Cooking Tips

I Went to Pizza School. Here's What I Learned.

I learned how to upgrade my homemade pies from the pros at King Arthur’s Baking School.

Published Jan. 19, 2023.

Years ago in the test kitchen, I tasted the results of a colleague’s portable outdoor pizza oven testing. I don’t have any outdoor space for a pizza oven, so when I got home that night, I immediately ordered a baking stone, pizza peel, and pizza cutter so that I could start making my own pizza at home. 

Since then, especially with extra time at home throughout the pandemic, my partner and I have tried our hand at countless styles: New York, Neapolitan, Sicilian, sourdough, and more, cooking up pies at least a few times a month. 

While each pizza we make is a little better than the last, there’s always room for improvement. King Arthur Baking Company makes some of our favorite flour for all sorts of baking projects, but they also offer a wide range of baking classes at their headquarters in Vermont. When I noticed they were offering a class on making seven different types of pizza, aptly named “Pizzapalooza”, I knew it was time to take things up a notch.

Here’s what I learned.

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1. Plan Ahead 

Most pizza dough recipes require your dough to be proofed overnight. Not only does this give it enough time to rise, it also helps to develop a more complex flavor. If you want to make pizza on Sunday night, you might need to make your dough on Saturday.

2. When We Say Preheat Your Oven for an Hour, We Mean It

One of the reasons your favorite parlor makes such good pizza? Their oven. Unlike home ovens, which typically reach a max of 550 degrees Fahrenheit, a professional shop’s oven can get up to 750 or even over 1000 degrees. 

In some cases, that means their pizzas only bake for a minute or two. To replicate those results at home, we do two things: 1. Use a baking stone or steel. 2: Preheat the oven with that stone for a full hour. This ensures that the stone is as hot as possible and can transfer that heat to your pizza, helping to yield browned, bubbly, and crisp pies on the top and the bottom.

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3. Weigh Your Ingredients 

This one is simple but important. Baking is a science, especially for yeasted doughs like pizza dough. Using a digital kitchen scale, rather than measuring by volume, will ensure the most accuracy and the best results.

4. A Bench Scraper Is Your Best Friend 

We’ve waxed poetic about bench scrapers before, and we’ll never stop (and they’re good for more than just scraping!). A bench scraper is an especially important tool to have on hand when making pizza. 

It comes in handy for dividing dough, shaping balls of dough, transferring dough, and scraping your counter clean of dough and flour once you’re done. Our favorite model is the Dexter-Russell Sani-Safe 6 x 3 Dough Cutter/Scraper.

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5. Shape the Dough from the Outside In

Everyone has a bit of their own technique when it comes to shaping a pizza, but the general goal (depending on the type) is to have a thin, evenly flat round with a slightly thicker edge for the crust. Sometimes, when you pick that round up to shape it, you risk getting a hole in the thin center. 

At King Arthur, the instructor suggested giving yourself a little extra wiggle room by starting to shape from the outside in, leaving a little extra dough in the center. That way, when you pick it up, you’re less likely to get a hole.

6. Sticky Dough on Your Hands? Don’t Wash Them.

Some types of pizza require a higher hydration dough, which can be sticky. When it comes time to wash your hands, it can take forever to get all that dough off, even with plenty of soap and hot water. 

Here’s a simple fix: Skip the soap and water altogether. Instead, just dust those sticky fingers in flour and rub your hands together. The dough will ball up and be much easier to remove. 

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7. Precook Some (Not All) Toppings

Some toppings can go straight onto your pizza before baking it, and some require a little cooking first. For example, water-packed or fibrous vegetables like zucchini, mushrooms, potatoes, or delicata squash should be roasted or sautéed first. Thinly sliced or quick-cooking ingredients like onion or cherry tomatoes are fine to go on raw. 

Most uncured meats such as sausage or bacon should be cooked first too, but already cured or cooked meats like pepperoni, salami, and prosciutto are fine to go straight onto the pizza.

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