When NASA launched their first spacecraft to the moon back in the ’60s, it took many years and a massive team of scientists, mathematicians, astronauts, and engineers to make it successful.
Luckily, making pizza isn’t quite so challenging. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist, but if you want to make pizza that’s out of this world, you need to perfect your pizza launch. If you do it wrong, you could end up with toppings strewn across the farthest reaches of the galaxy.
Or your kitchen floor.
But if you’re committed to safely landing a pizza on your pizza stone and returning it safely to your plate before the decade is up, we’ve got some tips to help you master the launch.
1. The Launchpad
A pizza peel is purpose-built for safely launching your pizza into the oven. We’ve found that launching pizza is easiest when you have two pizza peels: a wooden pizza peel, and a metal pizza peel.
After prepping your pizza on a separate surface, use your wooden pizza peel to launch the pizza into the oven, and your metal pizza peel to get it out. We’ve found that this combination works really well for several reasons.
Essentially, raw pizza dough takes longer to stick to a wooden pizza peel (with peel dust, you usually have just under 1 minute before things start to get sticky). A metal pizza peel tends to be more sticky for raw dough, but it’s thin enough to slide under the cooked pizza without hurting the crispy base.
It’s also good to remember that if you put your dough onto a hot pizza peel, the temperature change can make the dough sticky. That’s why wooden pizza peels make the best launchpads — they don’t absorb heat.
2. The Peel Dust
Even the best pizza peels need peel dust. Peel dust is the magic powder that stops your toppings from being launched into the flames. It helps your pizza glide freely into the oven without becoming overly attached to the peel. It does this by:
- absorbing excess moisture
- allowing the dough to roll over it, like tiny ball-bearings
The perfect pizza peel dust absorbs a lot of moisture, makes the dough slide freely, and doesn’t leave any excess residue that could burn or smoke. We’ve found that the best peel dust is a combination of equal parts wheat flour, semolina flour, and cornmeal.
3. The Dough
Tasty toppings are great, but the real star of any pizza is a delicious base. Use our classic pizza dough recipe to make an easy-to-launch, deliciously crispy pizza base.
A common mistake when making pizza is not allowing the dough to prove long enough. Well-proved dough is light and airy and has just the right amount of ‘spring’ for pizza-shaping.
4. The Temperature
Before you start stretching your dough into a pizza, make sure that it’s at room temperature. At lower temperatures, the strands of gluten tighten up. This makes the cold dough difficult to work with. It becomes springy and stubborn, making it difficult to shape. If you’ve cold-proved your dough, you should always take it out of the refrigerator at least 3 hours before you work with it.
On the other hand, if your dough is too warm, it clings to everything it touches, kind of like gooey velcro. You could add more pizza dust, but this could dry out your dough or make your pizza too floury. Rather, put it back in the refrigerator for 10 minutes to bring it back down to temperature.
5. The Stretch
Stretching pizza dough is an art-form that takes a bit of practice, but it’s also a chance for you to show off your pizza-ninja skills. To help the launch go well, there are a few things to keep in mind:
- Avoid shaping your dough on the launchpad — don’t stretch or shape your pizza on the pizza peel, as this gives more opportunity for moisture to gather between the dough and the peel. Rather use a different workspace for this step. Remember, moisture is what makes your dough stick.
- Use your hands — after years of technological innovation, our hands are still the best tools to stretch pizza dough. As you feel the dough, your hands will learn how much the dough can stretch without breaking. Also, a rolling pin will squash out all the air that the yeast has worked so hard to create, and you might lose some puff.
- Check for holes — The only holes you want when making pizza are the ones in the cheese. If there are holes in your base, the sauce could sneak through onto the peel and make your pizza stick.
6. The Shake
Once your pizza has been stretched and shaped on the pizza peel, give it a quick shake to make sure that the dough hasn’t stuck. When the toppings are loaded, unsticking your pizza becomes more difficult.
As you add your sauce and toppings, give the pizza peel a quick shake every 20 seconds. If the dough is sticking to the peel, you can still ease it off and throw some pizza dust between the dough and the peel. If your dough sticks during the launch, you might lose your toppings to the flames
7. The Toppings
We love generous toppings, but if you add too many, the launch becomes difficult. When stacked too high, your pizza could lose its payload before it reaches the pizza stone. Rather use smaller toppings. They behave better.
When you’re spreading sauce on your pizza, be careful not to spill on the pizza peel. The extra moisture can make the dough stick, ending the launch in catastrophe.
8. The Air Cushion
Right before you send your pizza on its exciting journey, lift one side of the pizza and blow a little bit of air underneath it. This creates a comfortable cushion of air on which your pizza can relax before being launched into the heat.
Also, blowing air underneath your pizza helps to release it and spread the peel dust evenly across the pizza peel. This stops the pizza from sticking — and gives you some serious street-cred in the pizza game.
9. The Landing
Always make sure that you prepare a safe landing zone for your launched pizza. We like to use a glazed cordierite pizza stone because it distributes heat evenly and can be cleaned very easily.
Make sure that your pizza stone is blazing hot before you launch your pizza. A hot pizza stone is the secret to making a pizza that is light and crunchy. Always put your pizza stone into the oven before you turn it on. Then, go ahead and crank up the heat to 500℉ for 30 minutes, and your pizza stone will be ready to go.
The Perfect Launch
Don’t be too hard on yourself if you don’t launch your pizza perfectly the first time. We’ve all had toppings land on the floor. Grab your launchpad, keep practicing, and soon you’ll be able to out-launch Elon Musk.