How to Make Killer Pizza (Vegan or non-Vegan)

For the past year I've been making a lot of pizza and have learned the most important things to do to make a good pizza.

You can go crazy overboard with specifics and spend hundreds of hours perfecting your pizza. If you want to do this, I recommend joining and reading the online forum:

(I made this pizza by heating my old oven to 525, baked it regularly and then broiled for 1-2 minutes at 1 inch away from the broiler's heating elements for extra crisp.)

Tip 1: Buy a New Oven
If you are serious about making pizza, you need a hot oven. It is also easier (faster and more energy efficient) to heat a smaller oven. Unfortunately, high temperature ovens are relatively rare in the United States (they are more common in Europe). If you don't want to build your own wood-fired/brick oven, I recommend buying the Wisco 560-D for $250 (+ shipping).

The main advantage of this oven is that it goes to 675F, whereas a typical home oven will only go up to 525-550F. It will run off a regular electrical circuit - and I haven't had a problem with doing so. Ideally it would have its own circuit as it uses 1700 watts.

If you don't put a pizza stone in it, this oven will heat up very fast. Unfortunately you should be using a pizza stone, so you'll have to wait.

This oven is built well. One possible downside is that if you use a thick pizza stone there is not a lot of clearance between the stone and the top heating elements. You can make regular pizza, but you cannot go that thick.

Once it is heated, the oven cooks a pizza in 3-5 minutes. So you can have a pizza party and everyone can make their own pizza!

Tip 2: A Pizza Stone
A pizza stone or baking stone is ESSENTIAL for a faster cooking time by both storing heat and conducting it to the bottom of the pizza. This assists in carmelization and a nice crust.

If you are getting the Wisco oven, I recommend buying a thin pizza stone. My pizza stone is around 1.5 inches thick (partially because it has legs on its corners - the stone itself is maybe 0.75 inches thick), heavy, and this makes moving the tray on the oven difficult. I'd recommend buying a 0.5 inch thick stone (or possibly 0.375 inch - I'm not sure what you could get away with). The Wisco oven tray was not designed for a heavy pizza stone, so moving it takes some practice. I'm somewhat worried that it could break, but I've made 20+ pizzas so far without a problem.

Pizza made with my new oven.

Tip 3: A Pizza Paddle
I bought a cheap pizza paddle which I use to prepare the pizza and slide it off on to the stone. I've had serious problems with the pizza sticking to the paddle so I use a lot of flour on it and jiggle it occasionally to make sure it isn't sticking. I also use a slightly drier dough than the recipe might call for. Finally, I add the ingredients to the pizza at the last minute - just before sticking it in the oven - to avoid moisture from the ingredients causing the dough to get wet and stick.

If you don't do this, your pizza can stick and your ingredients can fall off and end up sitting at the bottom of the oven and burning.

Tip 4: Making the Dough
I've tried fancy methods of making dough (like having it sit in the fridge for a couple days). My easiest and most reliable method of dough is to use my cheap bread maker. It has a "dough" setting that takes 1 hour and 40 minutes. I stick the flour, water, yeast, and salt in the machine (I use the "french bread" recipe!) - hit the button - and it does the kneading, heating, and rising for me!

I have a sourdough yeast culture which I've used to make pizza as well.

Tip 5: Ingredients are Key
I think my pizza tastes better than anything I've eaten in Philadelphia primarily because my ingredients are better.

I normally try to not overload the pizza with ingredients. So small and flavorful toppings work better than big bulky ones.

Cheese: I'm vegan so I use Daiya shredded mozarella. All of the restaurants that make vegan pizza are using it as well. It is pricy ($5 per half pound bag), but amazing compared to other vegan cheeses. And non-vegans seems to like it as well.

Tomatoes: I grow my own tomatoes. Good fresh tomatoes knock the socks off store bought or canned. If you don't grow your own, you should buy them at a farmer's market. For the off-season, I like to use San Marzano canned tomatoes (cost around $4 for a jar).

I started off my tomato plants inside, in my south-facing third floor window that gets great sun. Then I moved them around April 6 outside in a very cheap/junky plastic cold frame. Young plants tolerate cold weather better than older plants. It might be possible to move them outside in March - or you could move them outside in a container that could be brought in if you get a cold snap. I've heard that a cold snap can setback a new plant by two weeks.

This gave me my first couple tomatoes on June 27 and the two plants have continued to produce through November!

I grew these tomatoes in November in Philadelphia with my plastic covered tomato plants that survived an inch of snow:

I used Tufflite Nursery Clear Greenhouse Film plastic.

I strongly recommend buying high quality steel tomato cages.

I tried growing some plum tomatoes, but they tasted no better than the flavorless store ones and I uprooted them! So I recommend growing regular indeterminate tomatoes. I had an Early Girl and another mainstream variety which produced medium sized fruit (1-2 ounces) and tasted amazing. Or you could try the San Marzano plum tomato variety.

Basil: I grow my own basil and also buy fresh basil. If you are in Philadelphia, you can get the cheapest basil from the two big Asian/Vietnamese grocery stores on Washington Ave. They have both regular and Thai basil for 79 cents - I use both on pizza.

Oregano: I grow my own. Oregano is easy to grow and survives the winter.

I also grow thyme and garlic chives.

Fake Meats: my two favorite fake meats for pizza are ground sausage and tofurkey luncheon meats.

Mushrooms: I like the small portabella mushrooms (if I'm cheap - $1 for half a pound at the food truck), larger/real portabellas, shitakes (fresh from an Asian grocery store), or if I'm adventurous King Trumpets (perhaps the hardest to find - Philadelphia has them on Washington Ave.). I think pre-cooking the mushrooms is important to concentrate the flavor and reduce their size and water weight.

Other ingredients that I really like include artichokes (Trader Joe's has a glass jar of marinated artichokes which is amazing) and olives (notably Lucque olives).