The Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Making Pizza at Home

published Sep 7, 2020
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You probably don’t need me to convince you of the pleasures of eating pizza. The crispy-chewy crust, tangy sauce, and burnished cheese of a slice of pizza pie is universally adored. Making pizza at home though gets lumped along crafts cooking projects, like beer brewing or sourdough bread baking, as something to only be entered into seriously, in pursuit of perfection. Still, with 1.1 million search queries (just on Kitchn, just since June!) for everything from thin-crust dough to how to make perfect pizza at home, it seems like many of you are eager to at least attempt pizza at home.

While there are blogs and books dedicated to making pizza like some experts (with backyard wood-fired pizza ovens), I want you to know that you don’t need any of that. You can make exquisite, crave-worthy pizza in your own kitchen without much more than some mixing bowls, a sturdy sheet pan, and your oven. This guide will walk you through pizza dough basics, some tools that are nice to have on hand, plus tips for topping and cooking your pizza without stress.

Why You Should Be Making Pizza at Home

At Kitchn we’re big believers in a pizza for every place and time — you can have a love for delivery pizza, a favorite frozen pizza, and a signature-style, from-scratch pizza at home. I’ve been cooking pizza at home most Friday nights for over a decade and I pinkie promise that the only thing you really need is a willingness to try. You’ll probably have a few mediocre pies in the beginning while you figure out what pizza dough works best for your schedule and how hot you can really crank your oven. But there’s almost no other cooking project quite as soul-soothing as pizza. Once you’ve got the basics down, you’ll also see how it can be a fun, easy weeknight dinner anytime you want it.

Already a pizza pro? All of Our Pizza Recipes, All in One Place

Credit: Joe Lingeman

Great Dough Makes Great Pizza

If I could implore you to invest all of your pizza efforts into one thing, it would be the dough. With great pizza dough, you can have mediocre toppings and still have delicious pizza — but the reverse is simply not true.

Pizza dough is made from just a handful of basic ingredients: flour, water, yeast, and salt. Some recipes include a little sugar or olive oil for flavor and texture too, but they aren’t essential. Time is an often-overlooked ingredient in pizza dough — if you can get your dough ingredients together in advance, you don’t have to do a lot of mixing by hand and your dough will develop a deep flavor and be chewier after baking too. At home, I mix up Friday’s dough on Thursday afternoon, let it rest, knead it a bit by hand, and then stick it in the fridge until Friday evening.

Bringing chilled pizza dough — whether you make it or buy it — to room temperature before shaping and topping is critical. Cold dough is very hard to stretch!

Our Best Pizza Dough Recipes

Can I Use Pre-Made Pizza Dough?

This is one of my favorite tricks for having homemade pizza even when I’ve forgotten to make dough. If possible, buy the dough directly from your favorite pizza shop for best flavor and quality. Many grocery stores also carry pizza dough in their bakery sections, which beats the pants off of anything you can buy in a tube.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

The Best Tools for Making Pizza at Home

Repeat after me: You do not need a fancy pizza oven, pizza steel, or pizza scissors to make excellent pizza at home. These few tools, many of which you already have on hand, will make your dough mixing, shaping, and cooking much easier.

  • A kitchen scale: Weighing your pizza dough ingredients means you don’t need to dirty any measuring cups. You can pull out your mixing bowl and your scale, weigh and tare your ingredients, and have pizza dough assembled in less than 10 minutes — even Giada agrees.
  • A sturdy sheet pan: A pizza stone or baking steel is a wonderful tool to have, but when you’re first getting started with pizza at home, baking your pizza on an inverted baking sheet works just fine.
  • A pizza peel: Yes, you should buy a pizza peel before you invest in a pizza stone. This tool will help with arguably the hardest, most annoying pizza-at-home task: moving your shaped and topped pizza into a hot oven. A good aluminum pizza peel is easy to clean, has a nice sharp edge to really get under cooked crust, and will cost less than $20.

When you’re ready to invest in more pizza tools, your next investment should be a pizza stone or baking steel. I prefer a pizza steel for its thin profile (it heats faster than a stone) and how easy it is to store when not in use.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

Keep the Sauce and Toppings Simple

I hold a very strong opinion that the best pizza sauce is one that you don’t cook before it goes on. Good San Marzano tomatoes and a little garlic is everything you need for the classic cheese pie. Grab some good cheeses (three of them, to be exact): fresh mozzarella, part-skim mozzarella, and a nice aged cheese Parmesan. Keeping the toppings minimal highlights all your pizza dough efforts and prevents soggy or burned crust as you figure out your oven’s high temperature.

Simple Sauces and Toppings

Credit: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn

How to Get Crispy Pizza Crust at Home

Again, your pizza dough directs the texture of your finished pizza crust — a wetter dough with a longer rest time will give you a thin and crispy crust no matter how you cook it.

Many folks get tripped up at the shaping and stretching step — mastering this will also give you a thinner crisper crust. Make sure your pizza dough is brought to room temperature and well-rested before stretching. And hey, if at anytime your dough feels tough, just cover it with a clean kitchen towel and let it rest again

The biggest difference between a home oven and a commercial pizza ovens is heat. While most home ovens can’t heat beyond 550 degrees (mine personally tops out at 500 degrees F), you can hack your home oven to mimic a pizza oven. Set a rack in the top third of your oven and set an inverted baking sheet on the rack. Preheat the oven as high as it will go. When your pizza and your oven are ready, add your pizza to the pan and then switch on your oven’s broiler. This cooks the pizza from all sides with the highest heat your oven can produce. Repeat heating and switching to the broiler between each pizza, if you’re cooking more than one.

Storing and Reheating Pizza Leftovers

Leftover pizza is an excellent bonus of your pizza-making efforts, but make sure you store it correctly — layered crust to cheese, not cheese to cheese — and take the time to reheat it well. Reheat your homemade pizza in a stovetop skillet with a little water to get a crisp crust and soft, melty cheese the next day.

One of the reasons we love pizza so much is that even sub-par pieces are delicious, so don’t lose steam if your first few attempts at pizza in your own kitchen don’t rival a trip to Rome! Focus on finding a dough that you can make with ease, get your oven as hot as it will go and give it plenty of time to preheat, keep your toppings simple, and you’ll be eating crispy, chewy, cheese pizza — just the way you like it — with just a few Pizza Fridays at home.