If I see a pizza oven, I buy it. That’s kinda my schtick. Last week I grabbed the Sam’s Club Member’s Mark pizza oven and tested it out to see if it was a good budget-buy. Unfortunately, it wasn’t. But this week I noticed Home Depot was selling the Nexgrill Ora 12 propane pizza oven in my local store (Nexgrill sells a big lineup of outdoor grills).
The Nexgrill Ora 12 is just barely considered a budget oven, coming in at $300 ($100 more than the Sam’s Club oven). But it offers two completely unique features that I have yet to use on a pizza oven: a manually rotated pizza stone and an integrated smoke box.
Let’s unbox it, measure the temperature, and test out these cool features while making some pizza.
Unboxing & Design
This box probably had the least amount of packing material / protection out of any oven I’ve unboxed, but since it’s sold in Home Depot stores, everything (box included) looked in perfect shape.
Inside the box you’ll find the oven itself, a smoker box (looks like a metal can), two gas dial knobs, and a slew of uniquely-shaped – and very fragile – pizza stones. I wasn’t expecting the pizza stone to come in pieces like this, so at first I thought it was broken.
Setup is really straightforward:
- Unfold the legs
- Insert the pizza stone puzzle
- Insert the smoke box through the roof of the oven and twist the cap on (if you don’t plan on using the smoker box, just put the cap on)
- Push the turn dials into place on the side of the oven, and ensure the gas dial is in the off position
- Connect to propane tank and check for leaks
Overall, the Ora oven looks very similar to the Ooni Koda. It uses the same three-leg design and a strikingly similar exterior appearance. I really love the front shelf they included. This is something oven manufacturers are starting to use (Gozney just released the Roccbox Mantel add-on) because it improves launching the pizza.
It’s somewhat heavy for being a 12” pizza oven, weighing in at 35.27lbs. And at the time of this review, I could not find a cover (in-store or online) specifically made for this oven. So portability isn’t very good considering many 12” pizza ovens have covers with handles.
This is where I was surprised. Many budget-focused pizza ovens have weak flames, but the Ora really pumps out some heat! The flame even rolls up along the roof of the oven – sometimes even curling out the front. This is a great sign for gas-powered pizza ovens. The rolling flame along the ceiling means two things:
- It should have no problem reaching hot enough temperatures for true Neapolitan pizza
- It will adequately cook and char the top of the pizza at the same time as the bottom, whereas weak-flamed ovens tend to cook the bottoms too fast.
However, there is a downside. The flame has an adjustment dial on the side of the oven, but it seems like it’s either “high” or “low”. Even if you turn the dial slowly, 75% of the time spent turning the dial it’s as if nothing happens – the flame height stays the same. And then all of a sudden it drops really low. I’ll talk a bit more about why this is a problem in the performance section below.
Since the oven features a turntable-style stone, they included four small pieces that go around the circle, making it resemble one cohesive square pizza stone. This seems pretty smart because sometimes launching a pizza into the Halo Versa (another oven with a rotating circular stone) can be difficult without any extra wiggle room.
The circular stone can then be manually rotated with one of the knobs on the right side of the oven. Overall it’s a bit clunky to use. Keep in mind, there is a LOT of heat that comes out the front of this oven, so you have to kind of stand to the side and reach for the knob, while also standing back far enough to look in at the pizza.
But it gets worse. The stone kept getting stuck. It’s hard to tell if something with the turntable is bent or what – but the stone will get a quarter-turn around and then grind up against the other stone pieces. I spent a good 20 minutes trying to fix it, but either something is slightly bent or the turntable spindle was installed too far to one side. Unfortunate, but then again this is the kind of stuff that can happen with features like this.
This is an absolute first for pizza ovens. Nexgrill added a small smoking box in the ceiling of the oven. The idea is that the gas burner will automatically ignite the wood chips and create smoke similar to true wood-fired ovens. It’s sometimes debated as to whether or not pizzas bake long enough to obtain a smoked flavor, but I like the idea.
I noticed the cap for the smoker box is difficult to screw into place, which can be frustrating if you’re doing this while heating the oven since heat can escape. Not to mention the canister gets melt-your-hands-off levels of hot, so if you plan on adding wood after the oven is on, keep a few grill gloves handy.
I have a good feeling this oven will heat up pretty well based on the size of the flame. Since the cooking space is pretty limited, I’ll be testing this oven with 12″ Neapolitan style pizzas (using 00 flour) rather than New York style. Let’s see how it does.
The following graph shows how the Nexgrill Ora 12 gas pizza oven compares to other pizza ovens I tested (the other ovens were tested on a 55F degree day, whereas the Ora was tested on a 63 degree day – so there may be a slight deviation). I always test by pointing the infrared gun at the center of the stone.
This oven is way hotter than I expected! It started out of the gate even quicker than the Roccbox but then trailed off – a large part of that is definitely due to insulation, which the Roccbox has more of. But it still ended up hotter than some of the best-selling pizza ovens.
The real question is: is that a good thing?
Let’s make some pizza and find out.
I launched the first pizza when the stone temperature read 862F, and used the rotation dial for about a half turn before it got stuck. I played with it a bit, turning back the other way, but had to use my turning peel to rotate the pizza before it burned.
Overall, not too bad. I burned one end because I noticed the burner/flames are really close to the pizza. So rotating pizzas is incredibly important in this oven and may have to be done more frequently than some others.
The bottom of the pizza, however, was really charred on one side and not done enough on the other. I realized I probably should have been trying to rotate the stone a bit during the preheat, because the stone closest to the fire was way hotter. And since the rotation feature moves the whole stone and not the pizza itself, it burned up in the hotter spot.
As I prepped the next pizza (~5 minutes), I had the stone turned halfway around from where it was before. This resulted in a more evenly cooked bottom.
Since the rotation feature made me angry on the last pizza, I decided to forget about it completely and just use my turning peel. Even with rotating it frequently, I still burned one end of the top crust.
Third pizza (with smoke!)
I carefully placed some soaked hickory wood in the smoke box. Soaking the wood first prolongs the time it releases smoke and prevents it from burning up the wood too quickly. I figured it would be ideal to add the wood a few minutes before baking, but it turns out if it’s properly soaked, you can probably do this when starting the oven (and use drier wood if adding right before the bake). Since mine was soaked, I had to wait a solid 15 minutes for smoke to start appearing.
…And all of the smoke just escaped right through the front.
Overall, the bake itself was really solid. I mean, the crust ended up great but it’s just difficult to not burn some of it up. And there was obviously no noticeable smoke flavor.
Look, I’m not saying I’m the best pizza maker out there, but I make a lot of pizza in these portable-sized ovens. I’m definitely over that stage of constantly burning crusts – something everyone encounters when first using a pizza oven. But I think this oven has a flaw (I swear I’m not just saying that because I can’t use it properly).
The circular stone, where you’re supposed to place the pizza on, seems too close to the burner – especially for how powerful it is. And like I mentioned earlier in the review, the flame height is either high or low – and low seems too weak for a proper Neapolitan bake. Ideally, the burner should be a few inches further back from the center stone. Or, if there was just a single solid pizza stone and it didn’t have this turntable, I’d be able to place the pizza a couple inches closer to the front. But if I do that, the gap in the pizza stones would cause troubles for turning / retrieving the pizza.
I kind of hate the two main features this pizza oven showcases (smoker and manual rotation). Not to mention the cost of $300 is barely considered a budget option. I feel like this oven was so close to being something really solid.
Get rid of the smoker and manual rotation (which would probably cut $50-100 off the cost?), put a full pizza stone in there, maybe add an extra inch of depth, and this oven could compete with one of the greatest Ooni or Gozney. After all, we saw how well it heats comparatively to those brands. But the features appear more gimmicky than I had hoped.