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Ooni Karu 12 Review

A beautiful, portable option that offers the best of both the gas- and wood-fired worlds
Ooni Karu 12
Credit: Ooni
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Price:   $349 List | $473.97 at Amazon
Pros:  Well-insulated, easily broken down for transport, easily converted multi-fuel system
Cons:  Heat-resistive stone takes long to preheat, soot buildup in oven chamber reduces efficiency
Manufacturer:   Ooni
By Aaron Rice ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  Jun 3, 2021
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71
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#7 of 12
  • Cooking Performance - 30% 7
  • Output Power - 30% 7
  • Control - 25% 8
  • Ease of Use - 15% 6

Our Verdict

Having to choose between the convenience of a gas-fired, and the magic of a wood-fired pizza oven can be a difficult decision to make. Fortunately, the Ooni Karu 12 is a high-performance oven that excels in both realms. The top-selling, wood-fired option in a lineup of truly excellent ovens, the Karu is nearly as efficient in its wood-burning form as it is as a gas-oven, capable of reaching pizza stone temperatures above 750°F with a continuously stoked wood-fire. A simple conversion with an accessory gas burner transforms this oven into a more convenient gas-powered format, operating as efficiently — if not even slightly more so — than its brother, the Ooni Koda 12.

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Ooni Karu 12
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Ooni Karu 12
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Price $349 List$250 List$349 List$300 List$110 List
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Pros Well-insulated, easily broken down for transport, easily converted multi-fuel systemReasonably priced, large capacity, heavily insulated firebox, transformable design improves versatilityFantastic crust quality, high-fire temperatures, compact and portableHigh-fire temperatures, amazing airflow, multi-fuel optionAffordable, designed for a normal range oven, fast bake times
Cons Heat-resistive stone takes long to preheat, soot buildup in oven chamber reduces efficiencyBulky, heavy, slow to preheatSteep learning curve related to control, prolonged cook timesDangerous flame blowback, awkward attachment of the gas adaptorHeat profile depends on oven, heavyweight
Bottom Line A beautiful, portable option that offers the best of both the gas- and wood-fired worldsTop-notch cooking performance, output power, and versatility, all at a fraction of the cost of direct competitorsThe brand that put portable pizza ovens on the map lives up to its name with outstanding performanceA powerful pizza oven with the special capability to cook with gas and wood simultaneouslyA heavy-duty carbon steel slab capable of serious heat transfer to make the best pizza you've ever experienced out of a normal oven
Rating Categories Ooni Karu 12 BakerStone Original Ooni Koda 12 Bertello Outdoor NerdChef 3/8" Steel...
Cooking Performance (30%)
7.0
9.0
9.0
8.0
8.0
Output Power (30%)
7.0
7.0
7.0
9.0
7.0
Control (25%)
8.0
7.0
7.0
6.0
6.0
Ease Of Use (15%)
6.0
9.0
7.0
5.0
8.0
Specs Ooni Karu 12 BakerStone Original Ooni Koda 12 Bertello Outdoor NerdChef 3/8" Steel...
Fuel Type Gas, Wood (w/ conversion) Gas Gas Gas, Wood (w/ conversion) n/a
Power Output 15,350 BTU 25,000 BTU 13,648 BTU Not listed n/a
Size of Firebox 135 cu. in. n/a n/a 97.5 cu. in. n/a
Average Stone Temperature 736°F 732°F 733°F 777°F 686°F
Footprint 368 sq. in. 345 sq. in. 368 sq. in. 301 sq. in.
441 sq. in. (w/ gas attachment)
228 sq. in.
Maximum Pizza Diameter 12" 13" 12" 12" 14"

Our Analysis and Test Results

Staying true to its Sanskrit namesake, which translates most directly to "maker", the Ooni Karu 12 is certainly an oven designed for the committed pizza maker. This multi-fuel system comes standard as a wood-fired oven — the natural choice of traditional Neapolitan Pizzaiuolo. With the right fire-tender at work, the ostensibly small wood-fire is capable of generating internal oven temperatures in excess of 800°F, capable of baking 12" pizzas in as little as two minutes. But for those who prefer the convenience of a gas-fired oven over the slower pace of a wood fire, the 15,350 BTU accessory attachment will help you achieve those same extreme temperatures much faster.

Performance Comparison


Whether powered with wood or gas, the Ooni Karu is an easy-to-fire...
Whether powered with wood or gas, the Ooni Karu is an easy-to-fire multi-fuel system (almost) guaranteed to produce beautiful Neapolitan-style pizzas.
Credit: Aaron Rice

Cooking Performance


Like all multi-fuel ovens, much of the cooking performance is going to depend on the fuel type. While gas-power is lauded for its accessibility, the art of wood-fired cooking should certainly not be taken for granted. The Karu is first-and-foremost a wood-fired oven, with all of the allure and charm of a traditional Neapolitan-style oven, just in a miniaturized format. As a result, it will take more time and tending to build up a powerful fire in the 135 cubic-inch firebox — after 15 minutes we were able to get the oven up to workable temperatures around 560°F, but it really takes more like 30 minutes of loading and stoking to get the pizza stone to the ideal temperature of 750°F.

There are very few things in the cooking world more alluring than...
There are very few things in the cooking world more alluring than the glow of a wood-fired oven.
Credit: Aaron Rice

It is important to keep the fire stoked in between firings as well, and the oven should ideally be given three to five minutes in between pizzas to regain strength. Wood-firing is always going to take longer, but even when our stoking slacked and pizza stone temperatures fell to near 500°F, the Karu was still capable of turning out beautiful, golden-kissed crusts in less than four minutes. This all shifts with the gas conversion, with a consistent heat output that boosts internal temperatures to an average of 746°F, and pizza stone temperatures averaging 736°F. At this level, you can expect pizzas to cook more on the order of two minutes, with similarly shorter reheat times as well.

A lightly crisped "cornicone", thanks to the well-controlled heat of...
A lightly crisped "cornicone", thanks to the well-controlled heat of the Ooni Karu.
Credit: Aaron Rice

Output Power


Though it takes more effort, there is a good reason why the best pizza makers in the world have not made the shift from wood- to gas-fired ovens. Under the right conditions — à la under the guiding eye of a skilled fire tender — wood is actually capable of burning hotter than gas. While this may seem unreasonable to some, consider that a gas-powered oven is only as powerful as its burner, whereas a wood fire can be stoked as hot as the size of the firebox allows.

The classic rolling flame of a wood-fired oven, spilling out over...
The classic rolling flame of a wood-fired oven, spilling out over the ceiling of the oven chamber to evenly disperse convective heat.
Credit: Aaron Rice

As a result — plus the fact that our infrared thermometer only reads up to 800°F — it is tough to say just how hot the Karu is capable of burning in its wood-fired configuration. We will admit it is more difficult to maintain a rip-roaring fire without a dedicated fire manager, simply because the relatively small firebox can only handle so much fuel at one time, and burns very efficiently. It is easier to quantify the output power of this oven with the gas-burner; with pizza stone temperatures in excess of 730°F, this oven is right on-par with the Ooni Koda 12 in terms of output power — and we deemed the Koda as one of the most powerful pizza ovens in this review.

Though certainly more convenient, gas-burners simply don't create...
Though certainly more convenient, gas-burners simply don't create the same effect as wood-fire. As a result, they cook pizzas in a very different way.
Credit: Aaron Rice

Control


This is becoming a common thread, but it is going to take more commitment — both in time and patience — to learning how to properly fire the Karu as a wood-fired oven. But to your benefit as an aspirant chef, this oven is designed with the best insulation of nearly any oven we tested, and certainly more so than any other wood-fired model in this review. The front door is supported by two inches of glass-reinforced nylon, and even the cover to the firebox sports nearly one inch of the same insulation. The design of this oven also promotes fantastic airflow, which circulates heat within this sealed chamber, redirecting only minimal amounts of smoke up and out of the chimney.

The insulation factor of the Karu gives it an upper-hand over...
The insulation factor of the Karu gives it an upper-hand over similarly designed (though less well-executed) wood ovens on the market.
Credit: Aaron Rice

While these insulated components are key to retaining heat and maintaining the types of temperatures necessary to cook a Neapolitan-style pizza, both the front door and chimney are removed with the gas conversion, essentially turning the Karu into a duplicate of the Koda. Operating in this form, the tantalizing rolling flame of the background wood fire is replaced with twin burners, which are somewhat reminiscent of a jet engine both in appearance and power. Like other gas-powered ovens, the change from wood to gas will also change your cooking style — it becomes more important to manage the extent of the heat output of the gas flames to ensure that your upper crust doesn't blacken before the rest of the pizza has a chance to cook.

In it's wood-fired form, this oven uses a "draft defender" plate to...
In it's wood-fired form, this oven uses a "draft defender" plate to help block wind and draw air up through the firebox for a more efficient burn.
Credit: Aaron Rice

Ease of Use


Like all other Ooni ovens, the Karu is exceptionally easy to set up, both out of the box and each and every time you plan on baking pizzas. While this kit contains more components — particularly in its wood-fired format — each part is removable, stripping the oven down to a practically portable stainless steel frame that weighs just over 20 pounds. This will likely change based on the type of wood you choose, but natural scraps do produce more significant amounts of ash buildup inside the oven chamber that need to be wiped away regularly to maintain cooking efficiency through reflective heat transfer.

Easily separated component parts make the Karu easy to clean...
Easily separated component parts make the Karu easy to clean, transport, and store.
Credit: Aaron Rice

But like we all know by now, wood-firing is always going to take more effort than firing up a gas-powered oven, both in terms of wood preparation on the front-end and cleaning on the back-end. It certainly is possible to learn how to manage the wood fire while simultaneously prepping pizzas, but converting the Karu to gas will simplify this process by allowing you to preheat the oven with a literal flick of a switch. But in our humble opinion, running a gas-powered pizza oven will never quite compare to the sensational event of making wood-fired pizzas.

A simple flame torch is probably the easiest way to light one of...
A simple flame torch is probably the easiest way to light one of these wood-burning ovens.
Credit: Aaron Rice

Value


The excellent performance of the Karu, even its standard wood-burning form, translates to a higher price tag than other similar options. Although the gas burner is an accessory purchase, it is more than worth the additional cost to unlock the full potential of this fantastic pizza oven.

The Karu is a professional-grade wood oven reimagined in a portable...
The Karu is a professional-grade wood oven reimagined in a portable package.
Credit: Aaron Rice

Conclusion


Whether in its gas-powered or wood-burning form, the versatility and cooking performance of the Ooni Karu 12 is sure to please everyone, from aspiring pizza makers to top-level chefs. The capabilities of this multi-fuel oven necessitate some commitment to learning the craft of the Pizzaiuolo, but as you learn the tricks of the trade, you can expect to be rewarded with delicious Neapolitan-style pizza every time you fire up this incredible oven.

Is it time for pizza yet?? From the charm of its aesthetics to the...
Is it time for pizza yet?? From the charm of its aesthetics to the quality of the pizzas produced, firing the Ooni Karu 12 is an all-around rewarding experience.
Credit: Aaron Rice

Aaron Rice