Pizza Theory 101: How to Make the Best Pizza
Everyone knows what good pizza tastes like. But why does good pizza taste so good? In order to know what makes pizza taste amazing, you also have to know what makes pizza suck. You may have tried to make your own homemade pizza before, only to go back to frozen pizza or delivery. Simple mistakes like trying to stretch cold dough, buying pre-made pizza sauce, or using the wrong kind of cheese can ruin your homemade pizza experience.
You might not have the time to make your own dough, or the money to splurge on San Marzano tomatoes for your pizza sauce. That’s okay — you can still make pizza at home that’s better than Papa John’s. We’ll walk through what not to do (basic), what you can do in a pinch (mediocre), and how to make the best pizza possible (extra).
Dough makes or breaks a pizza. It has to have chew. It should be crispy on the bottom and it shouldn’t droop. It needs to support the sauce, cheese, and toppings. Without dough, you don’t have pizza! Don’t skimp out on the dough.
🍕 Basic: More than likely, you had homemade pizza when you were a kid. Maybe it was a fun meal where everyone got to make their own pizza. If you were like us, then the pizza probably came from a Kraft Pizza Kit. It doesn’t get much more basic than this. All you have to do is to add water and badda boom, badda bing, you have pizza dough. Make a ball, cover it and let it rise for 10 minutes, then stretch it out on your finest baking sheet (and by finest we mean that one that no one’s cleaned properly in years), and cook it. No special ingredients or techniques required. What comes out it the most bland and uninspired crust ever. It has an unforgettable taste — one that over 15 years later we were able to recall perfectly before biting into it. We’re not exactly sure what gives it that taste. Is it too much sugar? Too much yeast? We don’t know.
🍕 Mediocre: If you don’t have time or are too hungry to make dough and wait for it to rise, you can always use a store bought pizza crust or dough. In our experience, this has yielded better results than the Kraft Pizza Kits. Most grocery stores have balls of pizza dough that you can buy if you’re too intimidated to make your own or don’t have time. If you go for a pre-baked pizza crust, not all are made equal. It might be hit or miss.
🍕 Extra: Want to up your pizza game? Why not make your own dough. Be warned, this can go very, very wrong if you aren’t familiar with making dough. There are slight variations in different recipes for pizza dough, but the basic ingredients are flour, yeast, water, and salt. Some recipes add sugar, some don’t. Also watch for recipes calling for active vs instant yeast — this will affect the steps you take to make your dough. Also, don’t be like us and attempt to modify the recipe to accommodate for a different yeast only to forget to modify the amount of water. Just follow the recipe and you’ll be fine. Make sure that your dough ball looks perfect and has the texture you want before it rises. No amount of rising will fix a shitty dough ball. (#MediocreChefWordsOfWisdom)
If you want to be super extra, you can try Claire’s dough recipe from Bon Appetit.
Pizza sauce is the star of the show for many of the traditional Neapolitan pizzas — margherita and marinara pizzas wouldn’t be what they are without their amazing sauce. Not all tomato sauce is made equal!
🍅 Basic: Our basic crust came from a Kraft Pizza kit, so you can bet that our basic sauce came from it as well. When we opened the can we were met with a sickly, gelatinous, orange blob of tomato... sauce? To us, it looked and smelled like the tomato sauce that accompanies Chef Boyardee ravioli. The taste is basically the same as well. Most store-bought pizza sauce is too sweet and has no place being anywhere near a pizza. Avoid!
🍅 Mediocre: The way to immediately step up your pizza sauce game is to do away with pre-made sauce and make your own. And it literally cannot be easier (it’s also super cheap). Buy a can of crushed tomatoes and add your own seasoning — this allows you to control how your pizza sauce tastes. We added oregano and some salt and pepper to taste. That’s it! No simmering, no cooking for hours. Try it and we guarantee that you won’t ever go back to pre-made pizza sauces ever again.
🍅 Extra: To get to that god-like level with your pizza game, use canned San Marzano tomatoes for your sauce. Blitz the tomatoes in a food processor, or if you’re fancy, use a mill. Add a little salt and some fresh basil (if your tomatoes didn’t come with it — some do, some don’t), olive oil, and however much garlic your heart desires to your tomato base. Congrats, you’ve just made a bomb-ass sauce.
Everybody loves cheese. But what cheese goes on pizza? Is there a wrong cheese? A right cheese? Traditionally, mozzarella is used, or more specifically low moisture mozzarella, which is typically between 45 to 52%.
🧀 Basic: So you’ve made it this far with the Kraft Pizza kit. What kind of cheese do you use? Definitely the “100% Grated Parmesan Cheese” that comes included with your kit. Also if you’re making pizza with a Kraft Pizza kit you’re probably the type of person who would throw cheddar cheese on their pizza, so just go ahead and do that now. Really throw whatever kind of cheese you want on it — you’re using a Kraft Pizza Kit, so it’s not like you’re trying to impress anyone.
🧀 Mediocre: Okay, so you’ve decided to take the mediocre route and now it’s time for cheese. Go to the grocery store and head straight for the cheese section. Look for anything that says “Pizza Mozzarella” on it. Shred some of that with a cheese grater (or just cut it up into chunks for a more traditional look) and layer it on the pizza. That’s it. Mozzarella > other cheeses on pizza because it’s stretchier, melts better, and browns better in the oven.
🧀 Extra: So you’ve got your low moisture mozzarella. Delish. If you want to be authentic, skip out on grating your mozzarella and scatter chunks of mozzarella around your pizza. To go one step further, grate some Parmesan on top when your pie comes out of the oven.
We were going to rank toppings as basic, mediocre, and extra, but that would really be subject to our own personal preference. For example, we’re divided on the pineapple on pizza issue. If you have a good dough, sauce, and cheese, you really don’t need a whole lot of complex toppings to make your pizza great — sometimes simple is better.
Pizzas with 4+ toppings are all the rage nowadays. And don’t get us wrong, they’re good. But sometimes we don’t want our taste buds to go on a roller-coaster ride of flavours. Sometimes we just want the simple shit.
Some of our favourite classic combinations include:
Margherita — just add basil on top of your plain pie after it has cooked and cooled slightly so the basil doesn’t brown.
Pepperoni — basic, but good.
Prosciutto + arugula — a nice balanced combo.
Ham + pineapple — Brittany likes this. Trevor is not a fan.
Choose your toppings wisely!
Do I Need A Pizza Stone?
Yes. And No. I mean, if you don’t plan on cooking a lot of pizza at home, it’s probably not worth it to invest in a pizza stone. But if you want to have the best pizza crust or plan on making homemade pizza regularly, definitely invest in a stone. Looking to buy one? Check out this list. In a pinch, you can use an upside down baking sheet.
What Temperature Should I Cook My Pizza At?
You want your oven to be HOT! 🔥 550°F is ideal. Heating up your pizza stone in the oven is the key to crispy crust and golden brown cheese. You won’t be able to make your oven as hot as a wood-fired pizza oven — those can get up to 800°F! You’ll still be able to make great pizza, but it might not have the same char that restaurant pizza has.
Cook your pizza until it looks done! It really depends on your oven and the thickness of your crust. Watch for bubbly cheese and for the colour of your crust to change.
So what route should you take? That’s all going to depend on your budget and how much time you have to spare. If you hadn’t noticed, we shit on the Kraft Pizza Kit quite a bit in this post. Now, we aren’t necessarily against food that comes in a kit form. If you’re on a budget, or have to feed a large group of people, it can be nice to have all your ingredients in one convenient package. However, fucking however, where we live the Kraft Pizza Kit cost $7.99. The pre-made crust we bought cost $3.49. (But it was a thicker crust. You can get two thin crusts for the same price.) A large can of crushed tomatoes costs ~$1.50. So for 37% cheaper you get something that tastes 1000% better. We understand the economics behind this, and we get that Kraft is charging everyone for laziness, but come on.
To summarize pizza theory 101:
Make a homemade dough. Stretch it, don’t roll it. And ensure that it’s at room temperature.
You are your own sauce boss — season to your taste. Use San Marzano tomatoes if you have $$, but other canned tomatoes will do just fine.
Use low-moisture mozzarella cheese. It’s stringy, melty, and delicious. High moisture mozzarella will make your pizza soggy. Gross. Grate Parmesan on top after baking!
Choose your toppings wisely — sometimes less is more. Not all toppings should be cooked (e.g. basil, arugula).
Use a pizza stone for the perfect crispy crust.
Happy pizza making! 🍕
What’s your favourite combination of toppings? Let us know in the comments below!