Would you like to make a better pizza at home? Are you discouraged by those who say you need to use a pizza stone or even a wood-burning oven? As a former Research and Development person for a national pizza chain, I’m sharing 9 tips for making the best homemade pizza without a baking stone.
What would you guess is the most common mistake people make with homemade pizza? I haven’t done a scientific survey of course, but based on my observations at many DIY pizza parties, I have a good idea. Read to the end of the post to find out if your guess matches mine.
Go preheat your oven to 450 degrees F and let’s get started.
This post was originally posted in 2014 but has since been updated with new pictures and new “secrets.” The recipe for chicken cilantro pizza (seen above) has been published separately.
Regarding the crust
If you use a good crust recipe and follow these suggestions, I doubt if you’ll miss using a pizza stone unless you prefer your crust dry and slightly burned. (No judgment here. It’s just a different kind of pizza.)
Use heavy and dark-colored pizza pans.
Try to find a heavy baking pan with a dark finish for a crispy crust that will hold up to all the sauce, cheese, and various ingredients you’re dreaming about.
Commercial pizza pans like the one pictured above are my favorite. “Used” pizza pans are even better because they come with a patina similar to an iron skillet. As a result, there’s no need to wash them. Simply wipe them clean with a paper towel.
Where do I find these magic pans?
Check eBay. The used ones coming from a closed pizza restaurant are the best (and usually cheap, too!)
Coat your pizza pan generously with olive oil.
Restaurants use an insane amount of oil in the bottom of the pan. That’s one reason why their pizza is so good…and filling. All that oil adds FLAVOR and CRISPINESS. Using a pizza stone will give you a dry, crisp crust. This method will also give you a crispy crust but with tons of flavor.
How much oil? Start with 1-2 tablespoons for a 14-inch pan.
Check out the underside of this pizza crust baked with plenty of olive oil. I wish you could “scratch and taste.”
My litmus test for an extraordinary pizza crust?
When I can hold a slice grasping only the outer edge, and the pizza doesn’t bend down at the point of the wedge. Yep! That’s what I’m looking for. Well-baked and crispy. Doesn’t matter whether the crust is thick or thin.
You might be wondering
What do you do differently if you want a thin and crispy crust versus a thicker, chewy crust?
Thin and Crispy: After you make the dough, don’t let it rise more than a few minutes before you prepare it for the pizza pan. Use a rolling pin to roll it out thinly and evenly.
You might even want to dock the dough after you get it into the pan. Translation: Poke the dough with a fork all over so it will be more like a cracker. Proceed to add the sauce, cheese, and toppings and get it into the oven ASAP.
Thick and Chewy (but still crispy on the bottom): Let dough rise until almost double in size after it has been kneaded. Press down, then use your fingers to press dough into the bottom of the pan. If the
Before we go any farther, let me emphasize the right sequence for the layers of a pizza.
Build your pizza in this order
- Meat and/or veggies
- A light sprinkle of additional cheese
- Herbs or lettuce (After baking)
Regarding the sauce on homemade pizza
Go easy on the sauce.
Use too much sauce and your pizza will be difficult to bake all the way through.
Also, too much sauce can cause a “topping-slide.” That’s when all the cheese, meat, and vegetables pull off your pizza slice with the first bite. You should be able to see a bit of crust through your sauce.
Regarding the cheese on homemade pizza
Sprinkle the cheese over the sauce BEFORE toppings.
Using this order keeps the cheese from burning. In addition, it glues the toppings to the pizza while allowing them to bake completely.
I like lots of cheese, but just like too much sauce, too much cheese can make it difficult to get a crispy and completely-baked crust. Another option is to save some cheese to sprinkle over the top. This can protect delicate ingredients such as spinach.
Regarding toppings for the best homemade pizza
Be mindful of ingredients that will exude water as they bake.
Toppings such as pineapple and fresh mushrooms can leave little puddles of water that take a long time to dry out before your pizza can brown. Either pat them dry with a paper towel or cut into smaller pieces.
Want to add meat to your pizza?
You can find fully-cooked ground beef, sausage, and grilled chicken in my freezer at all times to make quick work of assembling a pizza. Defrosting the meat before adding to your pizza will avoid the aforementioned puddles and raw spots in the middle of your pizza.
Add fresh herbs AFTER baking.
Sprinkle herbs onto your pizza as soon as you take it out of the oven. Otherwise, they will wilt and turn brown. Not appetizing.
And now….the #1 mistake I see people make when building a pizza at home:
Don’t overload your pizza with toppings.
Does it seem like we’ve already talked about this?
This principle applies to everything. Just like excessive cheese and sauce, too many toppings will keep your pizza from baking in a timely matter. The outer crust will over-bake and the middle will be doughy if you pile on too many ingredients.
Regarding the baking process
Turn the oven up HIGH.
Be sure you preheat your oven. In fact, turn it on when you walk into the kitchen. Personally, I pre-heat my oven to 450 degrees F then turn it back to 425 degrees F when I actually put the pizza in the oven.
Check for air bubbles while pizza bakes.
Bubbles happen most often with plain cheese pizza when extra ingredients don’t hold the dough down quite as well. So watch out for that.
After about 8-10 minutes, look in on your pizza. Have any large air bubbles developed? If so prick them with a sharp pointy knife or a fork. Failure to do this will result in a soft, white crust under the bubble.
You might want to pin the following list for future reference.
p.s. I make my own pizza crust dough in a bread machine using the dough cycle. If you prefer whole wheat, here is a honey whole wheat pizza dough recipe cloned from California Pizza Kitchen. Either recipe can be assembled with a bread machine, a stand mixer, a food processor, or by hand.