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First run: frozen pizza in a countertop oven

Last week I bought a new Oster® countertop oven from Costco for a bargain price of $49.99, taking a chance it would be satisfactory in being the multitasker it’s advertised as. Beyond a toaster oven, this model is larger, with enough rack space and internal cubic area to accommodate roasts or a full size 12″ pizza. It also has a convection feature called “Turbo”, incorporating a fan to circulate the hot air evenly within the oven chamber. A feature my full size oven has as well. My main selling point was that it could do most of the things my full size oven does with less energy and cleaning hassle. Plus it looks pretty cool, and it was only fifty bucks, so shoots! 

While this post isn’t intended to be a complete review of this product (in part, yes it is), here’s all the information about it: 

Oster® Brushed Stainless Steel Countertop Convection Oven
model #TSSTTVCG04

Adjustable broil for low-heat broiling, like cheesy garlic bread or high-heat broiling for meats. 150-450° temperature range. Avoid turning on your conventional oven to keep the kitchen cooler and conserve energy. With the Oster® brand, you can cook with passion and serve with pleasure.

TURBO CONVECTION HEAT TECHNOLOGY
For flakier crusts, juicier meats, crisper edges and deeper flavors in less time.

CERAMIC BAKING PAN
Non-Stick Baking Pan. PTFE and PFOA Free. Natural ceramic finish offers healthier choice for cooking & makes clean up easy.

SIZED RIGHT
Ideal for everyday meals and snacks and as a second oven for holidays and entertaining

COUNTERTOP CONVENIENCE
Avoid turning on your conventional oven and use this countertop oven to heat and cook quicker.

ENERGY SAVER
Consumes less energy than a conventional oven.

  • Fast, more even convection cooking
  • Easy-to-use dial controls
  • 2 rack positions
  • 60-minute timer with auto shut-off and bell signal
  • Removable crumb tray
  • Ceramic Non-Stick baking pan and integrated broil rack
  • Brushed Stainless Steel Exterior
  • Energy Saver – Consumes less energy than a conventional oven

Specifications:

  • Outside dimensions: 18.50″W x 15.66″ D x 10.62″ H
  • Oven rack size: 12.5″Wx11.5″depth
  • Oven chamber height between top and bottom heat elements: 6″
  • Weight: 11.94 lb.
  • Cord length: 24″
  • Watts: 1500W

Price: $49.99 (Costco Hawaii Kai location)

Here we have  my copy of the product sitting on my counter, waiting to get used for actually the fourth time now, since I used it before only for making toast, with wonderful results. Perfectly even toast, done a bit quicker than the smaller, crusty old clunker toaster oven this one replaced. 

Being what it is, this countertop oven does have a slightly larger foot print than my old GE toaster oven, however it still fits neatly in the corner of my kitchen counter, not really encroaching too much more on my prep area work space. The back of the unit bows out to give the oven chamber enough depth to fit larger foods such as typical 12″ frozen pizzas, while maximizing use of the void in the corner where the oven is placed. 

For $50, the quality of the unit looks remarkably high end, with a beautiful brushed stainless steel cabinet, and nice feel to the control knobs. If there’s anything that says “cheap” about it, is the thickness (or lack of) of the stainless steel cabinet, oven rack and integrated baking pan, while the oven door is rather light, making it feel sort of flimsy when you open and shut it. 

If there’s a couple of features I’d like to have that this doesn’t, is a built-in oven light and thermostat-controlled temperature readout. Particularly the latter, as here you’re just depending on what temperature the analog dial is set on after you preheat it. Which to note, I still don’t have one of them remote wired oven probe thermometers, something I’ve been meaning to get.


DiGiorno Original Rising Crust Supreme Pizza (12″; shown still frozen unwrapped)

MEN NEVER READ INSTRUCTIONS

Moving along to cooking this frozen DiGiorno rising crust pizza, with those wonderful results making simple toast, I thought this thing would do just as fantastic with none other than, yup, pizza. Having cravings for one the other day, I ran to the supermarket and picked up a rising crust DiGiorno Pizza, which always works for me. That said, I honestly haven’t cooked frozen pizza at home in years. 

Here’s where it gets interesting, as I decided to pull the “Who needs instructions? We don’t no friggin’ instructions!” approach many men are guilty of. Come on fellahz, I know you’re out there. You never read the instructions, thinking this new toaster oven or that new lawn mower is such a no-brainer, so why bother? Not only that, but I also didn’t completely follow the instructions on the DiGiorno rising crust pizza box, which says explicitly to PLACE THE PIZZA DIRECTLY ON THE OVEN RACK. Let alone, have I ever made pizza from scratch, so I didn’t understand the dynamics of baking the crust, which apparently it needs to breath while baking to let the moisture out, or you get a soggy, non-crispy finish underneath. 


Brellville Smart Oven 13″ Pizza Stone

A friend of mine swears by using a pizza stone in the oven when cooking his frozen pizzas, saying the crust turns out crispy and almost pizzeria perfect. I’ve also read you can use non-glazed quarry tiles (glaze has lead in it) from the hardware store for the job with great results a fraction of the price, compared to commercial pizza stones. 

So I followed the pizza box instructions on cooking temperature, however I wanted to try out the Oster® countertop oven’s “Turbo” convection mode, so instead of bake as instructed, I put it on “Turbo”, which uses both the top (2) and bottom (2) heating elements (4 total), plus a convection fan that quietly operates through a vent on the right side of the oven chamber. Since convection is supposed to cook faster, I set the timer for 20 minutes and stood by to visually monitor its cooking progress. I knew this first time run wasn’t going to be a fire-and-forget session. 

This is where I really should have listened to the instructions on the pizza box and placed the pizza directly on the oven rack. Instead, I placed it on foil covering the rack, for one reason only: I didn’t want to mess up my new oven with melted cheese dripped over the rack and bottom, regardless of already covering the crumb tray at the bottom with protective foil. It’s kinda’ like that new shoes or new car syndrome, where you’re so paranoid about dirtying it for the first time. Know what I mean? lol

Back to using a pizza stone, Popular Mechanics has this to say about it, “Compared to the metal of a baking sheet, the ceramic material of a pizza stone holds heat more evenly, and the porous surface draws water out of particularly wet areas of the dough as it cooks. Plus, when you preheat the stone, it gives the dough a strong burst of initial heat, puffing up the crust. A pan can’t do that.” 

Someone on reddit had posted a popular comment that’s been quoted in articles about cooking frozen pizza in an oven properly. His best recommendation is not use a pizza stone, but as the box instructions say, place it directly on the center oven rack. Yet, don’t follow the instructions on the box about placing the pizza in frozen, but thaw the pizza out first in the refrigerator. Before placing the pizza in the oven, preheat the oven to its highest possible temperature to blast the crust, then reduce the temperature to the recommended setting and finish cooking it. 

As it will turn out, that baking pan vs. pizza stone has the same effect – or make that lack of effect – as my use of thin aluminum foil under the uncooked crust sitting atop the rack in my attempt here, where it didn’t let moisture escape out of the dough, resulting in it being soggy underneath.

To be honest, I can’t remember how I cooked frozen pizza the last time, whether it was on a baking pan or directly on the rack. Normally I stay away from putting food directly on the oven rack, only because of again, the potential for making a mess in the oven. 

About finished baking, above you see the crust has risen properly, just like the picture on the box. More importantly, my new oven still looks new with no messy spills or crumbs! Or is that more important? Well not if the pizza isn’t cooked properly! 

Interestingly, while using the “Turbo” convection mode, it took longer than the maximum 25 minute cooking time on the pizza box, requiring about 30 minutes to finish. Its should have been done in more like 15 minutes. Something’s not right about that. I’ll have to do more testing with other foods using that convection mode later. 

All pau, this side looks fine, but, ai-yah, look the other side. It’s burnt! 

The burnt side happened in the back side of the oven, where it bulges out, on the side where the convection fan blows. That must mean the hottest air flow is right around that area and remains there. After finally going through the instructions after the fact, it doesn’t matter. Nowhere in there does it say anything about having to rotate the food around while using this oven, in any mode.

As it turns out, knowing there’s this hot spot, next time I would indeed turn the pizza around at least once or twice while baking. Or shoot, maybe return the oven? Still on the fence on that. I haven’t read any reviews that mention this a known flaw with this model. The only known problem I’m concerned about are several folks saying the mechanical timer knob eventually goes bad. 

As it turned out, the DiGiorno was still delicious (for frozen pizza that is), with the top side of the crust being cooked thoroughly and crispy, aside of that burnt portion. It was the underside of the crust that was the problem, where the center was soggy, while the pie’s overall underside wasn’t as crispy as it should have been.

Lesson learned? Follow the cooking directions to the “T” by baking it (not convection) directly on the center rack.  Next time I’ll also try thawing the pizza first before cooking it, as that reddit person recommended. If that doesn’t improve the results for a crispier crust, perhaps I’ll consider investing in a pizza stone, go budget with an unglazed quarry tile, and/or use my full size oven. Or shoot, I’ll just dial up Pizza Hut. 

As for this new budget priced countertop oven from Costco, regarding the longer cooking time using the convection mode and high heat “burn zone” in the back, I’ll need to investigate that further and see if this unit is operating properly. If it’s a problem, and not user error, I’ll return it for another model. We’ll see. 


P.S. A couple legit’ pizzas from Maui Brewing Company Waikiki…


THE FORAGER – Small Kine mushrooms, fresh herbs, roasted garlic, white sauce on Bikini Blonde artisan crust made in a wood-burning oven


THE BREWMASTER – Kukui spicy sausage, pepperoni (bell pepper and olives that come with it were omitted) and red sauce on Bikini Blonde artisan crust made in a wood-burning oven

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16 thoughts on “First run: frozen pizza in a countertop oven

  • April 17, 2018 at 6:54 pm
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    Pomai,

    You put the oven in turbo convection mode and then blocked the air flow by coating everything with aluminum foil! Duh!!! Convection means free flowing air so there is even heat. YES convection cooks about 15% faster.

    I use a pizza stone sometimes but you must make sure you put corn meal on it so pizza doesn’t stick. Sometimes I’ll use a 12″ aluminum pizza pan but you got to coat it with olive oil so you get a golden crust.

    A regular pizza 12 inch for me not frozen takes about 15 min on top rack of a 500 F degree oven. If I cut temp to 450 F and put it into convection mode it will take about 16 min on top rack. Higher up in oven is higher heat and that is what you want to cook a pizza.

    My NESCO jet air stream oven does a 12 inch pizza in 15 min at 400 F degrees with a nice crispy crust on just the oven rack.

    You can buy 1 pound balls of fresh pizza dough at Safeway and Foodland to make your own fresh pizza, Italian bread, calzone or stromboli. Foodland pizza dough is same used to make COSTCO pizza.

    Reply
    • April 17, 2018 at 8:01 pm
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      Ken, yeah sure, I added some blockage with the foil-lined rack, yet I thought there was still enough gap around it for proper air flow. Apparently not.

      You’re right though. That’s probably what caused that hot spot in back. Next time I won’t use any foil, including the bottom crumb tray, to hell with the mess!

      No thanks on making pizza from scratch or semi-scratch. I’ll leave that to the pros. This was simply an exhibition to how amateur I am on the subject, hopefully to get some great tips on it for future reference, such as yours!

      Reply
      • April 17, 2018 at 8:55 pm
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        Pomai,

        Lamonica’s from New York Pizza Dough made with New York water frozen in 1 pound balls only at Foodland with a R Fields Wine Company in store. Costco uses this dough to make their pizzas. 1 pound ball makes 1 loaf of bread or two 12 inch pizzas.

        Defrost night before, cut in half, let rise, punch down and let rise second time, roll out pizza, put your toppings on and bake or wrap finished pizza up and freeze to use like store bought frozen pizza. You make your sauce, cut your toppings to your size and your meats, shred and sprinkle cheese. You can make pizza as simple or complex.

        1/2 pound dough will make two calzones; filled pies. Roll dough into circle and fill with what you want, fold over one half of circle and crimp edges, cut two vents in top and bake.

        I learned how to make sheet pizza from scratch when I was 12 years old.

        Reply
        • April 18, 2018 at 10:21 am
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          Ken,

          Where was it again that you said they add herbs such as thyme and rosemary into the brick fire oven when baking their pizzas? Or something to that effect.

          Reply
          • April 18, 2018 at 5:07 pm
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            Al Forno Restaurant, Providence, RI adds grape vine to wood fire for their wood fire grilled pizza which they invented in United States and awarded a James Beard award.

          • April 18, 2018 at 5:41 pm
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            Ken, I take it the grape vine imparts a special flavor?

          • April 19, 2018 at 3:03 pm
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            Pomai,

            Yes it imparts a special flavor mostly to the pizza dough. When I made my own dough the flavor was muted but when I used Chef George’s dough recipe the flavor was tasty so a lot has to be said about the dough recipe. George was trying to duplicate the pizzas he ate in a northern Italian winery at Al Forno restaurant (where he designed and built all the kitchen wood fired grills. That is how he stumbled upon creating the grilled pizza. I find the grapevine gives a sweeter flavor to the dough.

            Don’t forget, true grilled pizza has minimum toppings which are precooked. You grill one side of the pizza dough, flip it over, put your toppings on and then grill the other side of the dough allowing cheese to melt on top of toppings and first grilled side.

            No oven or grill cover needed. Grilled pizza is very flavorful and you can taste each product in the pizza. If you get one that is loaded with topping, heavy in melted cheese that is brown and bubbly it is not a true grilled pizza.

          • April 19, 2018 at 3:35 pm
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            Pomai,

            Please consider the following, I purchased all my bbq supp,ies from People’s Woods Store in RI, same store Al Forno Restaurant used. We both purchased “Nature’s Own Basque Charwood Charcoal made in Canada from hardwood maple. I purchased the grapevine cuttings from the store. Al Forno Restaurant had four local wineries they worked with that grew both red and white grapes.

            People’s Wood owner testified to me the grapevine cuttings he was selling was used by the restaurant so I took him at his word. The only thing I know for sure is we were both using the same Charwood to cook with and I had their first cookbook which is autographed to me with the grilled pizza recipe in it. People’s Woods closed and is out of business due to retirement.t

            I’ve eaten in the restaurant many times, George passed but his James Beard awarded chef wife Joanne keeps everything going.

  • April 19, 2018 at 8:13 am
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    Pomai,

    yes the dried grapevine cutting DO add good flavor. I have several grapevines of different varieties and in the fall I use the cuttings on my grill fires. It really does add a good flavor to particularly lamb and fish. Picked up the trick in Germany years ago.

    I have one of these:

    https://www.walmart.com/ip/Hamilton-Beach-Large-Capacity-Counter-Top-Oven-Chrome-Model-31100/16503576?wmlspartner=wmtlabs&adid=22222222222000000000&wmlspartner=wmtlabs&wl0=e&wl1=o&wl2=c&wl3=10352200394&wl4=pla-1103028060075&wl12=16503576_0&wl14=walmart.com%20hamilton%20beach%20large%20toaster%20oven&veh=sem&msclkid=91196e3f0528114f1c7334e7dfdb6b1b

    With a rotisserie and 2 pizza capacity. Does a good job for most things and save a lot of expensive 220 electricity.

    Best Regards!

    Haru

    Reply
  • April 19, 2018 at 10:56 am
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    Haru,

    Yeah, I read that article about the monk seal pup. Fortunately she didn’t get injured. I love her name, Manu’iwa, which I believe means “bird”.

    I couldn’t find anything online on cooking with grapevine, only the leaves. What exact flavor does its “wood” impart to the food? Is it like an herbal accent? Smokey?

    Reply
  • April 19, 2018 at 11:18 am
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    Glad to see the pup was “relieved” of its shank without harm there! :D To your question, to my palate the cuttings add an smoky, almost tangy / light herbaceous grapeleaf flavor is the best way to describe it. They burn very quickly and hot as well so it might be the smoke char I’m tasting here partly.

    Here’s a recipe for fish with the cuttings. I use a very similar one for red snapper which is plentiful here so close to the Gulf Coast. The cuttings I use the most is from my Green Grape Vine. Try grilling large negi over them too. Very good and based on a Spanish Recipe. I have wild green leek /garlic planted and I often grill young ones that haven’t formed a bulb yet and serve them alongside grilled lamb chops.

    https://www.saveur.com/article/Recipes/Grilled-Sea-Bass-

    Best Regards!

    Haru

    Reply
  • April 19, 2018 at 2:16 pm
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    I use the cuttings I prune in the fall both green (usually with fish) and dried ones for meat. The green ones have a lot of moisture and burn smokey and long while the dried ones burn hot and fast. They only stay green for about a week before drying out.

    Other high moisture green woods I’ve used for fish cooked this way are fig, pear, and green oak. (just happen to have them all on site :D). The grapes I grow can certainly handle our very hot 100 degree + summers but perhaps they need winter dormancy to survive and do well.

    Perhaps a Hawaiian substitute for that green vine flavor could be lump charcoal with fresh split banana stalk tossed on to generate a moist smoke that will also add flavor to grilled fish with a local twist – Rubbed with olive oil, coarse Hawaiian sea salt, pepper, and stuffed with negi, cilantro or Thai basil, ginger, and lime with the cavity rubbed with shoyu or fish sauce? Just making this up as I go!

    Best Regards!

    Haru

    Reply
    • April 19, 2018 at 2:35 pm
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      Haru,

      Most Hawaiian imu preparations include banana stalks as part of the underground fire pit covering for the purpose you mentioned.

      Your made-up recipe for grilled fish with a local twist sounds good!

      Reply
      • April 19, 2018 at 3:22 pm
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        Thanks Pomai,

        that’s where I got the idea for it. I was the local “Imu Guy” for my unit last time I lived back home and would do several pigs a year in the oven – usually over at Bellows. We could scavenge all the needed ingredients and supplies right off the old abandoned and overgrown runways. Nothing like FREE! :D

        Best Regards!

        Haru

        Reply

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