One day, your children will ask you: “How do you get frozen pizza to taste so good?” Tell them about that site you once found on Google.
A month ago, I set out on a mission to find the best ways to make frozen pizza—which we all love to hate and hate to love—taste better.
Thirty days, ten pounds, countless pies, and just as many disapproving looks from Ms. Stonos later, I think I’ve found them. And, before I put on my running shoes and head outside to get back in shape, I am finally ready to share them with you!
Why Does Frozen Pizza Taste So Bad?
Frozen pizza is convenient, there’s no doubt about that. You just take it out of the freezer, put it in the oven, wait 15 minutes and then bite into it. There’s no mixing, kneading, and proofing the dough. No prepping the toppings and stretching the pie.
But that convenience comes at a high price. Some frozen pizzas, even if you follow the baking instructions on the package down to the letter, turn out tasting like round pieces of cardboard topped with cheese!
Why is that?
For starters, it’s because many of us microwave our frozen pizzas.
The microwave oven saves time and doesn’t turn your kitchen into the Sahara desert in the summer. But microwave cooking doesn’t promote the browning that baking your pizza with hot air does.
Few TV chefs and cookbook authors talk about the role of browning. But ask a culinary arts teacher at the Culinary Institute of America, and they will tell you it is the most important chemical reaction in cooking!
Foods brown because of the Maillard reaction, a change that occurs when the proteins and carbohydrates on the surface become so charged by heat that they begin to shake wildly, in all directions.
Eventually, these proteins and carbohydrates collide and fuse, creating hundreds of new aroma and flavor compounds as a byproduct. These new compounds ameliorate your food by giving it a pleasant smell and a rich taste.
This is why pizza with a golden-brown crust is so good! (It’s also what makes grilled steak, toast bread, and roast coffee so delicious.)
For food to brown, the surface must heat to at least 284°F (140°C). That’s not possible in the microwave because it cooks your food with… well, microwaves, and so the air around the pizza stays cool.
So frozen pizza baked in the oven will always, without compromise, taste better than pizza cooked in the microwave.
But even in the oven, we are cooking it the wrong way.
Many of us make the mistake of not preheating the oven for enough time when baking frozen pizza.
Pizza, whether made by hand or bought from the frozen goods section in the supermarket, bakes best when the dough comes into sudden contact with a hot baking surface, such as a pizza stone, baking steel, crisper pan, or cast iron skillet.
If you want your frozen pizza to be crispy and well done, you need to put the bakeware you have in the oven, crank up the heat all the way to the highest setting, and preheat it for at least 15-20 minutes.
The larger and thicker the bakeware, the longer the preheating time. Many pizza stone and baking steel owners, for example, preheat their ovens for 1 to 1½ hours so the stone or steel has time to get up to heat.
If you haven’t taken the time to preheat the oven, the pizza toppings will burn by the time the pie cooks on the bottom. In other words, you’ll be faced with a trade-off you never want to make: pizza that’s burnt on top or soggy (and therefore unsafe to eat) on the bottom.
Last but not least, it’s the ingredients.
It’s no secret that most frozen pizzas, especially the cheaper ones, don’t have great ingredients. The tomato sauce is thin. The cheese is mediocre. The salami tastes funny.
Yes, there are exceptions. There are frozen pizzas that taste almost as good as the real ones you get in pizzerias.
But when it comes to frozen pizza, the golden rule is that you get what you pay for. And considering that most of them don’t cost a lot, you’re not paying for much.
The good news is that there are ways around this. And after trying more pizza hacks than I can remember in the past 30 days, I’m about to share the ones that make a difference with you in the remainder of this article.
The Best Frozen Pizza Hacks
Start With Margherita or Four-Cheese Pizza
To make frozen pizza great again, you have to start simple. The more toppings on the pie, the less control you have over the less result—and the more weirdness you have to make up for.
Your best bet is to start with high-quality Margherita pizza. You know, the kind with tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese on top. If you like variety, you can also start with a four-cheese pizza, also known as “quattro formaggi,” with fontina, gorgonzola, mozzarella, and grana padano.
The most important thing is to leave out frozen pizzas with any vegetable or meat toppings because you will be adding them yourself!
Add the Toppings You Like and Layer Them Properly
I don’t know about you, but this is my favorite part!
Every time I stand in front of a cheese pizza, with the prepared toppings on the counter and everything, I feel like I’m at Domino’s, and I not only get to order but make the pie.
In this step, you can customize the frozen pizza to your liking. Do you like a lot of cheese on your pizza? Then double mozzarella and extra cheddar cheese it is! Want a little heat on your pizza? Slices of pepperoni and hot jalapeño peppers coming right up!
The layering matters as much as the toppings.
If you like the pepperoni on your pizza slightly charred and all curled up, then place the pepperoni slices after the cheese. If you prefer the goodness to be hidden, add the fresh mozzarella cheese last. You can even make an upside-down pizza by topping everything with canned tomatoes.
How you layer your pie also depends on how you prefer your vegetables. For browned onions, slice the onions thinly and place them on top. For sweated onions, slice them thickly and hide them under the rest of the toppings.
Don’t Limit Yourself to Pepperoni Pizza
For many, pepperoni pizza will be the first choice. But if you like a little variety, don’t limit yourself to pepperoni.
To make a Hawaiian pizza, take a frozen Margherita pizza and add slices of ham, pieces of pineapple, and shredded mozzarella cheese on top.
For a California BBQ chicken pizza, top a Margherita with last night’s leftover chicken, and slices of red onion, and then smear it generously with your favorite brand of BBQ sauce.
To get to the meat of it, make a Four-Meat pizza by topping a frozen Margherita with bacon, chicken, ham, and pepperoni.
There’s also the funky, piquant, and garlicky Sausage pizza. Add meatballs made from raw Italian sausage to Four-Cheese, a.k.a. Quattro Formaggi, pizza.
Speaking of Four-Cheese pizza, it also goes great with grilled asparagus, especially if you grill the asparagus separately and top the pizza with them during the baking, about 2-3 minutes before you pull it out of the oven.
Preheat, Preheat, Preheat
The key to baking frozen pizza to perfection is to adjust the rack to the center position, place a thick piece of bakeware inside it, then crank the heat up as high as it goes and preheat it for as long as possible.
Ideally, that bakeware is a pizza stone or baking steel. But if you don’t have one, a crisper pan or a cast iron skillet with a heavy bottom and thick walls will do just fine. The minimum temperature is 400°F (200°C) and the minimum preheating time is 15-20 minutes.
The higher the temperature and the longer the preheating time, the better. Many pizza lovers heat their ovens with a stone or steel inside to a temperature of 500°F (260°C) for 1 to 1½ hours. This way, the pies cook faster and the crust dries out less.
Bake to Doneness
Once you put the pizza in the oven, you can take a peek through the window. Don’t open the door, though, or the oven will lose heat and take longer to recover than you think. Let the pie bake for 15-20 minutes without interruption.
Even though manufacturers provide specific cooking instructions on the package, you know your frozen pizza is ready when the crust is golden brown and the cheese has melted.
Rest and Garnish the Cooked Pizza
Don’t cut the pizza too quickly and eat the first piece. Instead, let the pie rest for 3 to 6 minutes after you take it out of the oven. During this time, the sauce will settle and the aromas and flavors from the ingredients will meld, making the pizza less soupy and noticeably tastier.
Use this time to garnish the pizza. A drizzle of extra virgin olive oil can go a long way. However, if your pizza has a lot of meat—and is already a little too greasy—you can balance out the greasiness by topping it with a few fresh basil leaves instead.
Sometimes, you overdo it with the processed meat and the frozen pizza comes out a little too salty. Now is a good time to balance this out by adding something sweet, like Mike’s Hot Honey, to the mix.
If you’ve customized your pizza well, you probably won’t need to add condiments like ketchup or mayo. But if that’s what you like, go for it! (Your pizza, your rules.)
Now you know how to make frozen pizza taste better. Start simple, add your favorite toppings, put the pizza in a well preheated oven, bake it until the crust is golden brown and the cheese is melted, and then let it rest for a few minutes before serving.
Enjoy (and if you found this guide useful, don’t forget to subscribe to our email newsletter)!