especially delving into things like fried chicken. It was in late 2016 when my culinary obsession fell into grilling and barbecue, which as you know is the basis of this website. I still love both grilling and barbecue, but the learning process never ends.

In 2020, I wanted to try my hand at making a homemade pizza. Not the Mama Mary’s crusts, but a pizza made from scratch. I had no idea where to start. All the tutorials on YouTube made it look so easy. Browsing Reddit for recipes confused me to death, however, because I had no idea what baker’s percentages were nor the meaning of hydration or how it could possibly be calculated. It was daunting, to say the least. I was soon in possession of a wooden peel and ready to go.

My first pizza attempt was created by the measurements of flour and water with cups and an entire package of instant dry yeast. I had no idea how much I was using, asides from “3-and-a-half cups of this and 1-and-3-quarters of a cup of that.” What happened was that the dough was incredibly sticky and next to impossible to work with. The dough tore when I tried to stretch it, and transferring it from the peel onto a hot pizza stone felt impossible to me. I couldn’t hand-stretch it. I ended up rolling out the dough with a rolling pin and transferring it onto the stone with parchment paper.

My first pizza

My first pizza was a catastrophic fail.

I was disappointed with it and felt like an utter failure. It was a cracker crust type of pizza. Dense and boring, to me. I wanted to make a homemade New York style pizza! This was not it. How could this be? People online made it look so easy. I gave up for a long, long time.

In fact, that was my last attempt at any kind of pizza until December 2020, when I received a couple of LloydPans Detroit style pizza pans for Christmas. This time, that was my goal: to create a Detroit style pizza. Another change was that I was now in possession of a food scale that could weigh both flour and water, which of course is a gamechanger for any type of baking. I followed the Serious Eats recipe for a Detroit style pizza (a recipe I still use for a DSP to this day) and it was phenomenal.

Throughout the year 2021, Detroit style was my jam. It was easy. It’s virtually a no-knead dough where you mix it, toss it into a pan and let it proof for 4-6 hours, stretching it (with oiled hands) to the sides and edges of the pan, top it and bake it. It’s not my favorite, but I tried out a Chicago style deep dish pizza in the summer of 2021, and it turned out quite good, too.

Still, the elusiveness of what I really wanted to do evaded me: I wanted to be able to hand-stretch a pizza.

The Shift in my Pizza Mindset

While visiting Gulf Shores, AL a couple of years ago, it was 10 p.m. I hadn’t eaten since a light lunch and was starving. Pizza sounded like it would hit the spot, with limited places open, and so I found this place called Mama Lottie’s, who were on the verge of closing for the night. I felt bad about it, but I was quite hungry, and when they answered they told me they were about to close, but I’d be their last order for the night, so I kept it classic: a margherita pizza.

Mama Lottie’s was a little down the road, but when I walked in, virtually every employee there greeted me with a smile. I apologized for ordering so late, but explained that my hunger was taking precedence over my manners. I was wearing an LA Rams shirt, and the pizzaiolo opening the skin of what was to be my pizza mentioned that he had not ran into anybody wearing Rams gear in years (I bet that changed after February of this year).

We talked about football for a couple of minutes, but I couldn’t help but notice how he wasn’t even looking at the dough while he was hand-stretching it, merely carrying on a conversation and slinging a pizza dough around like it was as normal of an autonomous physical action as breathing. This guy must have had the experience of thousands of pizzas in his time at Mama Lottie’s.

Soon enough, my pizza was done and ensuingly it was in my possession back at the hotel. Without droning on too long about this pizza itself, it was one of the best pizzas I have ever eaten. I am not sure if my hunger provided a great deal of bias or not, but the sauce was a simple sauce without extreme (looking at you, heavy garlic and oregano) flavors overpowering it, plenty of basil over the top of a heavy layer of mozzarella and parmigiano-reggiano cheeses.

I thought back to how the guy that made my pizza has probably made thousands of them. In that moment, I recalled my previous frustrations of trying to hand-stretch a pizza and how I was so annoyed with myself after my first ever attempt with an inaccurately measured dough. It was then that I recognized that pizza-making is an act of patience, practice, love and perseverance, much like barbecue in a way.

According to Google, Mama Lottie’s closed earlier this year and was sold and is now a different pizza restaurant, but they taught me an invaluable lesson on that late Friday night.

My desire to create homemade, delicious pizza is fueled from the need to create and be able craft something delicious from my own hands. I don’t want to be limited in a culinary capacity to the point where I say, “I can’t do that” when it comes to creating any dish, even if I’m initially mediocre at doing so.

Furthermore, with pizza, I did not want to simply make decent, edible pizza; I wanted to learn how to make something great. For a time, it mentally felt impossible.

When I received my Bertello pizza oven in December 2021, my journey was reinvigorated.

This oven hits temperatures anywhere from 872 to 925 degrees, perfect for a Neapolitan style pizza. I had never eaten a Neapolitan style pizza in my life, but I was familiar with the term and how it was cooked: a 60 to 90 second bake at those aforementioned scorching hot temperatures.

After plenty of research, I found a website called My Pizza Corner by Tom Rothwell from across the pond. His recipe, and his teaching methods along the way through text and his YouTube videos, changed my pizza-making game forever. I ordered a gram scale that could measure minuscule amounts of salt and yeast, and my pizza slinging game was improved overnight.

It was at this point when I went down the rabbit hole of reading about why certain hydration percentages are preferred in different types of flours and dough recipes along with how salt reacts with yeast in a room temperature or cold fermented-proofed recipe. For Tom’s recipe, you use seemingly the smallest amount of yeast, bulk-proof for 18 to 20 hours, ball up the dough and — four to six hours later — pizza is ready to be created.

The first time I tried his recipe for Neapolitan pizza, my heart was pounding as I readied myself to open the dough ball skins. That might sound like hyperbole, but I assure you it is not. My previous failures flooded my brain as I thought about how much of an epic failure the pizza was going to be. I’m not going to be able to open the dough, it won’t stretch, what if I overkneaded it, what if I underkneaded it, what if it sticks to the peel, what if I overcook it… all those words raced through my mind.

And then, recalling all the information I absorbed from Tom’s teachings, I just did it. I opened the dough with ease, edge-stretched it, knuckle-stretched it, onto the peel, topped it, cooked it, and bam. I made my first ever hand-stretched pizza. It didn’t rip. It didn’t burn. It wasn’t a failure. Whoa! I just made legitimate hand-tossed pizza for the first time!

My first Neapolitan pizza

Salami, pesto and basil Neapolitan pizza.

Neapolitan pizza

Salami, pesto and basil Neapolitan pizza.

The recipe from My Pizza Corner was an absolute revelation and pulled back the curtain to the world of pizza-making in my life. I am forever grateful to Tom and his site.

Throughout this year, every time I used my Bertello pizza oven, the pizza was better and better. Even with the latest Blackstone pizza oven accessory kit for the 22″ griddle, the pizza was fantastic despite its limitations for making a Neapolitan pie.

However, at a certain point, I became dissatisfied again.

The Bertello pizza oven is great for Neapolitan pies, but it is limited. It is a small oven and it is only for Neapolitan style pizza.

I wanted to make New York style pizza, but being limited to one type of oven would not cut it. My home oven was inadequate; no matter how long I pre-heated it with a piping hot stone inside, the heating was inconsistent and uneven.

I recently purchased a Halo Versa 16 made by a new company called Halo Products Group, and once again my pizzaiolo journey was changed forever.

The Halo Versa 16 is not for Neapolitan style pizza. The stone temperatures top out at about 800 degrees. Honestly, though, I want to admit now that Neapolitan style pizza is not my favorite. My favorite has always been New York style, the kind of pizza that has eluded me during this pizza voyage.

Guess what the Versa 16 is the absolute best at making: neo-Neapolitan or ‘Neopolitan’ or New York style pizza!

I just attempted my first New York style pizza recipe last week and the pies were spot on in this oven.

Halo Versa 16 pizza oven

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.

If you know me, you know the journey never ends. I am always looking to improve and experiment.

The point of my ranting and raving over my long (long to me, anyhow) journey to get from not being able to open a dough skin to now is to encourage anybody and everybody reading this post to understand that, if I can make pizza, you can, too.

Pizza, possibly more than any other food, is the perfect canvas for creativity. Any great pizza begins from the moment you pour the flour into the mixing vessel at its inception. Much like great barbecue, it involves the act of patience and represents love and care. Just like barbecue, if your ingredients are poor and your handling of the process is haphazardly done, the final result is going to be subpar, but when you put love, care and effort into the craft, the outcome is unbelievable.

Once again, maybe just like barbecue, pizza is a lifestyle: creating the best possible food while giving honor to the ingredients and those behind me is what fuels me. Maybe that is why I love it so much.

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.

The Angry Italian – Bristol, TN – Food Review

The Angry Italian – Bristol, TN – Food Review

As much as I used to dislike the term, I’m a ‘foodie.’ In the last nine years of my own cooking, expanding my range of tastes and giving in to my desires to try different food by doing what I can to support small businesses while moving away from big corporate chain restaurant eating, I have had a great deal of opportunities to try out different spots while traveling.

Enter The Angry Italian, located in Bristol, Tennessee — about an hour away from my hometown.

The Angry Italian Bristol, TN

The Angry Italian in Bristol, TN

Keith Yonker, the owner/executive chef, was born and raised around Chicago, Illinois. He moved to the Tri-Cities of Tennessee back in 2015, fell in love with the area and, soon enough, kicked off The Angry Italian restaurant. He moved the restaurant from a rather tiny location to a bigger one in the beginning of 2021, and that decision has clearly paid dividends to the observing eye, evident by the amount of patrons frequenting the joint whenever one drives by on State Street.

I found out about The Angry Italian in 2018 for one simple reason: my search for a local Chicago style deep dish pizza. I had the pleasure of trying out such a pizza years ago, and I loved it. Call it a casserole or ‘overloaded tomato sauce bread’ all you want in your snide verbal jabs that are veritably rooted in pizza elitism, but a well made Chicago deep dish pie is delicious. Once I heard about the existence of this restaurant, of the owner being from Chicago and there being authentic deep dish Chicago pizza available, I had to give it a try, and that was a few years ago when I did, back in 2018.

Troy Sparks with The Angry Italian Chicago style deep dish pizza

Back in 2018: when I tried The Angry Italian’s Chicago style deep dish pizza.

The Angry Italian Chicago Deep Dish Pizza

Back in 2018: when I tried The Angry Italian’s Chicago style deep dish pizza in Bristol, TN.

Chicago Style Deep Dishin’

The distinct taste of a real Chicago deep dish, I presume, is from the corn oil as well as the corn meal added to the dough along with butter (the existence of butter varying between recipes). The outer crust has a corny crunch to it while the toppings are piled high. I made a Chicago deep dish pizza earlier this year, sans corn oil since I didn’t have any on hand, and it turned out terrific, but it wasn’t the same.

The Angry Italian’s iteration of a Chicago style deep dish pizza featured an expected horde of shredded Wisconsin mozzarella cheese and loaded with a pizza sauce boasting large chunks of tomatoes on top. I ordered pepperoni and mushrooms on the one I ate. I wasn’t a huge fan of the large chunks of tomatoes being so prominent, but all in all it was delicious.

When you order the Chicago deep dish at The Angry Italian, there’s a brief prefacing statement on the menu that lets customers know that it will be a 45 minute wait. The wait is well worth it: that’s why you gotta order an appetizer to hold yourself over. I ordered the calamari pepper fritti: fried, lightly breaded calamari rings served with banana peppers and marinara sauce. Here’s a bold declaration from yours truly on their calamari: it sucks. I unabashedly must state that with ruthless honesty while at the same time saying that I must be a little lenient since I’m sure it is frozen calamari that is cooked. It is rubbery and hardly flavorful without the marinara. If you go out to eat at The Angry Italian, do not get the calamari.

When the coveted, highly anticipated Chicago style deep dish pizza arrived to the table with steam ascending from it. The server delivered the first slice — I grinned with gusto, like a hyped up child on Christmas morning, as I watched the stringy mozzarella cheese perform a circus act of cheese pull epicness — onto my plate given the tremendous high temperatures the pie was rockin’. I eagerly delved into it with a fork before reminding myself that I did not want to scorch the roof of my mouth, so I waited a couple of minutes before sending my tastebuds on a flavor journey.

One thing I’ve noticed about every pizza restaurant I have been to, and this includes The Angry Italian: the pizza sauce is always lightly seasoned. I can see why, and I assume it has a traditional background, as the sauce is typically not the star of the show on a pizza. However, I love bold flavors. When I make homemade pizza sauce at home, I give it a big hit of sautéed crushed, minced garlic, plenty of oregano, lots of fresh basil, onion powder, thyme, marjoram and crushed red pepper for a backdrop of heat. I noted the flavor of basil in The Angry Italian’s deep dish sauce, but lightly so. Not a lot going on, but I don’t hold that against them, although I will say that when you have this much sauce on a pizza, you should go for a bold flavor because there’s — again — so much of it!

The beauty is in the makeup of the rest of the pizza. The signature Chicago style crust, the generous toppings, all the cheese. You have to eat this pizza with a fork! Some people scoff at that (once again, looking at the elitists), saying that it isn’t pizza if you eat it with a fork, but that’s a rubbish mindset. Eat it however you like it.

The Angry Italian’s Chicago style deep dish pizza: I give it a 7.5 out of 10.

The Angry Italian Tavern-style pizza

The Angry Italian’s Original Southsider Tavern-style pizza.

The Real Chicago Pizza: Tavern Style

There’s a belief that appears to be valid in Chicago: the real Chicago style pizza that locals eat is the tavern style pizza. It is said that deep dish is for tourists or for random occasions when the mood for deep dish strikes.

I’m going to tell you now: I agree with the folks from Chicago. Tavern style is the best style, and that is a gate I will keep.

The defining characteristic of a tavern style pizza is its extremely thin crust. The crust is noticeably thinner than the standard New York style pie; might as well call it a cracker-crust pizza, but it is better than any cracker-crust pizza I have ever had, at least the one from The Angry Italian validates that opinion of mine on a personal level.

The Angry Italian’s tavern style crust is unique in that it is crispy and chewy at the same time. There’s more room for beer when there’s less dough in the pie, which explains why this pizza is a popular menu item at bars.

I returned for my second trip to The Angry Italian in early June 2021, at the new location. I was excited for my girlfriend to give it a shot. I had fully planned on going for another Chicago deep dish pie, but while perusing the menu I decided to give the tavern style a shot. They have a recommended pizza on the menu: the Original Southsider, tavern-style. The Southsider features Italian sausage, pepperoni and mushrooms. I ordered the 18″ because I wanted leftovers for the next day, and I’m glad for it.

From The Angry Italian’s website, a description of their tavern style pizza: “Thin Crust. Cut Into Squares. Built with freshly shredded Wisconsin cheese and Roma tomatoes. All pizzas are made according to the original Chicago recipes. To insure proper flavor and cooking, Keith recommends a 3-4 item limit on toppings.”

I couldn’t believe it when the pizza arrived. As you can see above, it was loaded with cheese, and the lacy edges are a thing of beauty. It was love at first bite. I don’t know how to describe the flavor, but essentially the crust is something special. The toppings were perfectly scattered throughout the pie and every bite prompted me to have another slice.

It was past 9 p.m., we had hardly eaten all day, and something about this pizza just hit differently unlike any other. I was no longer concerned with the deep dish, because the tavern style is in a completely different echelon and class of its own. It is currently my favorite style of pizza if I’m going to be eating out and about. The flavors pop in a better ratio compared to the lopsided deep dish.

The Angry Italian’s Original Tavern style pizza: I give it a whopping 8.7 out of 10.

The Angry Italian's Italian beef

The Italian beef from The Angry Italian.

The Angry Italian Original Southsider Tavern-style pizza.

The Angry Italian’s Original Southsider Tavern-style pizza.

Three Time’s a Charm: I Can’t Get Away From the Tavern Style

The third trip to The Angry Italian was a few days ago. My girlfriend took me for my birthday dinner. I knew, without a shadow of a doubt, I wanted another Southsider pizza; tavern style, of course!

But I also wanted to try The Angry Italian’s Italian beef (description from the website: “Thinly sliced beef in Chicago ‘gravy’ served with either Hot Giardiniera or sweet peppers on a gonella roll. Light gravy or dunked. Served with French fries.”) If you know, you know: the ‘gravy’ is the broth/juices from which the beef is cooked in.

If you know me, you know I had to have the hot giardiniera, and why not go ahead and have the gonnella roll ‘dunked’?! It was delicious, to keep it brief and simple. The beef was just as tender as you can imagine thinly sliced beef being. The bread was adequately dipped and had a tremendous flavor to it. Bread is the most important part of a sandwich, because if you are using mediocre bread, then it doesn’t matter what goes on the sandwich: it won’t be too appealing. My only complaint with the Italian beef is that I wish there had been more giardiniera.

We tried out two of the appetizers: the Polpette Di Manzo (four of Keith’s famous meatballs) and the stuffed mushroom formaggi (little mushroom caps stuffed with herb cheese and baked under a blanket of creamy mozzarella.)

The meatballs had a great flavor, but they were served lukewarm. Perhaps that is traditional to serve them that way at The Angry Italian, but I wish they’d been hotter. The stuffed mushroom formaggi was amazing — I highly recommend that appetizer if you go.

Once again, the tavern style pizza was delicious. My girlfriend ordered the chicken parmigiana: 6oz. chicken breast, lightly breaded, topped with meat sauce and baked with mozzarella cheese. Served with a pasta side and a garlic breadstick. She loved it, and I finished her leftovers off the following day (she’s not a fan of reheated chicken).

The Angry Italian is an excellent eatery that calls for more return trips in the future. Maybe one of these days I’ll order another deep dish, but I can’t quit those tavern style pizzas. They are so out-of-this-world good.

I do have to comment on the service at the restaurant. The first two visits, I had the same server each time. She was pedestrian as far as ‘good or bad’ service goes. Frowning, unenthusiastic, the personality of a wet rag, the whole nine yards. I’m going to give her the benefit of the doubt and consider she had a bad day on both trips; she visited the table frequently and promptly refilled drinks, so that’s good enough for me. I’ll always tip 20% unless the service is downright disastrous. On the third trip, we actually had a different server, and she was phenomenal. She had a great attitude about her, gave her thoughts on the menu, treated us like old friends and left a shining impression. Service is more important than the food at any restaurant.

How to Make Thin and Crispy Pizza on the Blackstone Griddle

This was after I finished all the pizzas I made. Yeah, the photo is a little messy, but I will be making these again in the near future and I’ll recapture some better shots.

This, much like anything you can think of (asides from candy bars), can be made on any model of the Blackstone Griddle. It’s easy, simple and delicious. I love pizza any way I can get it. While my all-time favorite is an ultra-cheesy, Chicago deep dish pizza, thin’n’crispy is always a hit, too.

Recipe
— A pack of flour tortillas (8-10 inch ones)
— Pizza sauce (I use Classico pizza sauce, but you can use whatever you want; if using marinara sauce, I recommend adding a pinch of sugar to it for a little sweetness.)
— Cheese (I used shredded mozzarella, but you can use virtually any blend of cheese)
— Toppings (much like cheese, you can use virtually anything you want; I made a barrage of different pizzas, from pepperoni only to pepperoni and sliced’n’sauteed white button mushrooms to cooked’n’crumbled Jimmy Dean hot pork sausage.
— Basting cover (I used the 12″ basting cover from Blackstone Products, but you can use any kind of basting cover… even a cheap aluminum pan!)
Optional: Italian seasoning (I love the McCormick Organic Italian seasoning, which features a blend of marjoran, oregano, thyme, rosemary and basil). Adding this adds an extra punch of flavor to pizza. I like to add a little garlic powder to this mix as well.
— Optional: Fresh, chopped basil

Instructions
I used my 17″ Tabletop Blackstone Griddle for this cook, but you can use any model, including the 22″, the 28″ or the 36″.
— Fire up the griddle to medium/medium-low heat
— Once hot, add a tortilla onto the flat top cooking surface
— Using a spoon, add your sauce all around the pizza — have the freedom of using how much sauce you want… a little or a lot!
— Optional: sprinkle the Italian seasoning all around the surface as it will sit into pockets of sauce
— Top with cheese
— Add your toppings onto the cheese; this is where I added the fresh, chopped basil.
— Cover with the basting cover for a minute or so; when I watched Todd Toven make pizzas on the griddle at the Blackstone Griddle More Tour demos, he added a couple of ice cubes to the surface when he covered the pizzas with the basting cover in order to promote steam and quicker melting, but I didn’t use any.
— Remove the basting cover; once the bottom side of the tortilla is browned the way you like it, carefully remove it from the flat top cooking surface (I used a couple of Blackstone spatulas).

It’s a really easy, simple recipe that makes for a delicious meal, and it’s fun to cook, because you can do virtually anything you want with these pizzas.

Note: I cooked up both the mushrooms and the Jimmy Dean hot pork sausage prior to cooking. As for why I cooked the mushrooms first, it is due to how how water they lose when they are cooked (nobody wants a watered down, soggy pizza), not to mention mushrooms are much more digestible when cooked.