Photograph by Justine Jane
LaFoley slings dough

Big Sky Life

Pizza Comes Home

Pizza can be street food, it can be gourmet, it can even be dessert. In Big Sky, pizza—whether it’s made at home, catered, or eaten by the slice after a round of par- 3 golf—is trending.

Pizza is infiltrating Big Sky from a range of new angles.

Example one: Bozeman chef Ryan LaFoley was already a successful caterer when he had the idea to put an Italian Mugnaini oven—the Rolls Royce of wood-fired cooking—on the bed of a 1952 Ford F350 pickup. His mobile pizza business was a hit at farmers markets, but demand for pizza grew so rapidly he gave up his market spots for private residences—in winter, almost all of his business is around Big Sky.

Local Big Sky couple, the Schreiners, cooking pizza from the comfort of their backyard. Photo by Joe Esenther

“Our Friday Pizza Par-3 evenings are a huge hit during the summer. Some golf, some pizza, you can’t go wrong.”

Greg Wagner, Assistant General Manager at Moonlight Basin

Example two: At Moonlight Basin, Assistant General Manager Greg Wagner’s team fires up the club’s oven every Friday in summer for Pizza Par-3. “We use our short game area and practice range to make a nine-hole par- 3 course that is super family friendly,” says Wagner who started the tradition. “Members play with their kids, grandparents, or guests with beverages in hand— and enjoy great wines and pizzas.”

Chef LaFoley slings dough
Chef Ryan LaFoley slings dough out of his vintage truck fabricated with a custom wood fired pizza oven. Photo by Joe Esenther
Moonlight Basin’s Friday Pizza Par-3 night at the golf clubhouse. Photo by Joe Esenther

Three examples make a trend, and the home pizza scene is also taking off: Big Sky residents Suzanne and Andrew Schreiner got a pizza oven a few years ago and have turned pizza entertaining into a ritual, with up to a dozen guests at a time. Just before the pandemic, they renovated their covered patio into an outdoor kitchen. Andrew makes the pies. “I saw an Ooni pizza oven that used pellets, and I got one,” says Andrew. “Applewood pellets deliver a great smoky flavor.”

“A common mistake is not getting the oven hot enough. Once you get the system down it’s really easy to host pizza nights.”

Chef Ryan LaFoley

CURIOUS HOW TO JOIN IN ON THE FUN WITH PIES? Some folks find home-cooked pizza daunting. But despite the 700 degree ovens, it needn’t be. If you don’t have a pizza oven, use two baking steels in your regular oven—one on the upper rack and one on the lowest. This technique promotes a crispier crust. Start cooking on the upper steel and finish on the lower steel for the perfect texture. Choose a high-protein, high-gluten flour for your pizza dough for home ovens. It’s also a good idea to add cooked toppings after baking the crust, then put them both back into the oven to perfectly finish. This approach makes it easier to slide the pizza into the oven. The caterer LaFoley’s advice is to keep with it. “I see people who buy an oven, then use it once. Getting the process right is time-consuming and many people give up. A common mistake is not getting the oven hot enough. Once you get the system down it’s really easy to host pizza nights.”

The wrist “snap” to get the pizza from the peel (the wooden paddle) into the oven can be the most challenging part for home cooks. Andrew has found that avoiding extra moisture in the dough is crucial. “Go light on the sauce and don’t put toppings on until right before it goes in, or they can transfer moisture to the dough and make it stick. Have cornmeal on the peel so it slides off more easily. I get the oven hot, hot, hot, then back it down so the stone is hot, but the pizzas don’t burn. I’ve gone from thinking it’s impossible to cook with this thing to being able to make gourmet pizzas.”

An easy shortcut for home cooks is to skip making your own dough, which can be time-consuming because it should set up for at least 24 hours. “I tried making my own,” says Schreiner. “It sounds easy, but it’s not. I prefer to buy mine in town. Premade dough lets you make pizza when you feel like it.”

And don’t forget that a pizza oven can also be used for other cooking. In Italy, restaurants roast meats and bake calzones and focaccia in their pizza ovens. After pizza, as the oven cools down, LaFoley uses his to char meats or roast vegetables. Schreiner got even more creative recently: “I made the best Oysters Rockefeller you can imagine in there.”

Make Pizza Like Chef Ryan LaFoley

LaFoley uses a sourdough-style live starter he has fed and kept alive for years, so you won’t be able to recreate his complex dough at home. But whether you make your own, buy it from a pizzeria, or pick some up at the supermarket, it’s ultimately the toppings that pizza fans love. LaFoley takes a radical approach and goes way beyond pepperoni and Margherita to offer combos you’ve likely never seen on any menu. His strategy? “Forget it’s pizza. I ask customers what foods they like most and then try to put those on top.” Pistachios and all sorts of fruits and veggies, from pomegranate to artichokes to peaches figure prominently in his mash-ups. He offers a signature pie topped with arugula, peaches, prosciutto, fresh mozzarella, pistachios, basil, and a balsamic reduction. His “Beyond Veg” takes itself literally with kale pesto, shaved lemon, artichoke heart, cured tomatoes, olives, capers, peas, parsley, and basil. And of course, the Bozeman- based maestro has a “Montana Bison” pie, topped with ground bison, cilantro chimichurri, grilled red onion, smoked feta, and parmesan.

Chef LaFoley signature pie

Home Pizza Ovens

Suddenly there are gas, wood, and electric home pizza ovens that work shockingly well. Here’s a look.

Turnkey Simplicity

The Ninja Woodfire ($350) is unique in that it uses electricity, but reaches 700 degrees and can handle a range of pizza styles. You can even add small amounts of pellets for wood-fired flavor. No mess, no fuel, and highly portable.

Cooking With Fire

Ooni’s tabletop pizza ovens started the home pizza craze. They’re a perfect choice for the home cook who wants real fire. The entry level multi-fuel Karu 12 can use propane or pellets ($299) while the larger top-of-the-line Karu 16 reaches 950 degrees and can handle bigger pizzas ($799).

Outdoor Kitchen

Kalamazoo Outdoor Cooking makes some of the world’s highest quality stainless steel outdoor cooking appliances that are the choice of many architects designing elaborate outdoor kitchens. The gas Artisan Fire Pizza Oven heats quickly, reaching 800 degrees in just two minutes ($12,395).

Naples in Your Backyard

Many of the nation’s most acclaimed and authentic Neapolitan pizzerias import commercial models from Italy’s Mugnaini—LaFoley’s choice—but they also make a home line. The most popular residential model is the Medio 110, which fits four 12-inch pies—or a whole turkey ($9,650).

Did this article make you hungry? Here are our top picks for pizza hot out of someone else’s Big Sky oven.

Blue Moon Bakery. They roll the edges of the dough and brush with garlic butter and parmesan.

Ousel and Spur Pizza Co. Topped with elk sausage and local veggies perhaps.

Milkie’s Pizza & Pub. They make a Cheeseburger pizza that’s a surefire antidote to tired ski legs.

Beartooth Pub & Rec at Montage Big Sky. Ask them to put a Holy Pork in their brick oven for you. It features double smoked bacon, guanciale, spicy Italian sausage, and soppressata.

Pinky G’s Pizzeria. Jackson Hole’s favorite pizza shop opened its second location in Big Sky’s Town Center. Grab a slice or a full pie made to order.

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