PIZZA IS A WONDERFUL THING. UNFORTUNATELY, HOMEMADE PIZZA IN YOUR OVEN ISN’T A GAME-CHANGER.
The Homemade Pizza Problem
We Americans love our pizza. In this day and age of DYI and knowing your ingredients we have great reasons to learn the best ways to get a quality pie at home any time we want. To do the best job making pizza at home we have to look at cooking techniques and equipment.
There are a couple of huge differences between your oven at home and the multitude of commercial ones for cooking pizza. Outright heat is the first part and a solid slab, usually stone, is the second part. Pizza dough needs a ‘spring’ in the oven; direct contact with high heat to make the dough come alive and fill with air pockets for that light texture, and to get a great crispy exterior. That’s why these ovens run at 6-700 degrees (all temps are Fahrenheit), the wood fired ovens up as high as 900, and they all have a thick cooking surface that retains heat.
There are ways to mimic this process at home. We will share with you our favorites and the why behind choosing them. This includes using your kitchen oven, an existing grill, or getting a purpose-built outdoor pizza oven. Then we need to look at some must have accessories to simplify, expedite, and improve your process. These are by far not the only ways to accomplish great homemade pizza, but for our money they are the best ways to approach it and we will show you why.
Home Kitchen Oven Solution
Most of us have ovens that have a maximum temperature setting of 500 degrees, maybe 550 if you are lucky. This is enough to get good pizza if utilized correctly. We all know that one of the keys to evenly cooked in your oven is to be certain to preheat it well before the food goes in. Pizzas need you to go one step further. See, if you put a pizza in the oven in a pan, it will be a matter of minutes before the heat even touches the dough. And at that, with the pan between the pizza and the heat, there is a buffer to getting the most heat on the crust. The delay often results in the top getting too well done before the crust is completely cooked. Enter the classic stone, even better now, the solid steel sheet.
Here's the deal. The solid surface is made to be extremely temperature conductive, so it absorbs the heat while the oven, and it, preheat. The dough hits the surface, directly transmitting the stored temperature to get the spring and get the pizza crust cooked. This transfer process is significantly better than a pizza sitting on the open-air rack, or being put in the oven in a cold pan.
We are big fans of the Baking Steel, the latest and greatest, which is the next progression over stone cooking surfaces. Baking Steel produces fluffier and all-around better pizza than you would get from a stone cooked pizza. The steel works as a great reservoir of heat, then quickly absorbs and disperses more heat for the ongoing cooking process. Crusts will crisp up perfectly whether you are trying for thinner styles or American style pizza with lots of toppings. Did we mention this is actual steel? Sturdy and durable do not begin describe it, and it is very easy to maintain.
(BTW, the baking steel linked in the current article is unavailable as of 04/04)
Homemade Pizza on a Grill
We’ll go out on a limb here to safely say that each of you probably has a grill or a kettle barbecue, or both, at your home right now. There are conversion kits that allow you to use them for pizza cooking at pretty reasonable pricing. This is the next best thing to a dedicated pizza oven, here are two of the most popular conversion kits that produce great tasting crusts, and in turn, a great tasting pie.
The key to making these work, and this may sound familiar, is having a cooking surface to absorb, retain, and release the heat to the pizza crust in particular. If it sounds like we focus on the crust, we do. Essentially, when you create a cooking environment hot enough to create a great crust you have plenty of heat top melt the cheese and heat the toppings.
Pizza Oven Box Gas Grill Conversion
- By Baker Stone
The Pizza Oven Box is a universal gas grill conversion kit that will fit most any gas grill. Boasting 700 degrees in less than 3 min.
This is a great design that sits easily on top of your gas grill. With the stone surfaces completely surrounding the cooking space you get excellent heat retention. It will run as much as 200 degrees above your grill’s high temperature. Most grills take you pretty easily to 500, so you are smoking this with a nice 700 degrees, easily the range for quality artisan pizzas.
KettlePizza Weber/Kettle Grill Conversion Kit
- By Kettle Pizza
Transform your Weber charcoal grill into an efficient pizza oven. This conversion kit is also available without the pizza stone if you purchase the Basic Kit. Additionally, it made our list for Things Any Griller Should Own.
We are fans of function over form, but we have to admit this is a great looking product that immediately makes your trusty kettle grill look prepared for new cooking adventures. Super easy to use, you get your fire going, place the stone on your grill rack, set the unit in place with its great handles, then put the lid on. Not only does it contain the heat well, but it allows for circulation giving your crust edges great coloration and the whole pie hints of smoke flavors like an authentic wood fired pizza oven. The stone cooking surface gives you the contact heat needed to get the bottom of the crust just right while the convection heat cooks the top surface.
Ooni Karu 12 Outdoor Pizza Oven
- By Ooni
A transportable outdoor pizza oven that can produce results of a true outdoor pizza oven.
There is a lot to be said about having the right tool for the job. If you want to have a device specifically for cooking pizza, this is definitely the way to go. These units get hot, we’re talking well over 900 degrees in 15 minutes. They use charcoal and/or wood (we like some of each) to heat and add great flavors to artisan style pizzas. At first blush you may think this is too small. However, this unit literally cooks pizza in 1-2 minutes when it is fully up to temperature. Fast, efficient and really tasty, the Ooni oven will take your pizza game to a high level right away.
Grilling a Pizza Without Fancy Accessories
The challenge in using a grill without a conversion kit is the temperature; unless you have evenly disbursed heat, sections of the crust will burn and/or the toppings won't be cooked. There are many factors that affect cook time: heat, thickness of dough, amount of toppings and the duration of time the lid is off the grill while the dough is cooking. I feel like every time I'm using a Weber or gas grill to cook a pie, I'm at a friends house where we are grilling multiple personal sized pizzas; the biggest challenge is quickly adding the pizzas and quickly removing them. There's a fine line between doughy, crispy and burnt crust.
Using Your Standard Grill
A hot preheated grill is key; about 550°F. Cook the pizza dough on one side for three minutes without toppings. Then pull it off, add the toppings to the side with the grill marks and toss it back in the grill. Be sure to close the lid and cook for another 3 minutes. Other small details I find helpful: brushing the dough with olive oil, going light on the sauce, and owning a pizza peel.
Weber has a pretty good video on this process (see below). In the end, you'll discover your preferred method to get the perfect combination of crispy crust and cooked, juicy toppings.
Build Your Own Outdoor Pizza Oven On The Cheap
Step-by-step walk-through to create an easy, inexpensive outdoor wood burning pizza oven.
Tips for the Best Homemade Pizza
Preheating your device, no matter which of these you use is crucial. Getting everything up to temp will take differing times depending on what you are cooking with, but make sure you budget that time. With everything up to temperature you will get more evenly cooked pies and faster outcomes.
Have we mentioned pizza needs to be cooked at high heat? As a result, you also need to be attentive to the pie while it cooks. With the exception of using your oven, it is very important that you watch the pizza and rotate it to promote even cooking. Typically, you make the first rotation at the halfway point of cooking time, turning 180 degrees. The crust should have adequately cooked so that the pizza is easy to move. In some ovens you may want to make another turn of the pie before it finishes.
When you are working with the dough, the same characteristic that makes it pliable and easy to shape for your pizza can make it stickier and it will adhere to surfaces. For bread making you use flour to keep it slippery, however at the temperatures we like for cooking pizza, flour can scorch. As a result, corn meal is the go-to grain for releasing your dough. It has high heat resistance and adds nominal flavor. Trust us, when you have a beautiful pie built and ready to cook, there is nothing more frustrating than having it stick and bunch up when you are putting it on the hot surface.
With these homemade pizza making ovens you'll be well on your way to great tasking pizza, at home!
Here are some choice recipes to try with your new pizza oven:
Tools and Accessories
1. Metal Peel Of Choice
You need to have a peel. That is the proper term for the big flat spatula device for moving pizzas around. There are some beautiful wood peels out there, but for our money the metal ones work better. They are lighter and they slip under the pizza more easily. Frankly, the solid sheet is the most functional. There are perforated designs, the theory being less surface to stick to by the dough. But when you use corn meal to keep I the dough slippery it falls through the perforations, more than undoing any benefit.
2. Gloves Of Choice
Heat resistant gloves are handier than trying to use hot pads and allow for typically more coordination than hot mitts. There are great choices out there that still allow you to use your hands and fingers quite freely. Preparation and handling of everything involved can expose your hands to some very high temps, and better safe than sorry, not to mention most of us flinch when we touch a hot surface resulting in flying food or other mishaps.
Knowledge is power, and knowing how hot your cooking environment is, defines important information. We are big fans of thermometers wired to a base unit, and Fireboard is one of the best products out there. It has a rechargeable battery and is Wi-Fi and Bluetooth enabled for remote monitoring of where your temperatures are holding. For those of you using a kettle set up this unit will even control a fan that will kick in when the temperature is low, sending forced air into the kettle to fan the coals to heat up. It makes it very similar to using your indoor oven and thermostatically controlled temps.
4. Pizza Rake Of Choice
For your outdoor cooking techniques explored here a pizza rake, often called an ash rake as well, is a good tool to have nearby, especially if you are cycling a few pies through the same oven. They look like a little garden hoe and they are good at pushing off any ash, residual corn meal or such, or anything else the pizza may have sluffed off during cooking. This leaves a cleaner surface for the next pie, in this situation where you can’t actually wash it off in between.