The Essential Tools for Homemade Pizza

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[Photographs: J. Kenji López-Alt]

I know how you all feel about uni-taskers—products that are designed for one specific use and aren't great at much else—but pizza is one of those dishes that simply beg for specialty tools. Some of these just make the job easier (say, a pizza wheel or a food processor). But it's simply impossible to make some types of great pizza without certain other tools, like peels and some sort of baking surface. I've been making pizza professionally and at home for many years now, and have tested dozens upon dozens of tools and gadgets. Here's my list of the most useful products you can get right now to step up your pizza game.

The Recipes

Before we jump into the tools, here's a quick recap of some basic dough recipes to get you started. (We've got tons of topping recipes to go with them.)

The Essential Tools

If you've never made pizza before, these are the first tools you should spring for to start baking like a pro at home.

A Digital Scale

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This is the one. A scale is the number one most important tool for making consistently good pizza from scratch at home.

Forget measuring cups and spoons; they simply aren't accurate for baking, and without accurate measurements, you can't make consistent dough. (Read more about why mass is the best way to measure for baking here.) The OXO Stainless Steel Scale features dual metric and imperial units (I make pizza almost exclusively with metric), an 11-pound (5kg) capacity, and a large, easy-to-read, backlit display that pulls out, so even the largest bowl won't block your reading.

The only downside is that the scale has an annoying auto shutoff that will not only turn off the display, but also re-tare itself if you leave the unit on for more than a few minutes. Just make sure you don't get distracted in the middle of measuring.

A Bench Scraper

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A bench scraper will help you scrape up random bits of dough stuck to your counter and clean up dustings of flour with ease. You'll be using this for so much more than pizza; it's also great for picking up chopped herbs or garlic and transferring them to a pot on the stove. The OXO Multi-Purpose Stainless Steel Scraper also has a relatively sharp blade that makes it ideal for splitting large balls of dough into individual pizza–sized portions.

A Baking Steel

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When the original Baking Steel came out four years ago, it completely changed how I cook pizza indoors. With greater conductivity and higher volumetric heat capacity than a baking stone, it'll produce pizzas with crisper crusts and deeper char, even in the same temperature range. More importantly, pizza stones tend to crack with use (as a heavy user, I went through about a stone per year), while a solid slab of steel will last a lifetime, or longer.

For even more versatility, I'd suggest going with the dual-sided steels, which have a pebbled surface for baking pizza and a smooth surface with a routed channel to use as a stovetop griddle. I keep a Mini Baking Steel Griddle on my stovetop at all times (when it's not baking pizza, that is) for frying eggs, searing steak, smashing burgers, and crisping potatoes and vegetables.

Here's my recipe for a basic New York–style pizza.

A Wooden Pizza Peel for Launching

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Many first-time pizza makers try to save money by opting to purchase a single, metal-bladed pizza peel. This is a mistake. Raw pizza dough is much more likely to stick to metal than to wood, so, unless you're an expert and can get your pizza topped and launched into an oven in under, say, a minute, chances are you're going to run into sticking problems. Wooden peels absorb excess moisture and have a rougher surface, which means that your stretched and topped dough will remain loose and easy to launch far longer, saving you from potential pizza-spilled-all-over-the-oven accidents (and you know you've had those).

If economy is your goal, the New Star Foodservice pizza peel will work fine, though I personally love my Perfect Peel Baker's Board, handcrafted to last a lifetime from gorgeous solid cherrywood. They'll even put your initials or logo on it if you'd like!

A Metal Pizza Peel for Retrieving

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Wooden pizza peels are for launching, but they're too thick to easily slide under a pizza once it's hit the oven. For that, you'll want a thin-bladed metal peel, like this basic Kitchen Supply model. These thin-gauge aluminum peels are just fine for the occasional baker, but they'll bend and warp eventually. If you're going to be making pizza multiple times a year for many years to come, you might want to spring for something a little more heavy-duty. I use the KettlePizza Pro Peel, which has a thick-gauge aluminum body that extends fully past the solid teakwood handle. It even has a built-in bottle opener (you know how easily those go missing during a cookout, right?). Mine has been through a half decade of intense use and shows no signs of slowing down.

A Pizza Wheel

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When it comes to portioning pizza, a knife simply won't cut it. At least, not if you don't want to drag cheese and toppings all over the place. Those large, half-moon-shaped rocking blades work great, but are a beast to store. For my money, nothing beats a traditional pizza wheel, like the OXO SteeL Pizza Wheel and Cutter.

Ovens and Pans

Most types of pizzas require special equipment to cook properly, whether it's devices to provide the intensely high heat necessary for Neapolitan or New York–style pizzas, or special pans and baking dishes for pan pizzas. Here are my recommendations.

Best If You Own a Kettle Grill: Serious Eats–Edition KettlePizza/Baking Steel Combo Insert

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It took a partnership between the makers of the KettlePizza and the Baking Steel (along with a little cajoling on my part) to come up with the Serious Eats–Edition KettlePizza/Baking Steel Combo Kit, but for my money (around $400 at the time of this writing), it's the most effective and versatile way to get wood-fired oven temperatures in your own backyard. The stainless steel insert fits in between the base of your existing kettle grill and the lid, providing an opening to launch pizzas onto a custom-designed baking stone. Above it, a solid slab of steel stores and emits radiant heat to cook the tops of your pies. Fired up with coal and wood, the kit can achieve bake times of just a couple of minutes per pie for the ultimate in crisp and tender crusts.

Pros: It's the most similar to working with an actual wood-fired pizza oven. You'll have to manage air flow and wood placement, but in return, you get full control over exactly where the heat is going and how your pizza bakes. Because of its large mouth and interior space, you can also use the KettlePizza for cooking things other than pizza. Try roasting oysters in it, or crisping up a spatchcocked chicken. Broccoli and Brussels sprouts will take on a gorgeous, smoky char, while miso-marinated black cod comes out caramelized and moist. The large, flat surface of the Baking Steel lid also doubles as a griddle—ideal for giving your steaks and burgers a dark char and crisp crust.

Cons: The oven takes practice to get used to. You will definitely scorch the bottoms of your first few pies as you figure out the optimal coal and wood arrangement and hone the craft of rotating and "doming" pies (that is, lifting the pizzas up toward the roof of the oven as they cook in order to char their tops evenly). Because of the large thermal mass of the Baking Steel, this setup also takes a fair amount of time to preheat—half an hour at least.

Here's my Neapolitan pizza recipe.

Read more about the Serious Eats–Edition KettlePizza/Baking Steel Combo Insert here.

Note: Serious Eats does not receive any money from the sale of Serious Eats–Edition KettlePizza/Baking Steel kits. Ten percent of all sales are donated to Feeding America, the nation's largest hunger-relief charity.

Best Stand-Alone/Portable Outdoor Option: Uuni 2S Pizza Oven

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There are a lot of custom-designed pizza ovens out there in various price ranges. I haven't tested all of them,* but my favorite so far is the Uuni 2S ($299 at the time of this writing). It consists of a small stainless steel box with a pizza stone set inside it. You load up a hopper on the rear of the unit with wood pellets (available online or in home repair and garden stores for a very reasonable price), light it up with a torch or lighter fluid, and let it preheat. About 15 minutes later, you're ready to cook. This little powerhouse hits temperatures in excess of 900°F and bakes up Neapolitan-sized pizzas in just 60 to 90 seconds.

* Most notably, I have yet to try the Blackstone oven, which many folks seem to love.

Pros: It's compact and easy to store and can be used directly on top of a picnic table. (Just be careful: Small bits of hot embers may fall out the back as you refill the hopper.) It also heats up incredibly fast—from zero to 900°F in about 15 minutes.

Cons: It's a one-trick pony, so don't expect to use this oven for much beyond making Neapolitan pizzas. Despite the manufacturer's claims that it's great for searing steak or roasting fish, I find it too difficult to maneuver food like that in its small chamber. The size of the pizza you can make will also be limited to around 10 inches or so.

Best for Pan Pizza: Cast Iron Skillet or Aluminum Pizza Pan

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My Foolproof Pan Pizza is one of my most popular recipes of all time, and for good reason. It allows you to re-create crisp-edged, flavor-packed pizzeria-style pan pizza at home with no kneading, no stretching, and no real experience required. The only thing you need is a pan to bake it in. I typically recommend a 10-inch cast iron skillet for its versatility. The only problem is that with a cast iron skillet, you'll most likely have to finish off the pizza on the stovetop to get proper crispness in the bottom crust. For a single-use tool that'll do the job better at the cost of less versatility, go with a dedicated pizza pan.

Best for Square (Sicilian) or Grandma Pies: Rimmed Baking Sheet

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Making pizza for a crowd? Nothing beats a big ol' square pie (often referred to as a Sicilian) to feed a party with minimal effort and maximum deliciousness. Best part is, you don't even need a pizza stone or steel. All you need is an inexpensive rimmed aluminum baking sheet (which, of course, is also the best tool for roasting chickens, vegetables, and, well, pretty much anything else).

You can find my recipe for square pizza here.

Useful Accessories

These tools aren't strictly necessary for any style of pizza, but having them will make baking pizza much easier.

A Food Processor

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While large, industrial-scale stand mixers may reign supreme in pizzerias, the food processor is the best tool for making pizza dough at home. Its rapid blade movement creates a much stronger gluten network than the slow kneading of a stand mixer, and it also allows less oxidation of the flour, resulting in better flavor. Your dough will come out smooth, supple, and easy to stretch, even if you plan on making your dough the same day that you bake it.

If you're in the market for a new food processor, I recommend walking on past the two current biggest brands in the business. Both have released new models of food processors that are severely underpowered, noisy, difficult to use, and lightweight. Instead, go for the Breville Sous Chef. It's a well-designed powerhouse that will fly through dough (and anything else you throw at it) with ease.

A Guitar Rack for Storing Peels

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Pizza peels are large and cumbersome to store. I keep mine hanging up against the side of my cabinet using a guitar hanger. They stay up and out of the way, but within easy reach whenever I need 'em. I can't seem to find the particular model I have anywhere, but there are plenty of options on Amazon.

A Dough-Proofing Container

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I never thought I'd love my dough-proofing box as much as I do until I got it. Up until then, I'd been proofing individual balls in plastic containers or in plastic-wrapped bowls. Now I just shape my dough balls, plop them into the proofing box, snap on the lid, and walk away. The tight lid keeps them from forming a skin, while the smooth plastic surface makes them easy to lift onto your stretching surface. I bought mine at a restaurant supply store, though you can also find them on Amazon.

A Pastry Cutter for Sauce

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You want to get that perfect chunky-yet-saucy consistency out of your canned San Marzano tomatoes? You can use your fingers to squeeze them (messy) or a potato masher, but I recently started using a pastry cutter and haven't looked back. The stiff, sharp blades make quick work of tomatoes, chopping them as coarsely or as finely as you'd like, directly in the saucepan.

Plastic Squeeze Bottles

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A drizzle of olive oil before and after baking gives your pie a great boost of flavor, and little plastic squeeze bottles are the easiest, most inexpensive way to store and dispense it.