If You Can’t Stand The Heat—Don’t Make Pizza
Pizza is one of those quintessential food items that so many people adore.
With its combination of crisp, chewy crust, tangy tomato sauce, tasty toppings, and gooey, melted cheese, it’s no surprise that many people want to develop their own specialized pizza recipes and make custom pizzas at home. In addition to having your own great recipes for crusts and sauces, it’s equally important to consider the role that an oven’s temperature plays in creating amazing pizzas. There are a variety of ways to look at the ideal temperature for cooking a pizza, and it probably starts with the equipment you have to cook it.
Pizza at Home
Before we get into specialized equipment installed by pizza aficionados, let’s start with how to get the best pizza out of a standard oven that most people have in their homes. Anyone who has ever cooked a frozen pizza knows that higher heat is advised for cooking a pizza effectively. Typically, a temperature of 400-plus degrees is necessary.
For homemade pizza, hotter is not always better. For example, for homemade pizzas with thinner crusts, it may be a good idea to have a higher heat—perhaps around 450 degrees. This will cook the crust quickly, achieving that crunchy, crispiness that thin crust lovers crave.
It will also provide the right amount of heat to get the sauce bubbling and melt the cheese. As a side note, it’s probably best to pre-cook any meat toppings before putting them on a homemade pizza cooked in a standard oven. This will allow the toppings to get hot, but take away any worry about eating undercooked meats.
If you prefer a thicker crust, it doesn’t follow that the oven should be hotter than it is for a thin crust pizza. On the contrary, having a thicker crust means that you want to keep the pizza in the oven a little longer to make sure the outer crust is crisp, while the inside of the crust develops that wonderful chewy texture. A temperature of 400 degrees will allow your thicker crust to cook thoroughly while avoiding the risk of overcooking the toppings, sauce, and cheese.
Restaurant Pizza Ovens
Whether or not they use wood, electric, or gas-powered ovens, most professional pizza kitchens have ovens that get almost twice as hot as standard home ovens. This is one of the reasons it can be so difficult to duplicate that pizza from your favorite restaurant at home. There are a few reasons why this extremely high heat is ideal for cooking pizzas.
First, as mentioned above, for thinner crust pizzas, the primary purpose of the oven is to quickly bake the crust, heat up the sauce, and melt the cheese. All of these things can happen very quickly in a hot oven without burning the pizza. Secondly, in addition to producing a better final product, restaurants want to reduce a pizza’s time in the oven in order to turn over orders more quickly.
The more pizzas they can cook in less time, the more profits they can make. Finally, with more mass production happening in their restaurants, a pizza oven is likely to be opened and closed many times during their hours of operation. A hotter oven can reset to a more effective baking temperature faster and prevent the oven from getting so cold that it affects the baking time.
How to Bring the Heat to Homemade Pizza
If you want to make your own homemade pizza, but aren’t sure how to bump up the heat, there are a few things you can do to get closer to that high-heat pizza from a professional kitchen (before you tear apart your kitchen and put in a professional-grade oven). One of the easiest ways to up your pizza game is by adding some relatively inexpensive supplies. Start with purchasing a simple pizza stone for your oven.
The pizza stone goes in your oven as it is preheated and retains heat better over time than a metal pizza pan. To use the pizza stone, it is a good idea to also purchase a wooden pizza peel, which is a paddle-shaped utensil that holds the pizza while you add toppings. You have probably seen professional pizza peels in use at your favorite pizza restaurant. The pizza peel is used to transfer the pizza to the stone in the oven and retrieve it when cooking is complete.
To complete this process, purchase some cornmeal or semolina flour to dust under your homemade crust.
This is an important step, otherwise, your crust will stick to the peel and make it impossible to slide it onto the pizza stone while still retaining its shape. You can also use regular flour but cornmeal (from ground corn) or semolina flour, which is made from hard, durum wheat, have coarser textures, and can add a subtle nuttier taste to your pizza creations. Many Italian cooks use semolina flour to dust under their pizza crusts.
If you really want to commit to making fantastic homemade pizza, you may want to go all-in and build your own pizza oven.
There are a lot of different options that range from around $50 to highly custom ovens that can cost in the thousands. There are many online videos dedicated to building pizza ovens depending on how permanent you want the oven to be and how much you want to spend. Residential pizza ovens typically use wood or natural gas (or propane) as a fuel source. Many pizza connoisseurs like the additional smokiness that a wood heating source brings to the pizza cooking process.
Most DIY pizza ovens are made for outdoor use. Because of their high heat levels, building a brick pizza oven in your kitchen that can achieve the same temperatures as a professional oven should be left to professionals.