You can make pizza at home. In fact, you can make pizza that will equal some of the best on the planet. With planning and practice, you can become good at it, even if you are a relatively novice cook. We are here to help that happen.
Before You Start!
- Plan ahead. Make the dough at least a day before you intend to make pizza, to give it enough time to rise.
- Buy a food scale on which to weigh the ingredients for dough and toppings. It’s a smart investment: In baking, weight is a more accurate measurement than volume.
- You will need a cooking surface. This could be a pizza stone or steel, or four to six unglazed quarry tiles measuring 6 inches by 6 inches from a building supply store. Whichever you use, heat in a very hot oven for at least an hour before cooking.
Pizza is a crowd-pleasing choice for busy weeknights and fun weekend dinners alike. But you don’t have to rely on restaurants or takeout for top-notch pizza. Read on for tips on how to make your own pizza at home. We’ll walk you through how to make pizza crust, how to top a pizza, pizza baking temperature, and how long to bake pizza. Plus, we’ll share some of our favorite homemade pizza recipes to try.
How to Make Pizza
Storing the Dough
Allow for a minimum of three to four hours for your dough to rise. But planning further ahead pays dividends: You can store that dough in the refrigerator until you are ready to cook, which means any weeknight can be pizza night.
We put our pizza dough in the refrigerator to rise, placing the balls of dough on a floured baking pan covered loosely with a clean, damp kitchen towel. The chill leads to a slow rise, so we generally allow it to go overnight, or for at least six to eight hours. For a faster rise, leave the dough out on a countertop, similarly covered. It should be ready — that is, roughly doubled in size — in three or four hours.
Time imparts a marvelous tanginess to pizza dough, but it extracts a price as well. What you want to avoid is a skin developing on the dough. When the dough has risen, if you are not going to use it right away, wrap it tightly in plastic wrap, or place it in a quart-size plastic bag. Pizza dough so wrapped will last in the refrigerator for three days or so.
Another option is to freeze the dough. Make it, put it in the freezer in a freezer-safe plastic bag, and then move it to the refrigerator on the morning of the evening you want to cook.
If you end up making pizza at least once a week, consider investing in a few pizza dough pans, available in restaurant supply stores.
Shaping the Pizza
Shaping a pizza takes practice. The goal is to make a thin circle of dough, with a raised edge around circumference of the pie. Don’t worry if that doesn’t happen the first few times. Pizzas shaped like trapezoids or kites taste just as delicious.
Working on a floured surface, with floured hands, softly pat down the risen ball of dough into a circle, rotating it as you do.
Using the tips of your fingers, push down gently around the perimeter of the pie, rotating it as you do, to create the edge.
Pick up the dough and lightly pass it back and forth between your palms, trying to rotate it each time you do, using gravity to help the dough stretch. At approximately 12 inches in diameter, the pizza is ready to go.
Return the pizza to the floured surface, making sure that the side that you first pressed down upon remains facing upward, and gently slide the pie back and forth a few times to make sure that it does not stick. Add a little more flour to the surface beneath the pie if it does.
Gently slide a lightly floured pizza peel beneath the pie, or place it carefully on a floured cutting board or the back of a baking pan. Make sure again that the dough can slide back and forth. If it does, the pie is certified for topping.
The act of topping a pizza is a gentle one. Use a light touch. Above all, try not to overload the pie, particularly its center, which will lead to an undercooked crust. Two to three tablespoons of sauce are all you need, and perhaps a small drizzle of olive oil, accompanied by a couple of other toppings.
Pizza sauce does not need to be cooked ahead of time, and is so simply prepared that there is no reason to use the store-bought variety. Instead, use a food processor to combine a can of whole, drained tomatoes with a splash of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt.
Spread the sauce out on the dough using the back of a spoon, stopping approximately 1/2 inch from the dough’s edges. Do not use too much; two or three tablespoons is enough. Keep leftover sauce refrigerated.
Mozzarella is the traditional pizza cheese, but depending on the sort of pie you are creating, really any good melting cheese will do: fontina, Cheddar, Colby, blue, provolone and smoked Gouda, among others, make for delicious pizzas.
Mead, Seafood & Eggs
Meat on a pizza is an option for some. Sausage and meatballs are both traditional toppings and should be cooked beforehand. Pepperoni, ham and other cured meats do not need to be, though delicate sheets of air-dried beef or pork should perhaps go onto the pie midway through or at the end of the cooking process, lest they dry out in the heat.
Anchovies are a marvelous addition to pizzas, and so are clams and mussels, even sheets of smoked salmon, particularly when paired with crème fraîche and capers.
Making a fried egg breakfast pizza is not for freshman-class pizza makers. Sliding a pizza topped with a raw egg into a hot oven takes patience and practice. In the meantime, while your pizza is cooking, gently fry an egg in olive oil in a small skillet on the stove, and when the pizza is done, slide it gently on top of the pie.
Vegetables & Fruits
You can put anything on a pizza. The question is where, and when. Herbs can go below cheese to protect them from the heat of the oven, or onto the top of the pie when it’s done.
Pineapple can take heat like a fireman and can go on from the start, raw. Grapes can, too (a nice pairing for sausage). Mushrooms, though, should be cooked on the stovetop before you use them as a topping for pizza. Likewise peppers both red and green. (Thinly-sliced jalapeno pepper is an exception.) Potatoes can go on a pizza raw only if you’re cooking in a very, very hot oven and you’ve sliced them very, very thinly – otherwise, parboil them before slicing and adding them to the top of a pie. Grilled asparagus is an excellent addition to a “white,” or tomato-free pizza. We like thinly sliced Brussels sprouts, sometimes, on similar pies (pair with pancetta!), and leeks melted slowly over butter as well.
As a rough guide: Precook anything that won’t cook fast, or cut it so thinly that it will. Anything delicate, like a pile of arugula dressed simply in lemon juice and oil, can go on the pie when it’s done, to cook gently in the pizza’s residual heat.
Cooking the Pizza
We cook most of our pizzas in the oven, on top of a stone or a steel. But you can bake pizza in a sheet pan as well, or grill it outdoors. You can even cook a pizza on a stovetop.
Baking in the Oven
Heat the oven. Generally, the hotter the oven, the better the pizza will be. The best oven temperature for pizza is between 450 and 500 degrees F (250 to 260 degrees C).
Tip: For a crunchy crust, preheat a baking sheet or cast iron skillet in the bottom of the oven. Once you load the pizza, toss ice cubes into the hot pan to create a burst of steam.
Form the pizza dough and place it on a peel dusted with a little flour or cornmeal. If you like, lightly brush the crust with olive oil. This helps create a golden brown, crispy crust rather than a dry, dusty outer crust.
Okay, the oven is hot and the pizza’s all topped and ready to roll.
Slip the pizza onto the hot pizza stone.
Tip: Jjiggle the peel to make sure the pizza isn’t sticking. You want it to slide off the peel easily. If it’s stuck, gently lift the sticky dough and dust with a wee bit more flour or cornmeal.
Place the tip of the peel on the edge of the stone at the back of the oven. With one swift motion, jerk the peel back out from under the pizza. If the pizza slides freely on the peel, it should land perfectly in the middle of the pizza stone. If the pizza sticks to the peel, your toppings will slide off the pizza onto the stone, and the kids will hear you say those words you’re not really supposed to use in front of them.
Close the oven door and let the pizza bake.
After 5 minutes of baking, check the pizza. If some spots are browning faster than others, turn the pizza; slip the peel underneath it like a giant spatula. Rotate the pizza on the peel and return it to the baking stone using the same swift motion described above.
If you like, remove the pizza from the oven halfway during baking to brush more oil on the crust. This added oil will help darken the crust and make it even tastier. For a little garlic flavor, infuse the oil with minced garlic.
The pizza is done when the cheese is melted to a medium-to-dark brown. Color means flavor. Carefully remove the pizza with the peel and let it cool slightly. If you want, top it with additional fresh toppings. Slice with a pizza wheel or chef’s knife, and serve to your adoring crowd.
Pan-Frying on the Stovetop
Cooking a pizza on top of the stove is a simple way to get started in the pizza-making game, and a single ball of dough will yield two pan pizzas.
Simply heat a 10-inch cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat, then film it with olive oil. Take one half of a ball of risen pizza dough and press it out into a circle just smaller than the pan.
When the oil shimmers, put the dough in the pan and adjust the heat so it browns evenly without burning. Prick the dough all over with the tines of a fork. Cook this round in the pan for a minute or so, then turn it over with the bottom is browned and cover with toppings. Either top the pan with a lid to melt the cheese or run it under a broiler to achieve the same result.
Grilling pizza really means grilling one side of a flatbread over fire, then turning it over and topping it. To cook a pizza on a grill requires some planning. You need to cook one side of the pizza before turning it over and topping it, and cooking the other side. So take time to assemble all the ingredients you’ll need to make the pizzas beforehand.
Prepare a hot fire; if your grill grate is clean, you shouldn’t need to oil it. Slide the pizza dough from the peel onto the rack. After a few minutes, use tongs to lift the dough and check whether it’s browning on the bottom. Watch closely so it doesn’t burn. When it’s nicely browned, use the tongs to flip the dough over, then brush it with olive oil and cover it with toppings. Place the lid on the grill for a few minutes more until the cheese is melted.
When pizza scalds the roof of your mouth, don’t blame the cheese. Most likely, it’s the sauce. That’s because heat is conserved in the wet sauce; and an insulating layer of cheese is very likely adding insult to injury. Next time you get a slice fresh from the oven, lift the heat-trapping lid of cheese with a fork, and you’ll see how the steam pours off the hot, hot sauce. It’s like the molten core of the earth in there.