Unless you’re living the dream and have a wood-fired oven in your backyard, pizza made at home rarely seems to taste as good as the pizza from that local artisan pizza shop. Perfectly topped, perfectly crispy, perfectly divided pizza with perfectly melted cheese can feel out of reach for even the most adept gourmand hobbyist.
There’s at least one good reason for that: Home ovens typically only go as high as 550 degrees, which is 250 degrees lower than recommended for making crispy pies. But before you go building a brick oven, know that there are also tools that can help you reach pizzaiolo-level pizza. Here, pizza experts tell us their favorite products (to save you from springing for a pallet of bricks from Home Depot).
A baking stone
The very first kitchen addition you’ll need is a baking stone, in lieu of a basic aluminum pan or sheet. “Aluminum is not a good conductor of heat — your pizza won’t be crispy at all,” says Joe Beddia, head pizza chef at Philly’s Pizzeria Beddia and author of Pizza Camp. “You want something that’s able to absorb and conduct heat.”
Beddia recommends the New York Bakers’ baking stone, as it is a little thicker than your average stone, is made from cordierite (the same material used to make a kilns), and comes in two sizes. “I like having a stone that is the size of the shelf in my oven,” says Beddia. “I don’t have a fancy oven or anything, and I can make the same pizza at home as I make in my restaurant.” (The New York Bakers’ stone is no longer available, but there are plenty of cordierite alternatives out there.)
… or a pizza steel
Instead of a baking stone, Anthony Falco, former head pizza chef at Roberta’s in New York and now an “international pizza consultant,” suggests using a baking steel — which transfers heat a little more quickly than a ceramic or cordierite stone — while putting a ceramic baking stone on the rack above it, to make an oven inside of an oven. “The heat will travel up and hit the top stone and it creates a sort of hot box,” says Falco. If your oven has a broiler, that will work just as well, as long as you have either a preheated steel or a stone underneath your pies.
One tip, whether you use a stone or steel: For a crispy crust, Beddia recommends preheating the stone or steel for 45 minutes at 550 degrees, or as high as your oven will go.
A pizza peel
So how do you go about getting your beautiful pizza dough onto the stone, especially when you’ve just preheated it to over 500 degrees? Up your game with a pizza peel. “You stretch your dough, lay it on the pizza peel, dress it, and that’s what you use to transfer the pizza onto your preheated baking steel,” says Mark Bello of the pizza peel’s utility.
Mark and Jenny Bello teach pizza-making courses at Pizza School NYC, a school and shop on New York’s Lower East Side. For their peels, they recommend buying from Epicurean.
“Rather than being an actual piece of wood, [Epicurean’s pizza peel] is a wood composite,” says Bello. That’s because Epicurean, based in Wisconsin, started out making eco-friendly skateparks, and eventually began using their leftover materials to make kitchen supplies. “[Epicurean peels] don’t warp like wood pizza peels,” he says. “They’re a lot thinner. They don’t absorb bacteria. And they can go in the dishwasher.”
Metal is another option. Giorgia Caporuscio of Keste in New York City prefers metal pizza peels from Gi.Metal, an Italian pizza tools manufacturer, because they’re easy to clean, and also really light. This is essential to consider before you start loading up your stretched dough with toppings, as uncooked pizza can get pretty heavy pretty fast. The lightness of the Gi.Metal peel, Caporuscio said, is a major advantage when you’re sliding pizzas in and out of an oven all day — “then you don’t get so tired.” (That said, they are rather pricey.)
It’s not a tool per se, but don’t forget to sprinkle your peel liberally with flour before you begin building your pie. “At home, the hardest thing is stretching the pizza and getting it into the oven off of the pizza peel,” Daniela Moreira of Timber Pizza in D.C. says. “Rice flour is the slickest flour and will change that!” The 2017 Eater Young Gun buys Florida Crystal rice flour in bulk for the restaurant, though she says that Bob’s Red Mill rice flour is a perfectly reasonable substitute for at-home cooks.
A professional-grade pizza cutter
Your pizza’s in the oven. It smells great. It looks great. So you take it out with your fancy new pizza peel. But you’re not likely to tear into it with your bare teeth (though no one would blame you if you did). There are many different kinds of pizza cutters: see-saw blades, pizza wheels with circular handles, pizza wheels with straight handles, pizza wheels shaped like bikes. The Bellos recommend the Dexter-Russell P177A not just because the model number looks like the word “pizza,” but because it’s sharp and sturdy.
Falco, on the other hand, recommends Quality By Liones’ single wheel SpeedKnife. “There are shit cutters and then there is one good one. We were dying with shitty pizza cutters,” he says of the early days at Roberta’s. “The shitty ones are made with a screw in the center and the wiggle from the screw becomes more pronounced over time,” says Falco, whereas the $20 SpeedKnife is well-built with ergonomic ball bearings. (Unfortunately the SpeedKnife is currently sold out.)
With a durable pizza cutter, an easy pizza peel, and a heat-friendly baking steel or stone, you’ll be as close to Italian-chef’s-kiss pizza as the experts. Just keep in mind, says Falco, a good pizza requires more than just the right tools (“only buying Air Jordans isn’t going to help me dunk,” as he put it) — don’t forget to get great ingredients, too.