The first pizza I ever made in a pizza oven was an absolute disaster – at least I thought so. Like most guys, I tend not to ask for directions or read the instructions. What this means is that I figured there that cooking a pizza in a wood-fired oven just meant getting the oven hot enough and throw in the pizza - simple as that!
But first, let me start at the beginning. It was a Saturday early afternoon. My daughter had a basketball game and two of her friends came over to our house after the game. They were hungry and I was anxious to use my new Ooni Pro Portable Pizza Oven, but there was a problem - one of the friends said she didn't like pizza. I told her I would make the pizza and if she didn't like it then I'd make her something else.
I fired up the oven and then made my own pizza dough (the one time I did follow instructions), rolled it out, sprinkled a little bit of flour on the peel, and then laid the dough on the peel. Soon the oven was hot and ready to go. I went to launch my pizza and nothing happened! The pizza went nowhere! It was stuck fast to the peel! I tried the pull the pizza to the end of the peel and it threatened to tear. I tried to push the pizza and it crumpled. At that point, I had to work very hard to get the pizza off the peel and get it into the oven which made a big mess. Sauce and cheese were on the stone and it made the pizza stick to the stone and hard to get up with the peel. However, once the pizza cooked enough it got easier to turn and I could get it out of the oven. I repeated the process with two more pizzas with similar results.
Well, I figured, at least the girls had fun making the pizzas with me. They really enjoyed the entire pizza-making process - rolling the dough, "decorating' the pizzas and watching the pizzas cook in the oven. If nothing else, no matter how the pizza turned out, seeing their happy faces throughout the process was worth everything. This is when I realized that making pizza is not just about making food - it's a social event! Ever since then, I have tried to involve others in the pizza-making process - whether it was my kids or friends that come to visit - I always try to make them a part of the process and a part of the fun!
Still, here I was with 3 hungry girls and 3 of the ugliest pizzas I had ever seen! This didn't give me much hope that they would like the pizza - especially the one that had already told me that she didn't like pizza. And that is why my surprise was even greater when all 3 girls started saying how great the pizza was! These were not just polite comments - they were raving about the pizzas. Even the girl that didn't like pizza said it was the best pizza she had ever had! And the other girl later told her mom that my pizzas were an ooey, gooey, disastrous, delicious, mess! How's that for an endorsement?
With time and practice, I have become much better at cooking pizzas. First step was to figure out why the pizzas were sticking to the peel. Here are 3 reasons that the pizzas were sticking to the peels – and how I have been able to fix these issues.
1. I left the pizza dough on the peel too long.
I like to build my pizza on a cold peel that I use to launch the pizza into the oven. If any part of the dough sticks to the peel, then it will make it a mess when you go to launch it into the oven. If the pizza dough is on the peel too long it starts to sweat, and when it does that the dough will stick to the peel.
2. Cornmeal helps keep the peel from sticking better than flour.
The best way to keep the pizza from sweating and sticking to the peel is by sprinkling cornmeal on the peel. I have found it to work much better than flour. You have to be careful though - as it is easy to put too much cornmeal on the peel. At first, I used too dump a spoonful of cornmeal on the peel and then move it around with my hand. The problem is that the cornmeal always seems to clump instead of spreading out evenly. Instead, sprinkle the cornmeal onto the peel by rubbing it between your fingers so that it creates a fine, even layer of cornmeal on the peel.
3. I did not test my pizza to make sure it would slide off the peel.
The pizza should be able to slide on the peel at all times. Best way is to make sure with a simple shake test. Shake the peel periodically to make sure it does not stick. Shake it before you add the toppings. Shake it after you add the toppings. Shake it right before you launch it into the oven. Do not attempt to launch your pizza unless it glides across your peel when you shake it. If you have any spots that stick, first try to lift that part of the dough to let some air in and then repeat the shake test. If needed, add some more cornmeal to affected areas.
The most important lesson to take away from this story is that it is very likely that your first pizza will not turn out the way you want. In fact, it might be a total disaster like mine was. But don't give up and don't get discouraged. Making pizza with friends and family is a fun, relationship-building event. They may not always remember the pizza, but they will remember the fun they had!