Taste February 1, 2024

Pizza for the People

Dive into the backyard pizza craze

When it comes to food, few are more universally beloved than pizza. There’s just something so deeply satisfying about the entire experience of pizza: the intoxicating smells, the gooey cheese, the sumptuous crust. You don’t even need to be hungry to want a piece of pizza. If you showed up to Coney Island on July 4th and offered Joey Chestnut a hot slice of pizza after he just consumed 70 hot dogs, he would happily accept without protest. Unless you’re one of the extreme minority that does not find pizza to their liking, you’re probably already in the mood for a slice having just read the word pizza five times.

While pizza as we know it today (tomato sauce + cheese + toppings) has only been around for the last few hundred years, the concept of warm flatbread as a vehicle for cheese and other toppings has been enjoyed by humans for millennia. You could say it’s inour very evolutionary nature to love pizza.

Thousands of years ago, these original flatbread cousins of modern pizza would be baked in huge earthen ovens, harnessing the heat of a proper wood fire. Vendors would hawk them along bustling streets in Italy, and they were one of the primary foodstuffs in many regions of the world. Modern pizza evolved from these flatbread dishes in Naples, Italy in the 18th century. Today, many of the most highly lauded pizza restaurants in the world have gone the traditional route and still choose to bake their pies in wood burning ovens. There is just something irreplaceable about the character that the fire imparts on the finished pizza, the charred bubbles and caramelized toppings.

What was once a lavish kitchen accessory only found in the well-appointed homes of the wealthiest culinarians, wood burning pizza ovens have recently gone mainstream. In the last few years, several brands have been vying for a spot in the backyards and patios of everyday Americans. Gone (thankfully) are the days when the best homemade pizza experience most could muster was a Boboli, slathered with canned sauce, and topped with pre-shredded cheese. With these new popular mobile pizza ovens, exceptional pizza has become attainable for every red-blooded pizza junkie with enough cash to commit to their habit.

It’s not just the theatrics of pulling a freshly baked pizza from the dancing flames with a flashy spin of the peel to the delighted applause of your adoring dinner guests; there’s a reason why the wood-burning oven produces a better slice: serious heat. The crust requires heat well beyond the capabilities of the home oven, typically closer to 800°F-900°F, to achieve the desired combination of crispy crust and tender crumb.

Now that we’ve properly attributed your insatiable lust for pizza to basic biology and confirmed that the only thing missing in your life is your own gourmet pizza oven, how do you select the right oven for you? While there’s no simple answer to that query, there are a few factors to consider that will aid in narrowing the field.

Portability: Where do you plan on using your pizza oven the most? Same spot in the backyard, or do you have visions of your four-cheese masterpieces farther afield? There are beefier ovens made to be left in place and others that have been designed to easily set up and break down to get your perfect pies plated at the base of the Pios if that’s your desire. Most manufacturers also offer a range of oven sizes to accommodate cooking solo or for a crowd—with one-pizza and two-pizza ovens, or larger models with space for cooking up to five pizzas at one time.

Fuel: Though wood-fired pizza is generally considered the gold standard, the effort and time commitment is also a good step up from other fuels. Charcoal can provide some good smoky character with a bit less fuss, and easier still, there are gas-powered options that are a breeze to fire up.

Price: As with most things, you can make a modest investment, or you can blow a few mortgage payments on an oven that was hand-tiled in Naples. Pizza knows you love it, and it doesn’t care how much you spend on your pizza oven.

Get Your Hands on the Pie



The much-loved Mason family restaurant on the corner of Sun Valley Road and Main Street in downtown Ketchum has been serving up exceptional Neapolitan style pizzas for more than a decade. Striking a sublime balance of dark and moody in combination with lively and welcoming, Enoteca’s open kitchen features a gorgeous wood burning pizza oven that casts flickering light across the dining room.

The Order: The Wine Auction (caramelized onions, grapes, gorgonzola) – With so many deftly curated topping combinations, you really can’t go wrong. However the Wine Auction has been a longtime favorite thanks to the counterpoint the sweet, gentle acidity of the grapes provides against the richness of the caramelized onions and gorgonzola cheese.


As incredible as their food is, it’s the genuine warmth and hospitality of The Cook Book’s proprietors, Burke and Vita, that have cultivated a deeply loyal following. Whether it’s Vita asking about your kid’s soccer game, or Burke with his elephantine memory rattling off the exact bottle and vintage he recommended to you the last time you were in, the familial experience of dining at The Cook Book is the grandest of its many charms.

The Order: The Shroom (oyster and shiitake mushrooms, sautéed spinach, rosemary, thyme, fontina, parmesan and truffle oil) – Earthy and rich, these ingredients all together amount to far more than the sum of their individual parts. The quality of the crust sings, and the oily goodness of the mushrooms, cheese and truffle oil is unapologetically decadent.


Featuring a wood-fired oven in the open kitchen / bar area, which is an extension of the lobby, The Lounge offers a hip and modern vibe with cozy chair and couch arrangements (YES, they let you eat on the couches, something you probably don’t even get to do at home!). All pizzas are hand-tossed 10-inch pizzas finished in the wood-fired oven, and gluten-free crust is an option.

The Order: Specialty pizza options change seasonally, but one of the most popular is the Pear & Prosciutto, a sweet AND savory combination of pickled pears, thyme, fresh chèvre and a balsamic fig spread—perfect to split as an appetizer, or to devour on your own without looking back.

Slice, Slice, Baby!



With a story that spans the globe and began in an airport hanger born from a deep passion for baking authentic European breads, it is only natural that Roman Chavez and the team at Hangar Bread makes some of the best pizza in town—just ask the lines of high school students who faithfully flock to the courtyard storefront in Hailey as soon as the lunch bell sounds.

The Order: The Pepperoni pizza is the perfect lunchtime bite, offering up a delicious combination of scratch tomato sauce, Italian cheeses and just enough spice in each slice of pepperoni to awaken your mouth until it is begging for another bite. But check out the daily special, which could be a veggie pizza or quatro formaggi ormargherita. Available by the slice or as whole pizzas made to order—if you’re smart, you’ll order your pie with Neopolitan dough for a thick and airy crust that is both light and crispy!


Callie and Maeme Rasberry were born in the bi-cultural city of El Paso, Texas, on the border of New Mexico and Old Mexico. Growing up on a farm, they learned to appreciate the seasonality of food, as well as a passion for using the freshest and highest-quality ingredients and crafting from scratch. All of this means that you just never know what delectable combination of toppings may appear on their daily pizza specials.

The Order: Any daily special is all but guaranteed to knock your socks off. The subtle flavors baked into their ultra-thin and crispy pizza crust might be topped with fresh gouda and roasted kale, punctuated by golden slivers of butternut squash; or it could be a combination of artisan cheeses topped with roasted heirloom tomatoes, carmelized onions and torn basil. Either way, the ingredient combinations are always arresting and the flavor profile like a match made in heaven.


Perfect for a family dinner, catching your favorite sports team or hanging with friends in a cozy booth, the Village Station offers a full bar with crafted cocktails. Guten-free crust is available, as well. Diners can build their own pizza, with specialty pizza options that upgrade your potential creation, such as smoked bacon, jalapeños, roasted garlic, prosciutto, meatballs, pineapple chutney, and many more. Takeout with online ordering makes it easy if gathering at home, and don’t miss the ever popular ½ off pizza Mondays (mobile orders only)!

The Order: “The Idaho” is a specialty pizza unique to the Village Station that includes all the best ingredients of an Idaho baker—bacon, chives, white cheddar, sour cream and thinly sliced Idaho potatoes anchored by an alfredo sauce base. It is a tastebud explosion worthy of the state license plates’ famous claims. An equally popular order is the Wild Mushroom, a creamy extravaganza featuring a trio of mushrooms, including roasted portobello, cremini and truffles, layered with fontina cheese and an alfredo sauce base (no red sauce here to detract from that intense flavor). A topping of arugula almost makes it feel healthy.

Takeout is King


Some of the more traditional options for ordering a pie to-go include Smoky Mountain Pizzeria & Grill in Ketchum (and with eight locations throughout Idaho), Wiseguy Pizza Pie (with Ketchum, Hailey, and Boise locations), and South Valley Pizzeria in Bellevue, the local institution that Ketchumites will actually drive south to reach.


The Order: The Santa Cruz BBQ (creamy garlic sauce, fresh mushrooms, smoked gouda cheese, spicy jalapenos, applewood smoked bacon and BBQ chicken) is a local favorite at Smoky Mountain Pizzeria (aka ‘Smoky’s’).


The Order: Wise Guy offers up the popular Hot Fat Hawaiian (ham, bacon, pineapple and jalapenos) or the unusual and somehow addictive White Trash Guy (ranch dressing, bacon, kettle potato chips, scallions, Parmesan and mozzarella).


The Order: Gourmet combinations at South Valley Pizzeria include the #9, a Thai chicken spicy concoction that includes grilled chicken, snow peas, roasted red peppers, pineapple, toasted sesame seeds and the best spicy Thai peanut sauce base you ever tasted on a pizza. Or, chase the vampires away with the Garlic Lover, featuring roasted garlic sauce, chicken, roasted red peppers, carmelized red onions and fresh basil.

How to Bake the Perfect Pie

Making pizza at home is the ultimate social event and throwing a pizza party gives everyone a chance to join in on the fun—giving guests the opportunity to choose their favorite toppings and combinations. And you don’t have to be a celebrity chef to create the perfect (or near perfect) pie, although, following the tips and tools on this page just might elevate you to celebrity status when slinging your next specialty pie. Read on to ensure that your next pizza throwing night or gathering is both delicious and flawless!

THE SHAPE MATTERS: A pizza oven works by trapping heat in the dome and in the oven materials (typically brick or stone), holding the heat inside and cooking quickly and evenly. Portable pizza ovens, like the Moderno Portable from ALFA, handmade in Italy, allows you to take the dome shape on the road for perfect pizza wherever you are!

TEMPERATURE IS KEY: Pizza ovens are designed to cook at much higher temperatures than typical ovens—750 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. Knowing that you have reached high enough heat is key before cooking, so a temperature gauge is usually built into the oven. If not, just get a laser thermometer gun.

BUILDING A FOUNDATION: Brick or stone are typically used on the interior due to their ability to retain heat evenly, ensuring that everything cooks at the same temperature. This means you can cook more than one pizza at a time and not lose any heat quality—key when cooking for a crowd!

WOOD-FIRED VS. GAS-FUEL OVENS: Wood-fire pizza ovens are the more traditional way of cooking, but typically require more maintenance and attention. The fire in the oven chamber produces smoke which flavors the dish, adding a special flavor to your pizza. Wood-fire pizza ovens typically take longer to reach temperature and don’t have as precise temperature control of a gas oven. On the other hand, gas ovens are generally quicker to heat and easier to operate and clean (no need to dispose of ash or log remains), but can be more expensive due to the burner element. If ease of use is vital: choose a gas fuel option, and if that authentic smoky flavor is important, opt for a wood-fire model. The best woods for cooking are seasoned and dried hardwoods or fruitwoods like maple, oak, ash, hickory, walnut, apple, cherry, pear or pecan. These woods are cleaner and last longer than softwoods, and can also really add to the flavor of what you are cooking—remember pizza ovens are also great for roasting other vegetables and meat dishes.


FIRING PEEL: Use the firing peel tool to transfer your pizza from the counter into the oven without breaking or stretching the dough. The perforated design of this peel also means you’ll transfer less excess flour into your oven.

TURNING PEEL: Used to turn your pie to help ensure the most even cooking. Look for long-handled and heavy-duty materials with a thin

metal edge, allowing you to easily rotate and move your pizza while in the oven.

PIZZA OVEN BRUSH: Ash, soot, and the odd bit of burnt flour are bound to show up in your oven. Use a pizza oven brush to clean up after cooking. Soft, yet stiff bristles (like the brass bristles in this one from ALFA ovens) ensure you won’t scratch your cooking surface while sweeping your oven clean and getting it food-ready.

OVEN RAKE: Helps to create a clean cooking surface (moving ash and wood aside) before transferring your pizza to the oven. Look for lightweight materials that are stiff, but with a curved shape to allow you to get into the corners and move wood and coals around easily.

This article appears in the Issue of Sun Valley Magazine.