11 Tips for Making the Absolute Best Pizza

That exceptional slice (complete with a stretchy cheese-pull) is less elusive than you think.

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Photo By: Evi Abeler

Photo By: Evi Abeler

Photo By: Evi Abeler

Photo By: Evi Abeler

Photo By: Evi Abeler

Photo By: Evi Abeler

Photo By: Evi Abeler

Photo By: Evi Abeler

Photo By: Evi Abeler

Photo By: Evi Abeler

Forget Delivery

Nope, picking up the phone isn't the first step to parlor-quality pies. You can get that chewy crust and stretchy cheese at home when you follow these pointers. You already have the right ingredients and tools — but a few tweaks in how you handle them can make all the difference.

Make Sure the Oven Is HOT

If you're using a standard oven, you want to get it up to 550 degrees F. Also important: You need a cooking surface that heats up and stays hot. A pizza stone, oven rack lined with quarry tiles or even a simple overturned sheet pan will work, so long as you give it ample time to preheat. If you have a wood-burning pizza oven, start the fire 45 minutes to an hour before you begin baking.

Don't Use Cold Dough

Remove it from the fridge a half hour to an hour before cooking so it can warm to room temperature. This will help relax the gluten — allowing you to stretch your pizza into shape easily without overworking it (which makes the dough tough).

Use a Pizza Peel — Or Sheet Pan

The fastest way to a crisp and chewy crust is cooking the dough directly on a heated surface. But how to get a loaded pie onto a screaming hot pizza stone? Enter the pizza peel; lightly flour the surface and the pie will slide right off. Or fake one and use a turned-over cookie sheet or sheet pan. Beginners can build their pie on a piece of parchment, then slide it — paper and all — into the oven. (Discard the singed paper before serving.)

Stretch (Don't Roll!) the Dough

Once your dough is rested and warmed to room temperature, it will be very elastic and easy to stretch with a slightly bubbly texture. You want to keep it that way, so skip the rolling pin, which will just deflate the dough and give you a cardboard crust. Ditto for shaping the dough by pressing and patting down (which will also make it stick to your work surface). Instead, put the ball of dough on a floured pizza peel and use curved fingers to gently pull from the center to make a round or oval shape with a raised crust at the edge. Work your hands around the edge, lifting so that gravity does the work to stretch the dough very thin. Don't worry about making a perfect circle. Think of those giant Neapolitan beauties, with their slightly irregular shapes and bubbly surfaces.

Add Just a Thin Layer of Tomato Sauce

Or your crust will be soggy. Fresh tomato slices should also be thin — and benefit from salting and patting dry. If you've got cherry or grape tomatoes, halve or slice them and then gently squeeze out the excess juices. Ditto for canned whole tomatoes: Tear them up to release their water, then pat dry. Gently press diced tomatoes in a sieve to drain well before using.

Skip the Fresh Mozzarella

Yes, it's delicious. But it also contains lots of water and will cook down to a milky puddle. For a glorious, stretchy cheese pull that will catapult you to internet fame, part-skim mozzarella — whether grated, sliced or diced — is the way to go.

If You Really Want Fresh Mozz, It's Gotta Be Thin

OK, we can't deny the fresh variety can also be delicious on pizza. If you must use the it (for, say, a margherita pizza), thinly slice the mozzarella ahead of time so it can drain in a sieve or on a towel.

Precook Your Toppings

Most vegetables aren't going to get soft and tender from a few minutes of blasted heat atop a pie. Sauté greens like broccoli, broccoli rabe, spinach, chard tops, and kale, and squeeze them dry before scattering them on your pizza. Eggplant and zucchini should be salted and drained, then sautéed, roasted or grilled. The same rule goes for raw or fatty meats: Italian sausage, bacon and pancetta must be cooked through. There are exceptions: Cured meats like pepperoni and prosciutto and some thinly sliced veg are fine raw (hello, peppers and onions).

Brush the Crust With Olive Oil

Do it right before it goes in the oven and right after it comes out. You'll get great color, crunch and flavor.

Spin and Elevate

Once in the oven, as soon as the bottom begins to develop a crust, turn the pie so it cooks evenly. When your pizza is done, transfer it to a baking rack — rather than a flat surface — to prevent steaming and keep the crust crisp and crunchy.

Add Tender Herbs Last

We've all seen it: That bubbling pie covered with blackened, wilted basil leaves that were added too soon out of the oven (or even while the pizza cooked). Soft, fresh herbs like basil, parsley and chives are best added after the pizza is done so they stay flavorful and pretty.