Monday, April 18, 2011

Homemade Pizza With Perfectly Crisp Crust (and It's Easy)

I consider myself a pretty good cook.  However, there are a handful of things it took me quite awhile to master.  One of them, surprisingly enough, was pizza.  For some reason, I just couldn't get the dough thin enough and I couldn't get it crisp enough on the bottom.  Every pizza I made ended-up thick and bready with little or no toasted color.

After awhile and a LOT of trial and error, I finally figured out the missing pieces to the formula:
  • If you're making dough from scratch, knead it really well.  To get it thin, you need a really elastic dough instead of a springy one.  Adding a couple tablespoons of olive oil to the dough during mixing really seems to help.
  • If using refrigerated dough, let the dough come to room temperature first (maybe half an hour) but don't let it rise.  This does two things.  First, it relaxes the gluten to keep it from springing-back when you try to stretch it and it lets the yeast wake-up so they'll do their job in the oven.
  • Commercial pizza ovens (aka "deck" ovens) run at well over 500 degrees and have ceramic floors that hold the heat and keep it evenly distributed.  To get anywhere near a crisp crust, you've gotta be willing to jack your oven up to at least 500 and it has to be pre-heated before putting the pizza in.  That also means you have to keep it fairly clean as anything on the floor or walls of the oven at that temperature will definitely smoke and set-off the alarms in the house (I'm telling you this from experience).
  • A pizza stone will help matters but it's not necessary.  A good sheet pan with a little olive oil on it will do.  If you're going to use a stone, you need to bake the pizza right on the stone and be able to get it off and on the hot stone without mangling it or dropping the cheese.  This pretty much requires a pizza peel (those big wooden pizza boards with handles) and it takes a lot of practice to shimmy a loaded pizza onto it.
  • Don't overload the pie.  More toppings mean it's going to take longer for heat to get through to cook the top.
If all this sounds overly complicated to you, there is another way!  Just crank-up the family gas grill.  Grills are ideal for pizza making because they can get up to 500+ without even trying.  Plus, you can do small pizzas and let everyone do their own toppings.  I have two methods I commonly use:

Method #1 - On a Peel

1) Pre-heat your grill on high and clean the grates with a grill brush.

2) Stretch or roll-out your dough with a rolling pin and place it onto a pizza peel.  Make sure there's plenty of flour underneath the dough and that the dough moves freely when you shake the peel.

3) Load-up the pizza with toppings but be extremely careful not to overload it.

4) Using the peel, start shimmying the pizza (moving the peel forward and backward) until it hangs off the peel by about an inch.  Let the hanging dough touch the grates and carefully allow the remainder of the pizza to slide off the peel and onto the grates.  This takes some practice and it's best to practice with a naked crust and then load it up once it's on the grill.

5) Reduce the heat to medium-high.  Close the cover and cook until the crust and cheese are done to your liking.

Method #2 - No Peel, Pre-Cook Crust
This method works best for individual pies because you can pre-cook the crust a bit, let people fill them, then finish the job.

1) Pre-heat your grill on high and clean the grates with a grill brush.

2) Shape the dough into rounds and gently place them onto the grates.  Cook 1-2 minutes until the bottom has firmed-up.  Remove the pizza to a plate or cutting board, cooked-side up.

3) Dress the cooked side of the pizza with toppings.  These can take heavier toppings but it's still best not to overdo it.

4) Reduce the heat on the grill to medium.  Place the pie(s) back on the grate and close the lid.  Continue to cook until the crust and cheese are done to your liking.


  1. That's pretty much the method I figured out. Now we have homemade pizza a few times a month. We also dust the sheet pans with a little cornmeal.

  2. I miss the Supreme / Superior bakery pre-made dough and pizza shells - they don't sell anything like those in the grocery stores in Virginia! :( I've been using the pre-made crust at Giant a.k.a. Stop and Shop. I pre-heat oven with greased cookie tray already inside. I like my pizza crispy and this seems the only way to get the S&S kind to behave.


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