We've been tinkering with homemade pizza for the better part of seven years. We’ve tried grilling pizza right on the grate, using a combination of grill and baking stone, using a baking steel and an extremely hot oven, and, finally, using a propane-heated pizza oven (we have the Ooni and really love it).
Standard electric or gas ovens are trickier to coax the same results from, but you can come close with the right dough, a baking steel or stone, and the correct oven settings. In order to get the high temperatures necessary for good, neapolitan-style pizza, you will need to preheat the oven (with the stone or steel inside) to the highest setting (some ovens go to 500 degrees, others will reach 550).
As for doughs, we love the convenience of the quick pizza dough recipe in Joy, as it only needs to rise for a few hours. But if you don't mind planning ahead, a slow-rise dough will give you better flavor, a wonderful texture, and more bubbles. Best of all, it's less of a hassle in some ways, as it requires less kneading. It's easy to mix up the dough after dinner one night, and have pizza dough ready for shaping, topping, and baking the next night. We love this slow-rising dough so much that we added it to the newest edition of Joy. (If you want pizza on the same day you make the dough, simply add one packet or 2¼ teaspoons active dry yeast and let the dough rise at room temperature for 1½ hours before dividing and shaping it).
A peel is a nice tool to have for making pizza, but you can also use a cookie sheet. Sprinkle a thin layer of flour on the sheet or peel, stretch, press, or roll out the dough, and add the toppings. This next part takes some practice, but it's actually really easy and fun when you get the hang of it. Open the oven and hold the baking sheet or peel, tilted at a slight angle, over the heated baking stone. In one quick motion, yank the baking sheet or peel backwards to propel the pizza dough onto the hot stone. It helps to make sure that the dough will slide off easily before you even open the oven. Simply jerk the sheet or peel back and forth a little. The dough should slide fairly easily. If the dough is stuck to the sheet or peel anywhere, lift up the dough very gently and throw a little more flour under it.
Another option, though slightly less fun in my opinion, is to just prep the dough on top of a piece of parchment and slide the pizza, parchment and all, into the oven. At very high temperatures you will need to replace the parchment after baking each pizza.
White Pizza with Fresh Tomatoes, Feta, and Basil
Two 12-inch pizzas
Make the dough the night before you want to bake the pizzas. Combine in a large bowl and let stand until the yeast is dissolved, about 5 minutes:
1⅓ cups (315g) warm water
¼ teaspoon active dry yeast
3½ to 3¾ cups (440 to 470g) all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons (25g) olive oil
1¼ teaspoons salt
Mix with a wooden spoon until the dough is smooth. Start with the lower amount of flour, only adding more if the dough is still very sticky. Knead the dough on a lightly-floured surface for 3 minutes. Divide the dough in half, shape into balls, and wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 12 hours or up to 3 days.
Before baking the pizzas, allow the dough to sit at room temperature for 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 500°F (or as hot as they can go). Position a rack in the bottom third of the oven. If possible, place a baking stone or steel in the oven and preheat it for 45 minutes. You want to bake the pizzas on something that retains heat well and that will heat up the pizza dough on the bottom without burning it. In a pinch, use the thickest, heaviest baking sheet you have.
One at a time, flatten each ball of dough on a lightly floured work surface into a 12-inch round, rolling and stretching the dough. Or stretch the dough in the air, allowing the weight of the dough to help stretch it out, rotating the dough as you stretch. As the dough gets thinner, drape it over the backs of your hands as you turn it to avoid tearing holes in it. Place each dough round on a prepared baking sheet, or, if using a baking stone or steel, place them on cookie sheets or a baker’s peel dusted with flour.
Lightly drizzle over the dough:
Extra-virgin olive oil
Use your fingers to spread the oil all over the dough. Place on top of the pizza:
½ cup (2 ounces) shredded mozzarella
5 or 6 very thin slices ripe tomatoes
Sprinkle over the tomatoes:
2 tablespoons crumbled feta cheese
Black pepper or red pepper flakes, to taste
Bake one pizza at a time. If baking the pizzas on baking sheets, bake them on the bottom rack. If using a baking stone or steel, place the pizza on a floured baker’s peel or cookie sheet. Gently shake the peel or cookie sheet back and forth until the dough slides a bit. If the dough is sticking, lift it up gently and throw a little more flour underneath it. Quickly slide the pizza off the peel onto the baking stone or steel (this move takes practice—consider working on your technique a good excuse to make pizza more often). Bake until the crust is browned and the cheese is golden, about 12 minutes. If using a baking steel, after the pizza has cooked for 5 minutes, turn on the broiler and broil the pizza until browned and bubbling. Remove the pizza and sprinkle with:
Chopped or thinly-sliced basil leaves, to taste
Turn the temperature back to 500°F before baking the next pizza
To grill pizzas with a stone or steel, prepare a hot charcoal grill fire (we do not recommend gas grills for this as they do not get hot enough). Place the stone or steel on the grate, cover the grill with the vents open, and allow it to preheat for 45 minutes. Carefully remove the grate and stone or steel, add another chimney of lit coals (oven or pit gloves are essential here), then replace the grate and stone. Shape the dough and top as directed above,slide onto the steel or stone, cover the grill, and cook until the bottom is nicely browned and the cheese is bubbly (start checking after 5 minutes).
To grill pizzas directly on the grate, prepare a hot grill fire (gas is fine here) and prepare the dough as directed above, placing it on the peel or cookie sheet. Gently shake the peel or sheet back and forth to make sure the dough isn't sticking. If it is, gently lift it up and throw a little more flour underneath it. Slide the dough directly on the grill grate. Watch for the dough to firm up as the bottom cooks. When it is firm enough, about 5 minutes, flip it over, leave it on the grill, and place the toppings on to. Cover the grill and cook until the toppings are cooked and the cheese melted (check after 5 minutes).