Where there's smoke, there's ... pizza?

Wednesday , August 06, 2014 - 12:00 AM

Chat and Chew

When it comes to campsite cuisine, artisan pizza probably isn't the first dinner that comes to mind. But one of the latest products from the Logan company, Camp Chef, is a portable oven that can be taken along on a campout, or that can sit on your patio should the urge strike for a homemade pizza.

Outdoor cooking has come a long way from hot dogs on a stick and foil dinners.

The Italia Artisan Pizza Oven, as well as the Pellet Grill and Smoker DLX (which uses wood pellets to give off slow-smoked barbecue flavor) are two of the newer products that Camp Chef of Logan is displaying at the massive Outdoor Retailer Expo this week (Aug. 6-9) at the Salt Palace.

"Our pizza ovens are selling really well," said Ryan Neely, Camp Chef marketing manager. "But it's not just for pizza, you can roast fish or vegetables or meats in it, too."

Since 1990, Camp Chef has been making equipment for outdoor cooking enthusiasts. Its two-burner Explorer stove (retailing for about $179) is its best-selling product, according to Neely. The company also makes Dutch ovens, fire pits, barbecue grills, smoke vaults and numerous other cooking accessories.

The idea of for the pizza oven came from Camp Chef owner Ty Measom, who has a wood-fired brick pizza oven in his yard for making pizzas,

"He thought, why don't we make one that could fit on our stove, but have it cook the same way?" said Ryan Neely, Camp Chef marketing manager.

According to dictionary sources, "artisan" describes someone who hand-crafts food products, often using traditional methods. The term gets a lot of buzz in today's food world, with "artisan" cheeses, chocolates, wine, and yes, even pizza. When one thinks "artisan pizza," they are usually thinking of the pizza traditionally made in Italy, cooked in a wood-fired brick oven to get a crisp, thin crust.

Heated by propane, Camp Chef's double-walled oven has a removable ceramic stone floor that the pizza sits on to cook. The temperature, which goes up to 700 degrees, can be adjusted depending on whether you want to cook a thin-crust pizza in a couple of minutes or a thicker-crust pizza more slowly. The stone pulls the outer moisture from the dough, to promote even baking with a crisp-but-chewy crust.

The challenge in the design was "Allowing enough heat to roll around on top, so the top of the pizza would get cooked in the same amount of time as the bottom," said Brett Bennett, an engineer with Camp Chef. "We had to make sure we were using the right heat deflector to push the heat where we wanted it, so it would come up around the sides and reflect back on the top of the pizza."

At the Camp Chef headquarters last week, Neely demonstrated how the pizza oven works, baking several artisan Margherita pizzas and more contemporary barbecue chicken pizzas. He used a wooden paddle called a peel to slide the pizza into the oven. In about two minutes, the pizza was blistered and browned on the bottom, bubbling on top, and absolutely delicious. A wide metal spatula was used to move the pizza around for even cooking, and to bring it out of the oven.

Neely pointed out that in using the peel, it's important not to load down the dough with thick, heavy ingredients. If you do, the pizza is likely to stick to the peel instead of sliding off into the oven.

Neely turned the temperature down to 400 degrees to roast salmon fillets on cedar planks.

There are two versions of the ovens. The free-standing one, weighing 47 pounds, is more likely to be kept on a patio instead of taken into the mountains. On the Camp Chef website, it is $400. The second version is an accessory that fits on the top of a Camp Chef stove and converts the stove into an oven. It costs about $170. Still a hefty 30 pounds, it's more practical for tailgating than backpacking.

Neely said so far, the stovetop version is selling best.

"In comparison, one of those wood-fired brick ovens can cost at least $1,500," said Neely.

You can also buy a pizza accessory kit with two wooden peels, the wide metal spatula, a pizza cutter and an infrared thermometer for about $100.

A more expensive new piece of cooking equipment is the Pellet Grill and Smoker DLX, retailing for around $830. It runs on propane, with wood pellets automatically fed into the fire to create the smoke.

It works best for low-and-slow barbecuing, not searing steaks, said Neely. One of the quicker-cooking meat cuts, a pork tenderloin, takes about three hours.

Barbecue aficionados often have to constantly tend the smoker to make sure the amount of heat and smoke is just right. But the smoker has settings to regulate the heat and wood pellets, so you can set it and forget it. And yet, they are sanctioned for use in barbecue competitions.

"It's as easy as running a microwave," said Neely. "When you're having a party, you can be out talking to people, because you don't have to constantly tend it."

Neely cooked a pork tenderloin that had a rosy smoke ring around the edges, a deep smoky flavor and melt-in-your-mouth tenderness.

With the innovative clean-out system, a trap door expels the ashes with the pull of a lever.

"We do suggest that you get in and clean it out every once in awhile, depending on how often you use it," he said.

Bennett said the Camp Chef team is constantly working on new cookware, or ideas for improving their existing equipment.

So depending on your budget, "roughing it outdoors" can be pretty easy.

Valerie Phillips can be reached at www.chewandchat.com

Sign up for e-mail news updates.