How to Pizza

A New York-style pizza article with extraneous information

By Joe Rosenthal

Most pizza is garbage. There are more great pizzerias in New York than in any other metropolitan area, but even in New York, most of the pizza is poorly stretched or underfermented. In most of the rest of the United States, you’ll find those same shortcomings but on incidentally thick, overly cheesed, cloyingly sweet monstrosities. If you believe the adage, “pizza is like sex: when it’s bad, it’s still pretty good,” you are part of the problem, and someone probably should have told you off before this moment.

There is no generalist food publication, YouTube video, or book that will help you make New York-style pizza. I’ve asked for folks to prove me wrong on that claim for books, and the closest anyone has ever come to a reasonable suggestion was Peggy Paul Casella’s The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Pizza Cookbook. If you must buy a book to show off on your dining room bookshelf during dinner parties, The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Cookbook is the one that you want, but know that there will be no salvation in texts when it comes to New York-style pizza.

A critical problem in teaching mathematics parallels the situation with cooking education: in mathematics, there’s a tendency for students to memorize problem solutions rather than internalize why a solution works and extrapolate to solve other problems. Some students can go all the way through high school without actually understanding how to solve math problems. Everyone following that path of memorization crashes eventually, if they get far enough in math, and at that point, they have to significantly shift how they handle problems in order to proceed.

In cooking, there’s no crash, only stagnation. In the realm of pizza dough recipes, you’ll often see recipes with the concentration of water given firmly and without context. There’s no explanation of what water actually does in those recipes, and the water amount is often paired with a suggestion along the lines of, lick your kitchen wall to see if your kitchen seems drier than usual, and add more water to the dough, if so.

With this article, you will know what your wall-licker friends are doing to their doughs. And beyond that, you will have the tools to understand the role of methods and ingredients in pizza and extrapolate to design your own doughs for New York-style pizza and other pizza variants.

New York-style pizza is a thin-crust pizza born of an adherence to ratios. It’s hand-stretched, never rolled out, and it’s topped with relatively light amounts of cheese and tomato sauce, if there’s any sauce at all. The cheese is traditionally on top of the sauce, and it’s always low-moisture mozzarella, usually whole milk or partly so. The sauce is generally not pre-cooked, which can put it in the realm of pasta sauce instead of pizza sauce.

The pizza is baked in a deck oven, at a temperature in the neighborhood of 550°F to 650°F, several hundred degrees cooler than the Neapolitan pizzas that inspired it. In New York, the pies are large, usually 18 inches to 20 inches, and they’re sold as individual reheated slices, or “whole pies,” which are baked fresh. At home, you’re likely looking at baking closer to 550°F than 650°F, and the pies will have to be scaled down at 14 inches to 16 inches, but it’s entirely possible to make it great at home.

A pizza maker claiming that they use the best ingredients is like a novelist saying that they use the best words. If the story isn’t good, who cares? New York-style pizza is heavily driven by methodology, and knowledge thereof is the biggest limiting factor, besides interest, for the lack of decent New York-style pizza outside of the New York metro area. Outside of that metro area, it becomes rarer and rarer to find anyone that knows how to make New York-style pizza. It’s the same reason great bagels are rare outside of New York—it has nothing to do with New York’s water quality.

I’ve moved farther and farther away from New York since I started dating Abby, whom I’ve since married. Her career has taken me to Pittsburgh, and now the Twin Cities, where I’ll live, possibly, for the rest of my life. I’ve been marooned on New York-style pizza desert islands, and it became clear that if I ever wanted to eat a legitimate New York slice where I live, it would have to be made by my hand.


A pizza with aged mozzarella and tomato sauce. Baked in a typical home oven on a 3/8-inch-thick steel plate.
A pizza with aged mozzarella and tomato sauce. Baked in a typical home oven on a 3/8-inch-thick steel plate.
Photo: Joe Rosenthal

Equipment

Scales, Scrapers, and Bowls

When it comes to making any yeasted dough, scales, a bowl scraper (plastic and flexible), a bench scraper (metal and not flexible), and a large bowl will be invaluable, along with a good-sized working surface—I like to knead dough on a wood butcher block or cutting board.

As far as the scales go, you need the capability of accurately measuring about five pounds of dough, and for this recipe you’ll also want to be able to measure with 0.1g granularity. Finding both of those things in one scale can prove expensive, and my recommendation is to go with two scales to fill each niche.

I’ve liked OXO’s 11-pound scale as a large-capacity scale, which has an extremely convenient pull-out display. For quantities at around 3g or less (the OXO isn’t ideal at that range even if you don’t need more than 1g granularity), I suggest a Jeweler’s scale, which will measure with 0.01g precision. Be sure to also grab a matching calibration mass.

Baking Surfaces

As early as 2006, forum members on PizzaMaking.com were discussing using steel plates to bake pizzas. Carbon steel is a superior conductor to the cordierite baking stones found in many commercial deck ovens. Given the relatively high thermal capacity of a slab of carbon steel, a baking steel can narrow the gap between a home oven and a New York-style slice shop deck oven, and I used a steel plate to bake every single pizza featured in this article.

Due to its higher emissivity, a seasoned baking stone will radiate heat significantly more effectively than steel, so don’t buy a steel with the hope of putting it on the rack above your pizza to get great top heat. A stone above the pizza will do a better job of delivering heat into the top of a pie relative to steel, but better than both is a broiler at the top of your oven, if you have one. Or, if you have a convection oven that can reach 550°F, you may have enough top heat in your oven without the broiler.

Sufficient top heat is critical for baking a pizza, and lack of top heat is why you’ll never see passable pizza made in a grill without specialized equipment the depths of fringe pizza styles notwithstanding.

And despite claims to the contrary from climate change denier Jeff Varasano, hacking your oven to bake on self-clean mode is a terrible idea, and it only serves to make awful, unevenly cooked pizza and risk the integrity of your oven range. Ovens can’t really handle self-clean mode for self-cleaning, forget about using it regularly to make pizza. Instead of self-clean mode, just make sure your oven is properly calibrated.

Steels

I recommend a rectangular steel for baking in your home oven. A 16-inch round steel won’t be able to fit a 12-inch square pan on it. You’ll add a marginal amount of weight for the added utility of square.

A 3/8-inch-thick steel will be able to store more energy than a 1/4-inch steel, and the former will retain more heat after a bake if you’re baking multiple pizzas in a night. A steel at a 1/4-inch thickness will still make great pizzas, especially if you’re only baking one pizza a night, and you’ll save some weight and money with that. If you think you might do more than one pizza night, go with a 3/8-inch steel. Thicker than 3/8-inch steel is unnecessary and heavy beyond the point of feasibility.


Pizza baked in a typical home oven on a 3/8-inch-thick steel plate.
Pizza baked in a typical home oven on a 3/8-inch-thick steel plate.
Photo: Joe Rosenthal

I would get the largest steel that your oven can comfortably fit. Some oven racks have a bump or lip toward the back, where the rack slides into the rear of the oven chamber. The bump can prevent some larger steels from fitting properly, which can can mean that the steel is on an incline or the steel prevents the oven door from closing. If the rack is an issue, you can compensate for the lip by putting a thin pizza stone or a smaller steel piece at the front of the rack.

I have a 16-by-16 3/8-inch A36 steel plate from Metal Supermarkets. Midwest Steel Supply also has A36 steel plate available. If you ask nicely, the metal shop might be able to bevel off the edges of the plate for you. And wherever you buy a steel plate, be sure not to get anything that’s galvanized—zinc fumes are toxic. I cleaned mine thoroughly with soap and water, and then sprayed it down with some vinegar and let it sit for a bit. There’s some mill scale on these things since it’s hot-rolled steel, but it’s harmless, though a longer vinegar soak should remove it. I also did a dry-run with the steel in my oven before baking anything on it.

If you want to buy a steel with less fuss, Baking Steel was the first to bring steel baking surfaces to market, and I started out with their 1/4-inch-thick 14-by-16-inch Baking Steel, and Dough-Joe has both 1/4-inch and 3/8-inch 15-by-15-inch steels.

Infrared Thermometers

Regardless of the steel that you buy, an infrared thermometer (IR thermometer) is an important tool to have in order to measure the surface temperature. For years, I’ve used a cheap Etekcity IR thermometer, which works well for dark matte surfaces at New York-style pizza temperatures or below. Cheap IR thermometers like the Etekcity model operate at a fixed emissivity which is tuned to give accurate measurements for dark matte surfaces, which is usually fine for measuring a steel for pizza.

Abraham Maslow once said that when all you have is a fixed emissivity IR thermometer, everything begins to look like a dark matte surface. It’s worth looking at adjustable emissivity thermometers if you’re trying to measure other types of surfaces. Thermoworks’ IRT-2, which has an adjustable emissivity setting, can be accurate for all other sorts of surfaces, and it can measure up to 1022°F.

And if you truly only have dark mattes surfaces to measure but need hotter temperatures, there are also cheap fixed-emissivity IR thermometers that can measure up to 1022°F.

Proofing containers

Everyone uses two-quart Cambro containers to ferment pizza doughs, which are great containers in general, even for doughs, but they’re too narrow and tall for New York-style pizza dough. You need enough room for the dough to expand. If you can remove the dough from its proofing container and maintain its circular shape, that’s your best shot at getting a circular pie, and if you do everything right, a circular pie means a uniformly stretched pie, which can have a huge impact on the cooking dynamics of the entire pizza. Using Cambro containers, or worse, deli containers, will get you unevenly thick and irregularly shaped pizzas.

I have some plastic proofing containers and lids—they’re the only plastic proofing containers for a single dough that I’ve seen. For the size, they work well, but I’ve found them a little small. They’re thick, but they can hold up to dishwashing just fine. If you never plan to make pies larger than 14 inches, then they’ll probably work well for you.

I’ve been using nine-inch aluminum containers and lids since I wanted a bigger container. The containers themselves are stackable, but I find they don’t really stay level when stacked, and since they’re metal, dough will stick more readily than it does with the plastic containers—you’ll need to use more oil. For 16-inch pizzas I’ve taken to putting the doughs on the lid itself and using the container as a cover, which enables me to very easily remove the pies, but for much larger doughs you may have to use the proofing containers as intended.

You may not need a nine-inch proofing container, so I’d take a look at Webstaurant Store and Kerekes and see what container makes sense for you.


Pizza with aged mozzarella, and thinly sliced lemon. The acid from the lemon works nicely with the fat from the mozzarella. Baked in a typical home oven with 3/8-inch-thick steel plate.
Pizza with aged mozzarella, and thinly sliced lemon. The acid from the lemon works nicely with the fat from the mozzarella. Baked in a typical home oven with 3/8-inch-thick steel plate.
Photo: Joe Rosenthal

Mixers

You can mix your dough by hand and get as good of a resulting dough as with any mixer. Mixers save effort, but they do not make better pizzas versus properly performed hand mixing. This recipe, along with all of my major dough recipes, was developed initially by hand, and you do not necessarily need to consider using a mixer.

If you have a KitchenAid mixer, you can likely use that for making pizza dough. I strongly suggest using your mixer on the slowest setting to avoid over-stressing the mixer. Some KitchenAid models have a plastic worm gear that can strip if pushed too hard.

Spiral mixers serve as an alternative to planetary mixers like KitchenAids. The bowl rotates as the dough hook spins in a fixed position. Spiral mixers also typically have breaker bars, vertical bars that are positioned in the middle of the mixer bowl that serve to help better mix dough and prevent the dough from climbing up the dough hook.

Spiral mixers for residential use have been available in the United States for a while, but they all lacked breaker bars, and without the breaker bar, their utility for dough isn’t much better than a KitchenAid. As of this year, Italian spiral mixers with breaker bars are now being imported in the United States. Note that these mixers are built specifically for making dough, and the dough hook is not removable. Spiral mixers with breaker bars are not mixers for whipping or making batters.

Famag makes a spiral mixer with a breaker bar. There’s a variant with a tilting head and removable bowl (IM-5S) and a variant with a fixed head and bowl (IM-5). There are some minor potential issues that have been reported which includes breaker bar drift, and there’s more of a gap between the breaker bar and bowl for the removable bowl variant only.

Sunmix offers the SUN6, a fixed bowl spiral mixer with a breaker bar, and it’s small enough to fit on a counter under a typical kitchen cabinet. I own a SUN6, and I’ve been very happy with it. The breaker bar is firmly in place with no drift, and, as a fixed bowl mixer, the breaker bar-bowl tolerance is very tight. The mixers come with a timer and LED light to illuminate the bowl.

With spiral mixers, you can put the dry ingredients right into the mixer bowl, and let it run while you measure out the wet ingredients. The mixer will uniformly distribute the dry ingredients, and then you can throw in the wet ingredients and let it run. The dough will come together nicely even without pre-mixing.

I couldn’t claim that my doughs are better than what I’ve made by hand or with my KitchenAid, but the doughs come together with much less fuss. And as far as fixed bowl mixers go in general, they’re relatively easy to clean if you clean them with a damp towel soon after finishing a dough.

Peels

You should use a wooden peel to launch your pizza and a metal peel to turn or retrieve your pizza. Dough is much more likely to stick to metal peels than wood, and so wood is ideal for launching pizzas. Removing or turning cooked pizzas with a wooden peel increases the chance of getting grease on them, which will necessitate washing the peel, and this increases the chance of the peel warping.

My favorite wooden peel is from Lillsun, and it comes in many sizes, including a short-handed 16-inch take-out peel. Lillsun’s take-out peels are much thinner and rougher than the peels I’ve owned from Baker’s Board, which are also nice peels, and their Gourmet line of peels in cherry would look nice hanging in most home kitchens. Lillsun's roughness may marginally help mitigate sticking, but really, you shouldn’t have much trouble with either peel.


Pizza with aged mozzarella, fresh mozzarella, and Parmesan Reggiano, Pecorino Romano, Tellicherry pepper, and dried oregano. Baked in a commercial deck oven.
Pizza with aged mozzarella, fresh mozzarella, and Parmesan Reggiano, Pecorino Romano, Tellicherry pepper, and dried oregano. Baked in a commercial deck oven.
Photo: Joe Rosenthal

The best value for a metal peel is American Metal Craft’s metal peel. You’ll have an easier time turning your pizza (if necessary) with a smaller peel, and so generally it’s a good idea to size down on your retrieval peel. I’ve used a 13-inch peel to remove 20-inch pizzas, and a 12-inch peel should be more than enough for a 16-inch pizza.

My favorite retrieval peel is a GI Metal perforated peel, but it’s solidly a luxury item for home cooks, priced at an order of magnitude more than American Metal Craft’s offering. I bought it to launch higher temperature pies (think 900°F), and I’ve really liked it for removing New York-style pizzas, too. The edge is slightly tapered, and it slips under pizzas very easily. Also, in my experience, the perforations also can help shed a bit of excess flour on removal.

You’ll need to dust your peel with flour. Regular flour can work (AP flour or bread flour are fine), but you’ll need to use a light hand, or you’ll wind up with flour caked onto flour. It’s a delicate balance, and for most folks, it can be easy to end up with a dough that sticks to the peel or a bottom covered in flour.

Semolina flour can help keep your dough from sticking to the peel, and a light, uniform dusting can go a long way. I like standard semolina for dusting peels versus finer semola rimacinata, since the former is less likely to stay on the bottom of the pizza. I use a shaker, but you can also just do it by hand.

Corn meal is not appropriate for New York-style pizza. Some would say semolina isn’t either and that only plain flour is used to dust peels for New York-style pizza, but corn meal isn’t debatable. You can use it, but I will never tell you that it’s OK, and if you do it, I don’t want to know about it.

Pizza Cutters and Pans

Cut your pizza on a pizza pan. Never cut pizza on top of your wooden peel. You will damage the peel and soil it with grease from your pizza.

And as far as pizza cutters go, my favorite for New York-style pizza is a Dexter-Russell pizza cutter. I’ve used a bunch of pizza wheels, but they’ve all been completely garbage besides the Dexter-Russell one. You can replace the blade, so when you dull your cutter too much, you don’t have to pay the full price to replace it.

Screens

Pizza screens are used by pizzerias that can’t or won’t train their workers to launch pies into their ovens. Screens slow down the bake time of a pizza and shift the primary mode of thermal transfer for the bottom of the pizza from conduction to radiation, which significantly slows down the bake of the pizza and negatively impacts its rise.

It’s logistically much simpler to stretch the dough and put it right on a screen rather than having to deal with a peel, which is why it’s such a common practice. For pizzerias, it’s much easier to train staff to use a screen than it is to use a peel. Some pizzerias serve pies on screens, which doesn’t necessarily mean they were baked on screens. Look for a screen print, or a patterned indentation, on the bottom of a pizza as an clue that a pizza might be screen baked.

Dough

New York-style Pizza Dough

Modern New York-style pizza dough consists of flour, water, salt, yeast, sugar, and fat. Sugar and fat aren’t required ingredients, but they’re typically found in New York-style pizza doughs. New York slice shops used to put lard or shortening in their doughs, and most of those shops have switched to vegetable oils if any oil at all.

Most pizza recipes feature excessively wet doughs, and it’s become a trend across generalist food publications and YouTube. New York-style pizza dough is not traditionally a wet dough. Neapolitan pizza, from which New York-style pizza is derived, is also not a wet dough.

The concentration of water in a dough, known as the hydration, for a typical New York-style pizza dough is targeted around the value that maximizes the strength of the dough or sometimes a slightly lower value than that. That means a hydration percentage range from the high 50s to the low-60s, relative to the total mass of flour.

Gluten and Dough Additives

Gluten is formed by a network of proteins primarily made up of glutenin and gliadin, which are water-soluble and water-insoluble, respectively. When hydrated, glutenin provides strength and elasticity to a dough while gliadin increases viscosity and provides extensibility, which contributes to rise.

The most basic form of glutenin, glutenin monomers, bind together and elongate to form chains known as polymers. The polymerization of glutenin increases dough viscosity, and an increase in large glutenin polymers is directly related to dough strength and rise.

After a dough is mixed, resting it leads to an increase of large gluten polymers, but overmixing and overfermentation can weaken dough through the partial depolymerization of glutenin, which also decreases dough viscosity and increases stickiness. Additionally, overmixing can decrease dough extensibility. Gluten is sometimes said to be “degraded,” and that can serve as a shorthand for the weakening of dough and decrease in viscosity.

Sodium chloride (pure kosher salt or sea salt) increases dough stability and thereby dough strength. Salt increases mixing time by slowing the rate at which flour dehydrates, and when salt is added to an over-mixed dough, the salt can actually reverse the effects of overmixing and recover dough stability and strength. Salt can also decreases dough stickiness similarly to how kneading can decrease dough stickiness. Salt increase browning as it enables Maillard reactions to occur for longer.

It would take more salt than you’d normally see in a yeasted dough to have a substantive negative impact on your yeast. If you want to withhold salt from your dough from the initial mix, the main impact will be a mixing time speed-up, which can be a boon in a commercial setting. Note that mixing without salt can lead to the mix occurring as much as twice as quickly.

Like salt, sugar also draws moisture away from yeast, but the concentration of sugar shouldn’t be high enough to negative impact yeast. Sugar in the context of pizza dough is used to aid browning, but there shouldn’t be enough sugar in a pizza dough to make the dough sweet.

Fats, like water, can act as a dough plasticizer and improve dough extensibility and softness, but when adding fats, unlike water, dough stickiness does not increase. Solid fats with a high melting point, like shortening or lard, serve to increase dough volume and promote a fine crumb structure due to the high number of small fat crystals that help stabilize gas bubbles in the dough. Fats also decrease crispiness, but in the context of breads, fats can serve to mitigate staling by limiting the transfer of moisture from a bread loaf’s interior to the exterior crust while the bread is being stored.

Wheat

There are hard wheats and soft wheats, which refers to the wheat kernel. Hard wheats yield flours which form doughs that are higher in gluten versus those of soft wheats. Hard wheats are ideal for bread flours and other relatively high-gluten flours. Soft wheat is used as the basis for low-protein flours like cake flour or pastry flour.

Both hard and soft wheats can be classified as red and white, which refers to the color of the wheat kernel. Red wheat generally has a higher protein content than white wheat. There’s spring wheats and winter wheats, which refers to when their seeds are sown, but to narrow the scope a bit, for the purposes of pizza, we’re concerned with hard red winter wheats and hard red spring wheats.

Hard red spring wheat generally has more protein, both in terms of glutenin and gliadin, than hard red winter wheat, but they can each vary in protein content. And beyond the variety of wheat, the milling and starch integrity can also play a role in the quality of the resulting flour.

It’s worth noting that durum wheat is actually the hardest wheat, and that’s the wheat from which semolina flour comes. But the resulting gluten is not necessarily appropriate for supporting a bread dough, and you need to choose your durum wheat flour carefully.

Massimo Laveglia, owner and operator of L’industrie Pizzeria, one of my absolute favorite pizzerias, put me onto Molini del Ponte’s semola rimacinata. He told me that the flour works well for bread doughs, even if it’s the only flour in the dough, though it may prove somewhat difficult to handle. I’ve had great success with the flour for pasta.


Pizza with aged mozzarella, tomato sauce, and Parmesan Reggiano, with burrata, basil and Parmesan Reggiano added post-bake, inspired by L’industrie Pizzeria’s burrata slice. Baked in a commercial deck oven.
Pizza with aged mozzarella, tomato sauce, and Parmesan Reggiano, with burrata, basil and Parmesan Reggiano added post-bake, inspired by L’industrie Pizzeria’s burrata slice. Baked in a commercial deck oven.
Photo: Joe Rosenthal

King Arthur Flour uses hard winter wheat for its all-purpose flour (known commercially as Sir Galahad), and they use hard spring wheat for their bread and high-gluten flours (known commercially as Special Patent and Sir Lancelot, respectively). Central Milling’s Artisan Bakers Craft Plus and Bee-Hive (this is what Whole Foods uses for their house brand AP flour, which is relatively low gluten) are both made from hard red winter wheat.

Flours

My recipe is designed with King Arthur’s AP flour in mind, though it’s been tested with many other flours. King Arthur flours are all “unbleached,” which is to say they’re bleached through aging, but not with benzoyl peroxide, chlorine, or another chemical bleaching agent, as you would see with bleached flours (chlorine is typically not used for high-protein flours).

King Arthur All-Purpose is at around 11.7% protein versus King Arthur Bread Flour’s 12.7%. I find that King Arthur All-Purpose provides just enough chew for New York pizza without being too chewy, which is how I would characterize King Arthur Bread Flour, and there’s more than enough gluten-forming protein in King Arthur All-Purpose Flour to stretch thin New York-style pizzas.

If you can’t find King Arthur All-Purpose Flour, North Dakota Mill All Purpose Flour should work similarly to it. You can also try a bleached bread flour—Pillsbury bread flour has done well for me as a last-minute supermarket substitution. You can also buy Sir Galahad, the commercial label for King Arthur All-Purpose, in larger portions. 50 pounds is a lot of flour, and so for most folks at home, you’ll want to have a well-thought storage plan, which probably ought to involve freezing most of it. You also might want to consider wearing a mask while you parse out a 50-pound bag, so you don’t breathe in a ton of excess flour.

I’ve also tested the recipe with Artisan Bakers Craft Plus, and it will work, but I’ve found it’s slightly weaker than King Arthur All-Purpose, and it degrades much more rapidly than King Arthur All-Purpose even after the three days of fermentation for this pizza recipe. I wouldn’t use any weaker flours than that, and you should note that King Arthur All-Purpose Flour is significantly stronger than typical all-purpose flour, and so most all-purpose flour will not serve as a substitute for King Arthur.

Peak Absorption

Each flour has a hydration level that maximizes dough stability and strength. This value is known as the peak absorption or the farinograph water absorption of a flour. Having less water than the peak absorption or surpassing the peak absorption of a flour yields a weaker, less stable dough, and the detriment to stability and strength increases as the hydration tends away from the peak absorption.

When starting out, for pizza doughs, my suggestion is to stick to not venture too far beyond the peak absorption of a flour, and dough will be stickier at hydrations beyond peak absorption. But, short of using a farinograph, there’s no way to determine the peak absorption of a given flour beyond just experimenting. For most bread flours, you’re looking at targeting a hydration in the neighborhood of 60% relative to the total mass of flour. As of 2012, King Arthur claimed that the peak absorption of King Arthur All-Purpose (Sir Galahad) was 59-63%; the peak absorption of King Arthur Bread Flour (Special Patent) was listed at 60-64% and that of King Arthur High-Gluten Flour (Sir Lancelot) was listed at 61-65%.

In general, peak absorption increases with the amount of glutenin in a flour. Higher protein flours usually have more glutenin than lower protein flours, and you can use that as a loose guide for estimating peak absorption. However, two flours with similar amounts of protein do not necessarily have similar amounts of glutenin: Central Milling’s Artisan Bakers Craft Plus is listed at 11.5% protein versus King Arthur All-Purpose’s 11.7% protein, but in my experience, the Central Milling flour has noticeably less strength than King Arthur’s, and the Central Milling flour likely has less glutenin than you’d expect given their very similar levels of protein.

You should also note that both starch integrity and the presence of bran in whole grain flour can increase a flour’s peak absorption. With that said, bran interferes with gluten formation, which stands as a reason for why whole wheat flour should be avoided for New York-style pizza.

Malt

Malted barley flour is added to most flour in the US, including all of the aforementioned flours. The barley malt contributes amylase, which helps enzymatically break down the starches in flour into sugar. It gives yeast a boost, and it leads to, most evidently, better browning in home ovens and pizzeria deck ovens. Neapolitan pizza is made with unmalted high-protein 00 flour (not all 00 flour has sufficient protein content for pizza), which helps achieve very high-contrast leopard-like spotting at extremely high temperatures, but it won’t work well on its own in a home oven.

You can add diastatic malt powder to unmalted 00 flour to help with performance in a home oven setting, or, if you want to experiment texturally, you blend some 00 pizza flour with your favorite malted flour (know that 00 is only a specification for how finely milled the flour is, and it gives no indication of the strength of the resulting dough—use 00 pizza flour if you’re going to use 00 flour) .

I don’t like adding diastatic malt powder to malted flour for New York-style pizza because I find that it doesn’t have much impact and can decrease dough viscosity and strength. I’m less sour on diastatic malt powder for pan pizzas, where dough strength is much less of a concern.

Note that non-diastatic malt powder is heat treated, and it will not contribute to the enzymatic breakdown of flour. Carnation Malted Milk is an example of non-diastatic malt powder. You do not need this for pizza, though you may use that or barley malt syrup for bagels, and the latter also offers no enzymatic breakdown of dough.

Bromate

Some commercial bleached flour is bromated, or treated with potassium bromate, an oxidizing agent that helps improve dough rise and texture. Bromated flour also helps strengthen dough, and it enables faster mixing.

Potassium bromate is believed to be carcinogenic, though in the context of doughs, it was found to degrade rapidly at temperatures of 300°F to 500°F, due to the presence of metal ions. Internal temperatures of bread and pizza don’t generally reach temperatures much hotter than 200°F, but the decomposition of potassium bromate is a function of initial concentration, temperature, and time, and so while bromate will degrade in a cooked pizza, it’s unclear if it does so to safe amounts.

Potassium bromate may also be used for producing malted barley, but for that context, regulations restrict the concentration of potassium bromate to 75 parts per million of potassium bromate, which is the same as the limit for wheat flour.

Even if the concentration of bromate in a given end product is believed to be considered insignificant, bioaccumulation remains an unknown: there is no clear evidence to indicate whether or not bromate is able to accumulate in humans.

Potassium bromate has been banned by the European Union and by California under Proposition 65, and even in New York City, where it’s allowed, many modern slice shops have chosen unbromated flours. All of the flours mentioned in this article are unbromated.

Whole Grain Flour

Whole grain flour, flour which has the bran, endosperm and germ intact, is wildly inappropriate for New York pizza. If you disagree, please email me. If you have no regard for aesthetics and taste, then you should recall that the extra fiber from the bran has a deleterious effect on gluten formation in a way that more than negates the extra protein in whole grain flour.

If you want to mill your own flour, you absolutely can, but you need to sift away the bran. Scarr’s Pizza uses freshly milled flour, which Scarr’s mills in-house, and they sift away the bran from the flour. Without sifting you’ll wind up with whole grain flour, and it’ll taste like it. Scarr’s Pizza, which stands as one of my favorite pizzerias on the planet, does not taste like it’s made with whole grain flour.

Scarr Pimentel, owner and operator of his namesake pizzeria, put me onto Wild Hive Farm, which offers, among many other things, both bread flour and wheat berries , the latter of which you can grind yourself if you’re so inclined.

Note that in addition to a thorough sifting, you’ll need to add diastatic malt to freshly milled flour for it to brown properly at New York pizza temperatures. Use the malt sparingly: for purer malts (King Arthur’s offering may be more diluted) start with no more than 0.55% diastatic malt powder (in baker’s percentages).

Yeast

Instant yeast, active dry yeast, fresh yeast (cake yeast) are all different vehicles for delivering strains of the same species of yeast, saccharomyces cerevisiae. Commercial yeast products are not some sort of unnatural synthetic abomination. They’re all living yeast, and for most bakers they’ll all much more reliably ferment doughs than the yeast and bacteria cultures found in a sourdough starter, and that reliability will facilitate understanding fermentation and dough handling.

For New York-style pizza, my strong recommendation is to go with commercial yeast over sour starter. Beyond the aforementioned issues for beginning bakers, sourdough introduces degraded gluten to the dough, which can be detrimental to uniformly stretching dough in New York-style pizzas, and dough pH decreases associated with sourdough starter, can negatively impact dough elasticity and strength.

As far as commercial yeast products go, for home use, my suggestion is to use instant yeast. Instant yeast is more fool-proof than active dry yeast, and you can easily just add instant yeast to your dry ingredients while making a dough without worrying about warming it up in water first (you can also treat active dry yeast the same way for proofs on longer timescale).

A lot of pizza makers and bakers like to use fresh yeast, and they have the ability to obtain it and use it quickly, but for home cooks, it’s usually impractical. You should see no detriment in using instant yeast versus fresh yeast, but you should know that fresh yeast is mostly water, and so that needs to be considered when converting a recipe between fresh yeast and instant yeast.

SAF Instant Yeast

SAF Red Instant Yeast is my favorite yeast to use. It comes in a one pound portion, and so when I get it, I open it, use it, and then freeze it all in a freezer bag and use it straight from the freezer for all of my recipes thereafter. You should be able to keep it for around a year in the freezer without any issue. It will last much longer in the freezer than in the fridge, and every dough I’ve made with commercial yeast in the past few years has been made with straight-from-the-freezer instant yeast.

SAF Red is a little pricier than store-bought yeast if you have to buy it online, but if you consider the quantity and longevity of the yeast in the freezer, you can amortize the cost over the duration of usage, and it’s really not that expensive.

The following stockists have SAF Red available for shipment online:

And in case you run across a gold-colored SAF variant, you should know, it’s an osmotolerant strain of saccharomyces cerevisiae, meaning that it can handle the osmotic pressure which occurs in doughs with high concentrations of sugar (or salt). SAF Gold is intended for sweet breads with 10% sugar (relative to the weight of flour) or more. It’ll work for pizza and breads that aren’t sweet, but you won’t get as strong of a rise when compared to Red. Stick with SAF Red unless you want to hold onto two types of yeast (you probably don’t).

Water

Some tap water may be treated with chlorine or chloramine, which can negatively impact yeast depending on their concentration in the water. Most city water supplies won’t have enough chlorine or chloramine to significantly impact commercial yeast, which is more robust against them than sourdough. In the Twin Cities, my tap water works well for yeasted doughs.

Most people probably don’t need to worry about their water, but if you know that your water is particularly problematic, including being excessively hard or soft, you can buy a gallon of water that’s free of chlorine or chloramine. Depending on the concentration in your water, you may be able to remove chloramine or chlorine by boiling the water for 20-to-30 minutes, in advance, and let it cool. Or use an activated charcoal filter to remove them, like the basic style filter you’d buy from Brita.

Sauce, Cheese, and Other Toppings

Sauce

When people find out that I make my own pizza, I’m often asked if I “even make my own sauce.” The answer is yes; it makes a monumental difference, and it’s barely more complicated than opening up a can.

New York-style pizza sauce is uncooked crushed tomatoes and salt. Those are the only required ingredients. You can buy your tomatoes crushed or crush them yourself. You can add basil or dried oregano, and I do, but really, it’s minimal. Again, New York-style pizza sauce is not cooked. I believe sauce is sweet enough without adding sugar, but I can’t say that no popular shop adds sugar. I strongly recommend not adding sugar.

Most whole peeled tomatoes have calcium chloride added as a firming agent. People expect cans of whole canned tomatoes to have whole tomatoes in them, and calcium chloride helps keep them whole. The best whole canned tomatoes don’t have calcium chloride added to them, but for many brands, crushed tomatoes are often a better bet than whole canned tomatoes.

If you wind up with whole canned tomatoes you’ll need crush the tomatoes. Do not use blender to crush your tomatoes. A blender will turn your sauce orange as it whips air into it and oxidizes it. Immersion blenders work well, as do food mills. Stick to those. Don’t try to remove the seeds from the tomatoes as the inner pulp that contains the seeds contributes significant amounts of umami flavor to the sauce.

Cooking your sauce will make your pizza taste like it was topped with pasta sauce rather pizza sauce. Sauce variants like vodka sauce ought to be cooked, but when it comes to plain pizza sauce, don’t cook it when it comes to New York-style pizza.

There’s a lot of hype around Denominazione di Origine Protetta (D.O.P.) San Marzano tomatoes, tomatoes certified by Italy to have been grown in volcanic soil at the base of Mount Vesuvius. It’s a nice story, which is why the tomatoes are name-dropped on high-end restaurant menus across the country. But I’ve only ever had one D.O.P. San Marzano tomato that lived up to the hype, and the rest of them have been of middling quality at best. Generally speaking, American tomatoes, from California and New Jersey, are the ideal tomato for New York-style pizza—not everything from Italy is better.

You might be tempted to use your own homegrown tomatoes for a sauce, but it’s unlikely you’ll grow tomatoes that taste as good as the best canned tomatoes, which are great tomatoes that are canned at peak freshness. If you must can your own tomatoes for pizza use, remember, never blend them, and be sure to add citric acid or bottled lemon juice: at this point, tomatoes are not consistently acidic enough to reliably safely can without additional acid.

Canned Tomatoes

My favorite tomatoes are Stanislauss Alta Cucina which are whole canned tomatoes only, and they don’t have calcium chloride added. They’re great tomatoes and a great value, though they only come in over six pound cans, which can make them burdensome for home cooks. If you can get into a Restaurant Depot they regularly carry them, and you can avoid shipping costs.

Gustarosso tomatoes are the only D.O.P. San Marzano tomato I’ve ever loved. but at $0.25/ounce, it’s a tough sell, especially if you aren’t scared off by the minimum quantities of Alta Cucina. Maybe grab a can of Gustarosso tomatoes if you’re buying from Gustiamo already and try it for yourself.

When it comes to both Alta Cucina and Gustarosso tomatoes, I don’t drain the cans before immersion blending, I just immersion blend the entire can, and it’s a good consistency for pizza sauce.


Pizza with aged mozzarella, tomato sauce, and fried eggplant. Baked in a typical home oven on a 3/8-inch-thick steel plate.
Pizza with aged mozzarella, tomato sauce, and fried eggplant. Baked in a typical home oven on a 3/8-inch-thick steel plate.
Photo: Joe Rosenthal

I often find myself using Sclafani’s crushed tomatoes since the cans are smaller and a bit more accessible for home quantities. Their whole canned tomatoes do have calcium chloride, so I’d stick to the crushed only. I don’t love the taste or texture out of the can, and in that sense it’s the worst of everything mentioned here, but if you immersion blend it with a bit of basil and add a good amount of salt, some dried oregano, and a bit of water, I’ve been happy with them for my New York-style pizzas. They should be pretty easily obtained at Shop-Rite.

Bianco DiNapoli also does a good tomato, and they offer Crushed, Rustic Crush, and whole canned tomato variants, the latter of which lacks calcium chloride. You may want to immersion blend the Rustic Crush like Sclafani.

Cheese

Cheddar cheese does not go on New York-style pizza. If you lack mozzarella, you lack New York-style pizza cheese, and you can proceed with a cheeseless pizza. That’s OK. Top it with some very thinly sliced garlic before you bake the pizza, add some parmesan, and everything is fine. You may accuse me of gatekeeping, but this is no more gatekeeping than is the requirement that trains be affixed to rails.

Fresh mozzarella is inappropriate as the primary cheese for New York-style pizzas: it’s relatively wet compared to low-moisture mozzarella, and it’ll never melt and brown quite right. Fresh mozzarella is ideal as the primary cheese for pizzas cooked much hotter temperatures, but those are cases where the cook time is often best measured in seconds, rather than minutes. It’s a whole different ball game, and what’s ideal for those styles of pizza is not necessarily ideal for New York-style pizza.

Low-moisture mozzarella, also known as aged mozzarella, is the ideal cheese for New York pizza, specifically, aged whole milk mozzarella. Since it’s aged, so won’t be remotely as wet as fresh mozzarella, it’ll brown at New York-style pizza temperatures, and it’ll have a tangier flavor. Additionally, due to the enzymatic breakdown of the cheese, aged mozzarella will have less lactose than fresh.

Fresh mozzarella can be great as a topping on a white New York-style pie, just addded on-top of low-moisture mozzarella. In this context, the fresh mozzarella contributes creaminess and richness, but you still get the flavor of New York Pizza with low-moisture mozzarella serving as the primary cheese. I don’t find fresh mozzarella adds much to a plain pie with tomato sauce, but I’ve done it.


A white pizza with aged mozzarella, fresh mozzarella, and oregano. Baked in a typical home oven on a 3/8-inch-thick steel plate.
A white pizza with aged mozzarella, fresh mozzarella, and oregano. Baked in a typical home oven on a 3/8-inch-thick steel plate.
A white pizza with aged mozzarella, fresh mozzarella, and oregano. Baked in a typical home oven on a 3/8-inch-thick steel plate.
Photo: Joe Rosenthal

While whole milk mozzarella is the key to nailing New York-style pizza cheese, it’s worth noting that some pizzerias will cut their whole milk mozzarella with part-skim mozzarella to prevent the cheese from contributing too much oil to the pizza. The part-skim contribution also makes the cheese brown a little bit faster overall. I use whole milk mozzarella only, but a light hand on the cheese helps keep the pizza from seeming too oily. I’d start with whole milk mozzarella only, and make your decision from there. Generally, you’d want one-third-to-one-half of your cheese to be part-skim.

Shredding

Shred your own cheese: Almost all pre-shredded cheese has starch or cellulose powder added as an anti-caking agent so that the cheese doesn’t clump together. Pre-shredded cheese with those additives will never melt as well as cheese that you grate yourself, which is unadulterated cheese. I recommend a Microplane ultra coarse cheese grater for grating mozzarella, which gets you very wide and thin shreds that get me a great melt. I’ve also used Rösle coarse grater, which is a good grater, but it will yield thicker and slightly narrower shreds.

Grande sells a pre-shredded mozzarella that’s just cheese with no adulterants—Grande gas flushes their shredded mozzarella with gas to obviate the need for anti-caking agents. But one of the adulterants that’s typically in pre-shredded cheese, besides anti-caking agents, is natamycin, an anti-fungal preservative used to inhibit mold. Without natamycin, given the high surface area-to-volume of Grande’s relatively fine pre-shredded mozzarella, the cheese will develop visible mold if left to sit in the fridge for a couple of days. Beyond the potential for mold, I prefer the melt that I get when I use a coarser shredded cheese, shredded with the aforementioned graters.

Pre-shredded or not, freeze the mozzarella that you can’t use within a few days to avoid mold development. I’ve frozen my mozzarella both before shredding it and after, and I’ve found that there’s no detriment to quality after freezing. Most of the low-moisture mozzarella that I use for pizza is frozen, and freezing will have no impact on meltability, texture or acid content of the cheese. Parse out the cheese into reasonable portion sizes prior to freezing—assume that once you defrost your cheese you will use all of it within several days.

Aged Mozzarellas

My favorite aged mozzarellas for New York Pizza are Grande’s whole milk low-moisture mozzarella and Caputo Brothers Creamery’s Fior di Pizza. I’ve found that both cheeses melt as well as I could hope for New York-style pizza. The Fior di Pizza is fairly expensive at $11 per pound, but I really love its buttery flavor.

Saputo’s Lugano whole milk mozzarella is a good cheese, though in my experience, it’s aged a bit inconsistently. My local Whole Foods in Saint Paul carries the Saputo Lugano cheese erroneously labeled as “Grande,” which is something to watch out for with Saputo in general: I’ve also bought Saputo Premium Gold that was labeled as Grande by another shop. I liked Saputo’s Premium Gold, which is Saputo’s Grande competitor, but it’s been years since I’ve used it.

Trader Joe’s low-moisture whole milk mozzarella is a great commonly available retail cheese, and I’ve had great results when I’ve used it for pizza. Last time I checked, it was $5 per pound, which will make professional pizza makers gasp, but it’s actually a great price for retail mozzarella.

If your supermarket deli section has whole milk low-moisture mozzarella, that could be a good option. Boar’s Head isn’t my favorite cheese (and it was north of $10/pound when I last bought it), but it works well enough, and like most cheeses in the deli section of a supermarket, it’s very aged, since it needs to be readily sliceable by a deli slicer. In my experience, delis can get kind of confused when you try to order cheese unsliced, but they’ll generally do it if you ask nicely. I’ve also liked Pride of Wisconsin’s low-moisture whole milk mozzarella, which I’ve found in a deli section here.

Finally, restaurant supply stores may offer good cheese options at commercial pricing. Supremo Italiano, Restaurant Depot’s house brand, is fine, but not close to as good as the likes of Grande or Saputo. It’s worth noting that not every brand is offering the same product for their commercial and retail lines: Retail Polly-O is a completely different cheese from commercial Polly-O. I’m not sure if Galbani has different cheese for retail and commercial, but I always found their retail mozzarella to be bland.

Hard Cheeeses

For my New York pies with red sauce, hard cheese isn’t necessary, and for those pies I’ve come to prefer no hard cheeses at all. I still like hard cheeses for some white pies, though. It’s worth noting that as with mozzarella, pre-grated parmesan and Pecorino Romano are usually junk, and they have cellulose powder or starch added, so buy a wedge of whatever hard cheese and grate it yourself.

Parmesan is the default hard cheese choice for pizza, and I usually use some sort of Parmigiano-Reggiano on my white pies, pre-bake or post-bake (or both). Grana Padano is good too, even though it’s viewed as poor man’s parmesan, I like it, and it’s certainly a great value. No one’s eating a pizza and complaining that it’s garnished with Grana Padano rather than Parmigiano-Reggiano.

If you want a hint of gross sheep’s milk cheese, it’ll do the job for sure. I’ve found that I prefer Ambriola brand Pecorino Romano to Locatelli (Ambriola is responsible for importing both cheeses), but Fulvi is what I’ve been using lately, which can be found at Whole Foods, and I’ve been happy with it as a topping on my Sicilian pizzas.

I’ve never liked any of the hard cheeses or fresh mozzarella that I’ve tried from BelGioioso. I haven’t tried BelGioioso’s Platinum Label, which I’m told is a much more expensive improvment on their standard line, but there’s a lot of space between their standard line and good, and I’m not terribly interested in exploring that.


BelGioioso Cheese
BelGioioso Cheese
Photo: Joe Rosenthal

Wet cheeses

I’ve really liked the fresh mozzarella from Caputo Brothers Creamery, and it works well as a topping for white New York-style pies. Their provola is also excellent, and it’s my favorite cheese for hoagies, cheesesteaks and roast pork sandwiches, all of which can be made with my hoagie roll recipe.

Liuzzi Cheese’s fresh buffalo mozzarella is excellent, as is their burrata, which can serve as a post-bake addition to a pizza.

I never liked ricotta until Abby started making Smitten Kitchen’s ricotta recipe, which is based on Salvatore Bklyn’s ricotta. It’s a whole milk ricotta made with an added acid rather than a ricotta made from leftover whey and rennet, which some may sound blasphemous to some, but I truly believe it’s better than any whey-based ricotta I’ve had. Works well as a pizza topping, or even better inside of a calzone, which you can make with this dough recipe (put all of the toppings on one side of the dough, fold it over, vent the top).


A calzone made from this New York-style pizza dough, filled with aged mozzarella, whole milk ricotta, Pecorino Romano, Parmesan Parmigiano-Reggiano, and Castelvetrano olives. Baked in a typical home oven on a 3/8-inch-thick steel plate.
A calzone made from this New York-style pizza dough, filled with aged mozzarella, whole milk ricotta, Pecorino Romano, Parmesan Parmigiano-Reggiano, and Castelvetrano olives. Baked in a typical home oven on a 3/8-inch-thick steel plate.
Photo: Joe Rosenthal

Pepperoni

I believe that the best pepperoni for a New York slice is a larger flat pepperoni. I think sandwich pepperoni, or larger-bored sticks of pepperoni, are ideal for New York-style pizza.

My favorite pepperoni on the planet is from Salumeria Biellese, which now can be ordered in as small as half-pound quantities with free shipping. And really, everything I’ve had from them stands as the best of that offering; the guanciale is especially excellent, too. But if you order the pepperoni from Salumeria Biellese online, due to its relatively large diameter, it can be tricky to slice at a uniform thickness with a knife, and I strongly prefer using a deli slicer. Larger diameter pepperoni like this are difficult slice well with a knife.

If you need to store pepperoni long-term, be sure to store it unsliced, if possible. Pepperoni used for frozen pizza is treated with an anti-oxidant to mitigate graying in the freezer. Pre-sliced pepperoni will typically be in a gas-flushed bag, and vacuum sealing generally isn’t sufficient to mitigate the oxidation for frozen pepperoni.


A pizza with aged mozzarella and Salumeria Biellese pepperoni. Baked in a typical home oven on a 3/8-inch-thick steel plate.
A pizza with aged mozzarella and Salumeria Biellese pepperoni. Baked in a typical home oven on a 3/8-inch-thick steel plate.
A pizza with aged mozzarella and Salumeria Biellese pepperoni. Baked in a typical home oven on a 3/8-inch-thick steel plate.
Photo: Joe Rosenthal

On the more accessible side of sandwich pepperoni, Boar’s Head and Margherita each sell a sandwich pepperoni that works well on New York-style pizzas, and you can find them in supermarket deli sections. Hormel 1891 is a new retail brand of sandwich pepperoni that should be comparable to the offerings from Boar’s Head and Margherita. If you can’t get any of the aforementioned pepperoni, my suggestion is to experiment with large-bored pepperoni that are sliced fresh by your supermarket deli section.

Cupping Pepperoni

Small cupping pepperoni are great, too, and I use them for Sicilian pizzas and bar pizzas, but I think the pepperoni aren’t the ideal type for New York-style pizza. With that said, I’ll talk about cupping pepperoni assuming that you will use the knowledge for other styles of pizza.

The tension on the pepperoni casing is a major contributor to a pepperoni’s ability to cup. As far as natural casings go, collagen casings can handle exerting more pressure on the interior pepperoni than an intestine-based casing, and so when all else is equal, you’ll see more aggressive cupping with a collagen casing.

My favorite cupping pepperoni is Hormel Rosa Grande. It’s made with whole pork picnic cushion cuts and beef trimmings, and it cups readily. It’s the same pepperoni Prince Street Pizza uses, which is the worst kept secret in pizza. If you’re in an area with ShopRite, you might be able to find Rosa Grande sticks at yours. Hormel has also recently introduced Cup N’ Crisp pepperoni, which is rebranded pre-sliced Rosa Grande specifically designed for the retail market.

Like Rosa Grande, Ezzo’s GiAntonio uses pork picnic cuts and beef trimmings. It’s a fennel-forward pepperoni with a bit of smokiness through liquid smoke. Like Rosa Grande, this pepperoni will cup aggressively. Nearly every major New York pizzeria with cupping pepperoni is using either Ezzo pepperoni or Hormel’s Rosa Grande pepperoni.

Boar’s Head also does a very nice cupping pepperoni, which is made by Margherita. As far as I know, Boar’s Head does not make their own products, and you can check the United States Department of Agriculture establishment number on the pepperoni’s packaging (or any meat product packaging in the United States) against the USDA Meat, Poultry and Egg PRoduct Inspection Directory to uncover its provenance. Regardless, it’s good, and it cups readily. It’s different from Margherita’s own natural casing offering, which doesn’t cup nearly as well, and it tends to be a bit more aged, but it’s a good pepperoni nonetheless.

Vermont Smoke and Cure is pretty similar to Boar’s Head, though it’s a “natural brand,” and the brand claims that there are “no nitrite or nitrate added.” That’s kind of bullshit. Vermont Smoke and Cure specifically adds Swiss chard powder to their pepperoni, which contributes nitrates. The nitrates reduce to become nitrites, and the nitrites start to form nitric oxide, which binds to myoglobin, the protein that colors meat red. Once bound, the nitric oxide keeps the meat red even after cooking.

Any meat that is red when cooked has nitrites of some form in it. Most pepperoni is cooked (Tempesta is the only source of which I know for uncooked pepperoni). If pepperoni is red, there’s almost certainly nitrites. In the case of organic and natural products, they’re all adding nitrates through the likes of celery powder, cherry powder, or Swiss chard powder, and the nitrates become nitrites, and thus there’s nitrites in the meat. It’s disingenuous to claim “no nitrite or nitrate added” when Swiss chard powder and celery powder are added specifically as a source of nitrates, and brands are willfully misleading consumers.

And I’d be remiss if I failed to mention the pepperoni offerings from both Dietz & Watson and Molinari and Sons. I’ve tried them, and I’d say that’s enough for both of us.

Other Toppings

When it comes to toppings, you can still have a New York-style pizza if you top it with raw mushrooms, raw bell peppers, raw broccoli, and the like. Rejoice in the fact that your pizza will not be marred by inauthenticity for those toppings, and know that you will have an authentic New York-style pizza that you’ve turned into complete garbage with wet, bland, thoughtless toppings. I shouldn’t have to be the one to tell you that a fistful of ingredients straight from a Ruby Tuesdays salad bar is a terrible pizza topping.

Part of why restaurant food tastes better than what most people make at home is because generally, each component of a meal is seasoned separately. Do that. Ingredients won’t necessarily taste better just because they were baked on a pizza. Salt your toppings. For many of the vegetables that aren’t sliced, you’ll want to pre-cook them. Ricotta can be great on a pie. Taste it first. Does it need salt? Do you want to add some grated Pecorino Romano? If something doesn’t taste good on its own, it’s not going to taste good on a finished pie unless you take action.


A white pizza with caramelized onions and post-bake Parmigiano-Reggiano. Baked in a typical home oven on a 3/8-inch-thick steel plate.
A white pizza with caramelized onions and post-bake Parmigiano-Reggiano. Baked in a typical home oven on a 3/8-inch-thick steel plate.
A white pizza with caramelized onions and post-bake Parmigiano-Reggiano. Baked in a typical home oven on a 3/8-inch-thick steel plate.
Photo: Joe Rosenthal

Some toppings should necessarily be added after the pizza is done baking, or post-bake: basil, while basil is added pre-bake for Neapolitan pizza, when it comes to New York-style pizza, it should always be added post-bake due to the timescale of the cook, which can take five times as long to bake as a Neapolitan. Similarly, Mike’s Hot Honey ought to be added post-bake, and so should the paradigm-shifting Extra Hot variant. And while ranch dressing on New York-style pizza is a distressing thought, Emmett’s phenomonal Hot Poppy bar pizza has proven that at least paprika ranch can be great. If you must use ranch, never ever put it on pre-bake.

Making It Great

Practice

When I first started out, I practiced launching pizzas in the oven by taking a dough, launching it onto my lightly floured counter, and then picking it up again and repeating the process over and over. You should be able to launch a pizza cleanly and efficiently without deforming the pie. Pizzerias will train employees to launch this way, and they’ll have them top a sauced pizza with rigatoni or something similar to emulate cheese. The noodles enable pizza makers to practice launching in such a way that they don’t disturb the pizza toppings.

If you’re nervous about launching pizzas, make an extra dough or two for your first run, and practice this way. Your comfort level will rapidly improve through low-stakes practice like this. At the very least, I suggest starting with launching bare dough over and over on your counter until you get the mechanics down.

Dough Calculator

The default values of the calculator below will give you the ingredient weights for four doughballs sized for 16-inch pizzas, and the default value for yeast gives a dough targeted for three days of cold fermentation. Adjust the diameter and number of pies as needed, but my suggestion is to stick with that yeast amount for at least your first attempt. If you want to use the dough after two days or four days, it’ll be fine, but you should do at least one dough after three days for optimal results. Going too far beyond three days of cold fermentation will lead to a decrease in dough strength and viscosity as the dough becomes overfermented.

To reiterate, this recipe assumes the use of King Arthur All-Purpose Flour. I find King Arthur Bread Flour too chewy, and I prefer the stretching characteristics of dough made with King Arthur All-Purpose Flour. The recipe is designed around SAF Red Instant Yeast. Other instant yeasts or even active dry yeasts will probably work similarly given the long timescale of the recipe, but SAF is my strong recommendation. I recommend Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt in general, and the same goes for this recipe, but since the measurements are by mass, any basic pure salt at a vaguely similar coarseness will likely give the same results. The sugar is basic white sugar. I suggest you don’t color outside of the lines too much for your first run.


Dough Calculator


Dough ball weight: 400g or 14.1oz
flour: 951g
kosher salt: 23.8g
instant yeast: 2.4g
sugar: 13.3g
oil: 19g
water: 590g


The thin thickness option will give you the same thickness that I use for all of my New York-style pizzas, while medium will give you a result similar to the average New York slice shop, and thick will give you a thicker New York-style pizza. All three of those thickness values are within the realm of New York-style pizza.

Advanced mode will let you change the parameters for the various ingredients, and it will afford you a wider range and more granularity in selecting the target dough thickness. The dough calculator will work for any dough made with up to six ingredients, including flour. And if you’re concerned that your dough yield will be less than what you need to make your pizza, you can bump up the thickness slightly in advanced mode so that you have a little extra dough.

Kneading

You can concern yourself with dough temperature, but my recommendation is to not worry about it, and try to keep the dough cool. Use cold water (tap cold is fine). Don’t over-mix your dough—mix it until it’s smooth, and you’ll be likely be fine.

By Hand

You can knead a great pizza dough with just your hands. In general, I like to mix my dry ingredients together in a bowl, and then add the wet ingredients. Mix within the bowl using a spoon or a spatula—I like to use a wooden spoon or a unibody silicon spatula.

Once the dough comes together into something vaguely homogenous and the flour is incorporated, put your dough onto your work surface—I like a large wood cutting board the best—and start to knead the dough. Use a bench scraper, if the dough starts to stick.

If the dough ends up being too sticky after it’s all together, do not add bench flour. Do not add bench flour. Bench flour perturbs the recipe, and it’s a short-term solution that masks the actual reason why a dough is still sticky. If you truly need more flour (that’s a big if), then you should adjust the original recipe rather than compensate haphazardly and dilute the concentration of every other ingredient.

If the dough is stickier than you want to handle, cover the dough with a flipped over bowl and walk away for fifteen minutes. Let the yeast do the work. Walking away from the dough can make a world’s difference in mitigating stickiness. Either way, knead until smooth, and you can walk away multiple times if necessary, as long as you cover the dough with the bowl (covering with a towel is insufficient here).

Stand Mixer

With KitchenAid stand mixers, I suggest pre-mixing the dough in the mixer bowl, until all of the flour is incorporated. Run the mixer (on“stir”), until the dough is smooth, about seven-to-ten minutes. If the dough is almost smooth, and it starts to climb the dough hook, just remove the dough, place it on a wood cutting board (you can place it on anything but it’s easier to deal with on a wood cutting board), knead it together briefly, and then place the mixer bowl, or any bowl that’s large enough, over the dough. Wait fifteen minutes and return.

Spiral Mixer

If you have a spiral mixer with a breaker bar, you can happily just pour all of the dry ingredients into the mixer bowl and run the mixer while you weigh out the oil and water. Add the oil and water, and mix on the lowest setting until almost all of the flour is incorporated (could be a few minutes, but it depends on the amount of dough) and then bump the speed up to finish until the dough is smooth.

Balling and Proofing

Regardless of how the dough was mixed and kneaded, once the dough is together and smooth, flip your bowl over the dough, and let it sit for 30-45 minutes. If your dough felt pretty warm after being mixed, you could let it sit as little as fifteen minutes.

Using a bench scraper and scale, start cutting off sections of the dough and weigh to your desired amount (or evenly divide the dough into the number of pizzas that you need). If your yield is particularly bad, and you’ve lost a bit of dough, make slightly more dough next time and measure off the exact amounts that you need.

Ball your dough. Pick the dough up and fold each end of the dough inward, repeatedly. The dough will become more round as you continue folding. There should be only one seam on the ball—pinch it closed. Place the dough ball on your work surface with closed seam against the work surface (wood works best). Rotate the dough on your work surface and gently push the dough inward with one hand as you rotate to enforce a ball shape.

Oil the surface of your proofing container and spread it thin with a paper towel or cloth (just use basic oil, nothing fancy needed here). If you’re using a metal container, err on the side of a bit more oil, since metal is more likely to stick. Place the dough ball in the proofing container.

Once the dough is in its proofing container, place in your refrigerator to proof. Depending on your flour choice, you should be able to keep using dough for days after that, and it really comes down to the protein in the flour. With King Arthur All-Purpose Flour, you should be able to safely use leftover dough after four or five days, but three days is ideal and you should aim to use some at least some of your dough at the three day mark.

Preparation

Take your dough from the fridge around three hours prior to baking. In colder weather, in a relatively cold kitchen, you might want to aim for closer to five hours, and if it’s particularly warm, you can try two hours. Note that in a particularly humid kitchen, the dough may warm up more quickly, and conversely, in a very dry kitchen, the dough may need slightly more time to warm up. Don’t worry too much, though: in general there’s a pretty wide window for how long the dough should warm up.

You can also adjust similarly if you fermented your dough for more or less than three days. Really, you just want the dough to warm through. If you have a dough that’s targeting a three-day ferment, and you’re making pizza a day earlier than that, you might want to have the dough out at room temperature for slightly longer. It’s not really a calculable precise science in that case, and you can start by just giving it an extra hour. You aren’t likely to kill your pizza with pertubations in fermentation time.

If you’re baking in a home oven, preheat your oven with a steel in it positioned at about seven inches from the top of the oven (approximately middle rack), at least an hour and a half prior to baking. If your oven has convection and can do 550°F, preheat with convection 550°F.

If you’re baking in some other type of oven, preheat appropriately.

Generally, convection adds 25°F to the effective temperature of the oven. Some ovens will automatically compensate for that, and set the oven temperature 25°F lower. I generally turn that feature off if possible. I do convection roast at 550°F for my pizzas.

If you don’t have convection, preheat to 550°F. If you can’t do that, preheat as much as you can.

A half hour prior to cooking, take your cheese, sauce and other toppings that aren’t raw meats out. It’s not critical, especially if your oven is very hot, but I generally try to take the ingredients out in advance. Get a pizza serving pan ready so you have a place to put your finished pie. Also, have your metal retrieval peel nearby.

Flour your wooden launching peel. You can use semolina flour to dust your peel, and that’ll help prevent your dough from sticking to the peel. You don’t need much semolina flour, just make sure the peel is uniformly covered.

I have a dedicated container of bog-standard AP flour that I keep around labeled “Flour 4 Drops,” and you should have one, too. Make sure it’s bigger than your proofed dough and that it has plenty of flour in it. Grab some flour and coat your work surface well with it. And as far as work surfaces go, the smoother it is, the better, and you’ll want a surface on which the dough can glide readily —metal and natural stone work well.

Stretching

New York-style pizzas should be circular. It’s not just about aesthetics: stretching to a shape that’s close to a circle helps keep the interior of the pizza at a uniform thickness, which means the resulting pizza will have a more uniform cheese melt, and that uniformity in thickness is further enforced by proper stretching methods. Thin spots in the dough will lead to uneven melting and allow pools of grease at parts of a pizza may point to thin spots in the crust due to the stretching of the dough.

You can see an example of grease pooling due to a thin spot in one of my bar pizzas. I hand stretched that one, and if you look near the middle of the pizza, to the left, you’ll see the region that I’m describing (unlike New York-style pizzas bar pizzas should always be rolled with a pin). Thin spots like those can contribute to floppiness, and depending on the extent of the problem, it can impact taste: if there’s thin spots, then the rest of the pizza is necessarily thicker. And thicker means different melting dynamics.

When I first started trying to make New York-style pizza dough, there were nights where I’d make multiple pizza doughs, and I knew there was a good chance that I wouldn’t be able to eat a pizza for dinner because I’d fail in shaping it. I was setting myself up for failure: I wasn’t forming a dough ball hours prior to trying to stretch it, and so, I had a mess of dough and trying to shape it into a circle was hopeless. I missed the fundamental law of pizza making: start with a circle, end with a circle.

Stretching pizza brought me tremendous stress, and at points I thought it was impossible for me to do it. I couldn’t even comprehend making dough circular—I was tearing nearly every dough that I touched. I’d often have to ask Abby to stretch the dough and save our dinner, and against all odds, she often could turn my arbitrary blob of dough into a pizza. But my stress was caused by my belief that stretching pizza was difficult, and it truly isn’t.


The first New York-style pizza I ever made that I felt was acceptable. Baked in a typical home oven on a 1/4-inch-thick Baking Steel.
The first New York-style pizza I ever made that I felt was acceptable. Baked in a typical home oven on a 1/4-inch-thick Baking Steel.
Photo: Joe Rosenthal

Kneading until smooth, shaping the dough into a ball (and closing up any seams in the ball) prior to the dough going in the fridge, and having a large enough proofing container from which you can remove the dough without deforming it, are all things that set you up for success when it comes to stretching a pizza dough. And with the appropriate measures taken in advance, combined with a flour that yields a sufficiently strong and extensible dough, the dough should more or less stretch itself.

With a bowl scraper, carefully push underneath the dough in a circular motion, to detach the dough from the proofing container and maintain the dough’s round shape. Remember, if you start with a circle, you’ll end up with a circle.

Once the dough has separated from the proofing container, while attempting to preserve the circular shape of the dough, put the dough into your container of flour and flip it. The side of the dough that was in contact with the proofing container will be the stickiest, so keep that side facing upward. The upward-facing side of the dough will be referred to as the top of the dough. Angelo Womack of Rad Times Pizza, which is not associated with Anthony Falco in any capacity, trains all of his pizza cooks to always keep the sticky side of the dough facing up. And don’t worry about all of that flour: you’ll shake it off as part of the shaping process.


A dough that’s been poked to have a rim area defined.
A dough that’s been poked to have a rim area defined.
A dough that’s been poked to have a rim area defined.
Photo: Joe Rosenthal

Place your dough on the floured work surface, and very carefully with your fingers start to poke the top of the dough with your finger tips toward the edge of the dough in order to define the rim. Make the rim area narrow and leave the rim untouched—do not compress the rim. Once the rim is fully defined, start to poke the entire interior of the top of the dough, and be sure to repeat poking the area adjacent to the rim to make sure it’s well-defined.


A dough that’s been poked throughout the entire interior.
A dough that’s been poked throughout the entire interior.
A dough that’s been poked throughout the entire interior.
Photo: Joe Rosenthal

Once you’re done poking your dough, place the base of your hand on the dough the rim, and use the base of your hand to stretch the edge of the dough outward as you rotate the dough with your other hand. Take care not to deflate the rim of the pie.


A video of the intial stretch of dough on a countertop.
Video: Joe Rosenthal

Repeat the motion for several rotations. This motion helps mitigate the thinning of the center of the pizza and serves to facilitate stretching the dough to a uniform thickness. The number of ideal full rotations necessary is a function of the size of the pizza. Larger pizzas will require more rotations than smaller ones. Do four or so full rotations for a 16-inch pizza, adjust if necessary for future stretches—don’t worry about the exact number too much. You can see pizza makers do the same stretching technique, if you watch carefully.

Once you’ve finished stretching the dough on your counter, put the dough onto your knuckles with the top of the dough facing toward you. Curl your fingers inward toward the palm of your hand, away from the dough. Try to knock off any excesss flour at this point. Keep your knuckles close to the rim of the dough, and rotate and stretch the dough using your knuckles.

If you need to pause for any reason, or if you just want to see if you’ve sized the dough properly, just place the dough carefully on the peel. Don’t return the stretched dough to your flour work surface—nobody wants to eat a pizza with caked on bench flour.

Once your pizza is stretched to the appropriate size, place it on your peel, with the top of the dough facing up. Carefully shake the peel back and forth to confirm that the pizza is able to move freely.


A stretched and untopped dough.
A stretched and untopped dough.
Photo: Joe Rosenthal

Topping

One thing to note is that even with the best stretching technique, the center of your pizza could still be slightly thinner than the rest of the pie, and toppings could tend to gravitate toward the center as it bakes. In general, avoid overloading the pizza near the center while topping it.

If you’re making a pizza with tomato sauce, spoon your tomato sauce on the pizza, and with a large spoon spread it around the pizza, and stop saucing just adjacent to the rim of the dough. If you’re worried about your dough sticking to your peel, after you sauce the pizza, it can be a good time to gently shake the peel back and forth to ensure the dough moves freely. You can repeat the shaking after each topping, but all of the shaking is optional to give you assurance that your pizza won’t stick.


A stretched and sauced dough.
A stretched and sauced dough.
Photo: Joe Rosenthal

If you’re making a white pie, you can use a small container of water and spoon a small amount of it over the dough, and spread it with the back of your spoon like you would with tomato sauce. The water helps compensate for the lack of moisture without tomato sauce. I used to use olive oil on the white pies in lieu of sauce, but I’ve come to prefer a small amount of water as the olive oil tends to fry everything, and the pizzas can get oily if you’re using whole milk mozzarella. If you’re using a lot of toppings that contribute moisture you can forgo the water entirely.

Grab some cheese and place the cheese in a spiral pattern around the sauced pizza. Fill in the gaps so the cheese is uniformly distributed. Place the cheese over all of the sauced area, but avoid placing any cheese beyond the sauced region of the dough, and know there’s no shame in picking up a shred of cheese and placing it elsewhere if you have a bad placement.

If you’re using entirely whole milk mozzarella without any part-skim mozzrella cut in, you may want to lightly salt your cheese, especially if you aren’t adding salty toppings like pepperoni. Sprinkle a small amount of salt on the pizza. If you sprinkle the salt from higher above the pizza, you can get a more uniform coverage without having to apply a lot of salt. Err on the side of less salt until you get a feel for how much you need for your cheese.


A stretched, sauced, and cheesed dough.
A stretched, sauced, and cheesed dough.
Photo: Joe Rosenthal

If you want to top your pizza with pepperoni, pieces of fresh mozzarella, vegetables, or anything else, place them after you place the cheese. Distribute the toppings uniformly, and you should especially avoid center-loading your topping at this stage.


A stretched, sauced, cheesed, and more cheesed dough.
A stretched, sauced, cheesed, and more cheesed dough.
Photo: Joe Rosenthal

Launching and Baking

Once the pizza is topped, shake the peel back and forth to guarantee that it moves. Open your oven door, place your peel just above the rear of the steel, and shake the topped dough onto your steel.

Once your pizza is in the oven, set a timer for two-and-a-half minutes. When your first timer comes up, rotate your pizza. If your oven heats very evenly (mine does not), you can skip the rotation step. I burn the bottom of mine, and half of it is undercooked if I don’t rotate.

If you’re not using convection, with two-to-three minutes left, turn the broiler of your oven on to provide enough heat for the top.

After four or five minutes the pie should be done, but really, it’s done when it looks done. When the pizza is done, you should notice the cheese bubbling, and the crust ought to be nicely browned. If the pizza needs more time, give it more time. Remove the pie with your metal peel, and place it on your serving pan. Wait at least three minutes before slicing.


A pizza with tomato sauce, aged mozzarella, and fresh mozzarella. Baked in a typical home oven on a 3/8-inch-thick steel plate.
A pizza with tomato sauce, aged mozzarella, and fresh mozzarella. Baked in a typical home oven on a 3/8-inch-thick steel plate.
Photo: Joe Rosenthal



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