With a few simple tweaks, you can fire up a great pizza in your own kitchen.

By Chris Malloy
April 13, 2020
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Honing your pizza skills is a modest time investment and a lifelong gift: to your family, your friends, and yourself. Luckily, many tricks of the great pizzaioli are accessible to home cooks. Though our ovens can’t soar above 500 degrees like the wood-fired chambers of Naples, we have plenty of valuable cards in our deck. Next time you want to fire up a pie at home, try a few of these painless upgrades.

Make your own dough and try longer fermentations.

Dough seems tricky. But it’s just a few ingredients: flour, water, yeast, salt, and sometimes olive oil. It can rise for anywhere from an hour to three or four days. When you stash dough in your fridge (making for a slower rise), it is possible to make it the night before you intend to bake pizza. You’ll find that a longer-risen dough develops more flavor.

Consider using cooked marinara sauce.

Most pizzerias top red pies with uncooked sauce from the crushed tomato can. At home, you can build added layers of flavor by using a long-cooked Sunday sauce. This gives red pies a concentrated intensity, one that requires little active work to achieve, especially if you already happen to have leftover marinara in the fridge. And because the sauce has been cooked down, it will yield less moisture when baked. (If you use a cooked sauce, let it cool first.)

Embrace the sheet pan.

You don’t need a fancy, hard-to-clean stone to make great pizza. All you need is a workhorse nonstick sheet pan. Be sure to rub the pan with a thin slicking of olive oil before you start to shape the dough on it. With a sheet pan, crust develops a crisp exterior. Your pizza will also be easy to remove from the pan.

Add toppings with a light hand.

Though raining on peppers, olives, and meat might seem fun, you don’t need many toppings at all. Toppings give up their water as they bake. They can make your dough soggy and create a soupy situation on top, which can seep into the dough. Further, some toppings carry more water than others. If you’re using, say, mushrooms, give them a roast or sauté before, that way they’ve already dried some. Also, you might want to consider blotting wet ingredients like jarred peppers or artichokes dry with a paper towel before adding them.

Go small but mighty with toppings.

When you go minimal with toppings, be sure you use the most flavorful ones you can. Chopped garlic is a wonder. So are thin slices of pickled chiles. And you don’t need me to tell you about torn basil. With toppings, follow the seasons. If it’s winter and potatoes are at their height, consider making a white pie with thin coins of potato, a cheese like Fontina, and a dusting of rosemary.

Revise your approach to pizza flour.

Unlike canned corn or dry soba noodles, flour isn’t a completely shelf-stable product. It’s best on the fresh side. If you’re spending the time to make homemade dough, be sure to grab a new bag of flour if yours has been open more than a few months. Finely milled Italian 00 flour is a solid bet, especially if you want to emulate as closely as you can in a home oven, Neapolitan style. AP flour also does the trick just fine.

Finish with good olive oil and aged cheese.

Your pizza is finished, steaming, and ready to be cut. You turn off your oven and get ready to eat. Guess what? You still have one more prime chance to add flavor! Shaving Parmesan or even a cheese like aged gouda (for white pies) can add some last-minute depth. So can a final dousing of your favorite extra virgin olive oil.