For those who strive for the perfect pizza: These techniques will help you cook your pies to perfection every single time.
Having our homemade pizzas look like the fluffy, crispy, evenly baked pies at the Italian pizzeria around the corner is a distant dream for many of us. But with a little technique and the right bakeware, it doesn’t have to be that way.
Regular readers of Home Cook World know of my longtime obsession with pizza. Over the years, I’ve scrutinized hundreds of recipes—and used and abused generations of ovens—to find the best methods for easy-to-make and irresistibly-delicious pizza at home.
And today, I am going to give you my opinion on evenly baked pizza. Along the way, I will show you how to prepare your pizza so that it’s not undercooked in the middle nor overbaked on the edges.
To bake a pizza evenly, preheat your pizza stone or steel in a 550°F (290°C) oven for at least 1½ hours. Shape the pie, top it, quickly slide it onto the stone or steel, and let it bake without interruption until the cheese is melted and the crust is golden brown.
Those who are serious about baking at home cannot get around owning a pizza stone or steel. However, not everyone wants to own, store, and carry around a 15-inch stone or steel specifically for making pizza.
If you count yourself in this group, do not worry: you can use a well-seasoned cast iron or carbon steel skillet with a heavy bottom and thick walls instead. (You can even use a stainless steel frying pan, though this type of cooking vessel is prone to warping.)
So much about the tools. Let’s take the time to address the technique and why it works so well.
Cooking Pizza Evenly
Set your oven to 500-550°F (260-290°C) and preheat your pizza stone, baking steel, or cast iron skillet on the lowest rack for at least 1½ hours.
Editor’s note: There are as many opinions about the minimum time for preheating a stone or steel as there are opinion-givers. I will stick with the Wirecutter team’s recommendations, which they arrived at after extensive testing.
A few minutes before it’s time to get baking, dust your working surface with cornflour, shape the pizza, and add the toppings. You can then use a pizza peel, a rimless sheet, or your hands to move the pie from the surface to the oven.
Close the oven door and let the pizza bake without interruption until the crust is puffed and the bottom is browned. When the crust is still soft, and you can insert a toothpick without raw dough sticking to the wood, you know your pizza is ready.
Why Buy a Pizza Stone or Steel
Pizza bakes best when the dough suddenly comes into contact with the scorching-hot surface of a pizza stone or baking steel that’s been left to preheat in the oven for at least an hour.
The stone or steel stores heat and distributes it in a way that mimics the heat from the bricks in a traditional brick oven in a pizzeria in Naples. This heat causes the pie’s crust to puff up and its underside to brown, taking the pizza’s aroma, flavor, and texture to a new level.
It removes moisture from the dough, and it not only cooks it evenly but, as a result, makes it deliciously crispy. Once you equip yourself with a good stone or steel, you can forget about pizza pies (and all kinds of baked goods, really) with soggy bottoms.
The Most Common Mistakes
While the list is not limited to the mistakes mentioned below, and what can go wrong varies with the style of pizza and the particular recipe, the following are the most common mistakes to avoid when making pizza at home:
Not using enough heat. Here’s something not every cookbook will tell you: pizza needs plenty, and I mean plenty, of heat. A Neapolitan brick oven gets as hot as 900°F (482.2°C), which is why it cooks a pie in as little as 60-90 seconds! So do not be afraid at all to crank up the heat. The hotter, the better.
Forgetting to preheat the oven. It should come as no surprise that this is the most common mistake home cooks like you and me make when we try to make pizza at home. I’ve been guilty of it, you’ve been guilty of it, and everyone we know has made it at least once.
Baking on aluminum foil or a sheet pan. Aluminum foil or a baking sheet may seem like a good alternative if you don’t have a pizza stone or pizza steel handy. However, because they’re thin, they can’t retain and radiate heat as well as a stone, steel, or, alternatively, a skillet.
Topping your pizza pies too heavily. If you put too many toppings on your pizza, it won’t cook evenly. When in doubt, keep the toppings simple. All you need is some canned-tomato sauce, some protein and vegetables, and a handful of shredded cheeses or a ball of fresh mozzarella torn up by hand.
Overcooking the pizza. As long as you’ve baking the pizza on a hot surface like a stone, steel, or skillet, there’s no need to keep it in the oven for too long. When the crust puffs up, the cheese melts, and the pie’s bottom turns golden-brown, take the pizza out of the oven.
Where to Next?
In “Should You Get a Pizza Stone or Steel?”, we explore the pros and cons of pizza stones and baking steels so that you can decide which one is right for you.
In “Should You Cook Pizza Sauce?”, I solve the pizza conundrum of whether to use sauce straight from the can or boil it down in a pot on the stove before topping the pizza with it.