We’ve all been there, your homemade pizza is plain, boring, or just missing something right? Have I painted your culinary nightmare yet? If so then you’re in the right place. A few years ago I was in your shoes, too.
The mystery behind really good pizza is mainly science-based. You need the right ingredients, the right dough, the right cooking temperatures, and the right equipment. If you do all of those things correctly, you’ll slowly start to see much better results.
1. Use a Pizza Stone, Baking Steel, Or Skillet
This is the most important tip and it’s why I’m putting it first. Brick oven pizza crust is so good because it cooks incredibly fast in 500-1000 degree temps. This contributes to dough thickness, overall crispness, and airiness.
So why use a pizza stone, baking steel, or skillet? All of these surfaces retain heat and help create a much hotter surface for your pizza to cook on. Preheat your stone, skillet, or steel for 1 hour in the oven at 500°F before baking. This will speed up heat transfer and cook the crust much faster, giving it a crispy outside and soft center. It’s hard to describe, but when you bite into the perfect crust you just know it.
For this method, you will also need a pizza peel to transfer your pizza on and off the stone. Pizza peels come in all shapes and sizes and are made of wood or metal. Here are a few good tips from chow.com on using a pizza peel.
2. Grill It
Grilled pizza is some of the best homemade pizza I’ve ever made. Because a grill can reach even hotter temps than a conventional home oven, it produces much better results. Cast iron grates get very hot and really help to create a crispy cracker-like crust with beautiful charring. I’ve never been able to achieve similar results with a pizza stone alone. Grilled pizza will mimic some of the same brick oven taste and textures you know and love.
3. Thinner Crust
If your dough is too thick it will take away from your toppings and make the pizza too heavy or soggy (shoot for about 18 ounces). If I buy pre-packaged dough I end up removing a little so the crust can be slightly thinner. Use a rolling pin to start and then use your hands to really stretch the dough out. Room temperature dough is much easier to handle and work with your hands.
Room temperature dough will also cook faster. Always let your dough rest on the counter for 1-2 hours prior to preparing your pizza. This will make a big difference.
4. Use Plenty of Flour
This is another big one. Add a handful of semolina or all-purpose flour to your pizza peel so the pizza can easily slide off the peel when transferred to the oven. Semolina flour is best as it’s more coarse than all-purpose flour. It creates a ball-bearing effect so the pizza can easily slide off the peal. This goes hand and hand with well-floured pizza dough. You want the pizza to easily slide across the peel when shaking. Sliding the pizza onto the stone can take a little practice. If you quickly jiggle the peel back and forth you can slowly slide it right off the peel.
5. Cooking with Fire
Most of us don’t have access to a 1,000°F brick oven and if anything or anyone is on fire in your kitchen then likely things have taken a turn for the worse. Anyway, it’s really important to bake at the hottest temperature setting on your oven (usually 500-550°F). This bakes the crust very fast and will crisp up the dough on the outside while leaving it soft on the inside.
At around the 10-minute mark, or when the crust starts to turn golden brown, turn the broiler on high and let the pizza further crisp the crust for about 1-2 minutes. This will give you that much-desired wood-fired pizza crust with slightly charred cheese and edges. This is the stuff I dream about at night. Keep a close eye on the oven because your pizza is only going to cook very quickly. Once it starts to burn it will burn FAST.
6. Use Olive Oil
Brush olive oil over the entire top of the crust and season with a little salt before adding any toppings. And I mean the entire crust—from the center out to the edges. The olive oil and salt will give your crust lots of flavor and also contribute to the golden crispiness. I love salt.
7. Choose Your Toppings Wisely
Simple always tastes better. Choose 2 or 3 complimentary flavors and use them sparingly or your pizza dough will be too soft and heavy. For a crisper crust keep toppings light, especially the sauce.
Also, fresh sliced mozzarella makes for more authentic, Italian-style pizza. Speaking of toppings, a pizza wheel keeps your toppings where they should be. It’s also easier to cut the perfect slice. Nothing is worse than dragging your cheese across the pie with a knife as you divvy it up.
8. Get a Good Pizza Recipe
When in doubt, find a killer recipe. Try one of my simple pizza recipes below.