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5 reasons your homemade pizza is terrible (or meh)

pizza peel

If you’ve tried making pizza at home, odds are good that you’ve turned out some pretty mediocre pies.

Not disgusting pizza…just very meh pizza.

I spent years making unremarkable pizza myself, despite having a pizza stone.

And then Cook’s Illustrated changed my pizza-making game.

homemade pizza

Now I know how to produce pizzas with a browned, bubbly, chewy crust. Totally not meh!

homemade pepperoni pizza

If you’re happy with your homemade pizzas, then just ignore this post.

But if your homemade pizzas kind of suck, I am here to help.

This is fixable! You too can make good pizza at home.

Here’s what you are probably doing wrong.

1. Your oven is not hot enough.

You need a hot, hot, hot oven for good pizza.

350°F is not going to cut it; your pizza will be pale and flabby.

500 degree oven

For a nice browned, bubbly crust, five hundred degrees+ is where it’s at.

Basically, as hot as your oven goes is the correct heat for pizza. I bake mine at 525° and they are done in about 8 minutes.

2. You didn’t preheat your pizza stone.

When I first got a pizza stone, I put my pizza dough on it cold and just stuck the whole thing in the oven.

(I want to go back and have a chat with myself about that. No wonder my pizza was meh!)

Your pizza stone needs to be piping hot by the time your pizza dough hits it. I put my stone into the cold oven, turn it on to 500°F, and leave it for an hour while the dough rises.

Then I can use a pizza peel (an overturned cookie sheet works too) to slide the pizza (on parchment paper) onto the hot stone.

(I just use a basic pizza stone, like this one. I think I got my current stone at Goodwill.)

3. You’re using the wrong flour.

I’ve known for a long time that Gold Medal unbleached works way better for yeast doughs than store brand flour does.

But as much as I like Gold Medal flour, I have to say that it is not great for pizza. King Arthur bread flour is 100% the way to go for pizza dough.

King Arthur bread flour

This flour seriously improves the flavor and the texture of the finished pizza crust.

In fact, I consider it to be so essential that I will not even bother to make pizza if I don’t have King Arthur bread flour on hand.

(King Arthur has no idea who I am, and I have no affiliation with them. This flour is just seriously good.)

4. You’re using the wrong cheese.

Pizza is pretty minimalist when you get down to it, and as with any such dish, the quality of the ingredients really matters.

If you are using pre-shredded mozzarella or the cheap rectangles of mozzarella they sell at Aldi, you are missing out.

I like saving money as much as the next person, but when I’m making pizza, I always spring for the semi-soft one pound blocks of whole milk mozzarella.

Galbani mozzarella cheese

Other mozzarella will work, but the flavor of this type of mozzarella is miles better than other mozzarella options.

A pound of it usually costs about $5-$6 in my area, but a pound will cover four homemade pizzas. That’s only about $1.50 of cheese per pizza, and I think it’s worth it!

5. Your sauce isn’t that good.

This is another spot where quality really matters. A jar of watery store brand spaghetti sauce is going to put your pizza a little on the “meh” side of things.

tomato sauce

I like to make a super simple no-cook sauce with canned diced tomatoes, but if you don’t want to bother with that, buy a high quality jarred sauce (one that’s good enough that you’d enjoy eating it by the spoonful).

Here’s the recipe for the no-cook sauce I use.

Note: I know I said store-brand spaghetti sauce isn’t good, but Aldi sells some decent marinara sauces. I consider Aldi to be an exception to the rule!

So.

To make great pizza, you need

  • a 500°+ oven
  • a thoroughly preheated pizza stone
  • King Arthur bread flour
  • a block of semi-soft mozzarella cheese
  • a good sauce

Here’s the basic pizza crust recipe I use, along with some shaping/baking instructions.

I’ve got a pizza YouTube video for you!

If you’d like to see me talk about this topic, plus see me make a pizza and slide it into the oven, well, I made a YouTube video.

If you have pizza tips to add to mine, please share in the comments.

P.S. If you think this post sounds like a bunch of way-too-picky pizza instructions, well, I wrote a post about why I think picky pizza instructions are important.

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Jony

Thursday 16th of September 2021

Always add fresh basil to the pizza!

Erika W.

Monday 7th of June 2021

I read all theses replies with great interest but will still go on buying the SPROUTS store here small pizzas they are very good and we don't eat pizza very often anyway--maybe once a month or so (I know I should put an apostrophe in that somewhere but I can't work out its place!)

Kristen

Monday 7th of June 2021

Oh, I have never tried the Sprouts pizzas. Are they frozen? Or refrigerated?

Elizabeth A Weber-Falk

Friday 17th of July 2020

I know you bought your flour in bulk. Did you really pay the shipping cost? The flour is $20 but the shipping is $21. That makes it more than $4 a bag. Did I miss something?

Kristen

Saturday 18th of July 2020

I did indeed. King Arthur flour runs that much in regular grocery stores around here, so even with the shipping, it made sense to me to buy it. It wasn't more expensive than the grocery store price, and it was actually available (at the time, stores here had no flour on the shelves).

Tim Paul

Wednesday 8th of July 2020

I use to use a pizza stone. No more. I have switch to cast iron. I butter it and spread parmesan cheese over the buttered cat iron. Wonderful crunchy crust.

La

Tuesday 7th of July 2020

I prefer to use canned San Marzano tomatoes, drained, then hand crushed. I then add basil (don’t really like oregano), salt, pepper, etc. to taste. I also mix up the cheeses, using freshly shredded mozzarella, Italian fontina, parmigiana, etc.

My problem is that I cannot get the crust thin enough! I follow all the best practices for making the dough, as you recommend, using KAF, proofing overnight, not using a rolling pin. Any suggestions.

Kristen

Tuesday 7th of July 2020

Hmm. That sounds like maybe a problem with dough that's too stiff, which could be caused by too much flour.

Another idea: have you tried rolling the dough out a bit and then letting it rest for 5-8 minutes before you do more rolling? That can help the gluten relax a bit and make the dough easier to roll out thin.

Let me know if that helps at all!

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