Homemade Pizza: How To Make Awesome Pan Pizza Using Storebought Dough

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 Get the recipePan Pizza

Pizza is one of the most widely eaten foods in America. And with pizza chains improving the quality of their offerings, finding good pizza for a weeknight dinner is easier than ever before. So chances are, you eat pizza pretty frequently and eat it pretty good.

Despite this easy access, many people still want to make pizza at home. and for good reasons.

WHY HOMEMADE PIZZA IS AWESOME

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[Photography: Saqib Shafi, unless otherwise noted]

It’s fresh. Hot, cheesy, saucy deliciousness coming out of your oven immediately as a pizza finishes baking beats one that took 45 minutes to arrive with the delivery guy.

It’s customizable. You choose the toppings, like Halal meat, and ratio of sauce to cheese.

It’s cheaper. Per pie, a homemade pizza always costs less than ordering out.

It’s fun. Stretch your own dough, prepare it with your own toppings, and bake it in your own oven and watch it bake as you eagerly wait to eat your creation. Pizza at home lets you be the pizzaiolo.

The question is: how do you make pizza that’s great? Because maybe you’ve tried to make pizza at home and it didn’t exactly turn out right. What are the secrets to excellent pizza at home?

That’s the goal of our series on homemade pizza. From dough making, to Halal meat toppings, to cooking pizza on a grill, we will get you into pizza making like you’ve never imagined.

For this introductory post, we’ll start with something simple but insanely delicious: a pan pizza, baked in a thick, heavy pan with an ultra crisp crust sturdy enough to take on your favorite toppings.

This recipe is based off of J. Kenji Lopez-Alt’s No Knead Pan Pizza but is optimized for a larger pan while providing guidance on Halal ingredients. Since this is a beginner recipe, we’re going to use store bought dough and sauce, letting you focus on the baking and leaving the dough and sauce making to someone else. But, as always, we’ll show you how to use those ingreidents in the most optimally flavorful way.

Ready for the pan pizza of your dreams? Lets-a-bake!

Equipment needed: 12-inch Cast Iron Skillet

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For this pizza, we’re using a 12-inch cast iron skillet. Cast iron is super dense and holds onto heat for a long time. This is perfect to bake our pan pizza in order to get it extra crisp and fully cooked through.

Our recommended brand is the Lodge 12-inch cast iron skillet for around $35. You can use these bad boys for burgers, steaks, roast chicken, and all sorts of recipes. Best part is, it will last forever; some people have some that are generations old.

Don’t have a cast iron skillet yet? No worries. You can use a rectangular aluminum 13×9 quarter sheet pan with raised edges. Since aluminum is different than cast iron, you’ll just have to par-bake the dough by itself for five minutes, remove it from the oven to add your toppings, then put it all back in to finish.

Step 1: Get yourself some dough

By far the most rewarding yet challenging part of homemade pizza is making your own pizza dough. To solve that, just buy someone else’s. You’ve got a couple options.

WARNING: Some store bought doughs contain lard. Always check the ingredients on any dough that you buy.

Grocery store dough. These doughs are ready to bring home, rest, and bake. Stores like Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods carry these, but you can also find them at Safeway, Wegmans, Publix, Kroger, and all sorts of other stores throughout the country.

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Pizzeria/Deli dough. Some pizzerias and delis sell their own dough. This is a great option since you’ll be using the exact same dough that a pizzeria or fancy pants in-store deli does, so it’s probably really good.

The dough on the left contains lard, the dough on right doesn’t.

The dough on the left contains lard, the dough on right doesn’t.

Frozen dough. Just like the fresh doughs only you have to let them thaw before using. They can be bought in bulk and stored in your freezer for a few months. Next time you want pizza, just take it out of the freezer when you head out for work in the morning. It’ll be ready to bake when you come back.

[Photo: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt/Serious Eats]

[Photo: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt/Serious Eats]

Homemade. Enjoy cooking from scratch and want superior flavor and texture? Try your hand at a homemade recipe. I recommend either J. Kenji Lopez Alt’s No Knead Pizza Dough (cutting the full recipe by 25% for one 12-inch pan pizza) or his New York style pizza dough (using half the full recipe for one 12-inch pan pizza). Both are excellent.

Some stores offer different flavors of dough, such as whole wheat and herbed. We’re going classic here, so stick with just white. Whole wheat is its own beast that we’ll dive into in the future, and the herbed one is something you want to avoid. If you want herbs, add them fresh to your pizza.

Each of these doughs usually weighs between 14 and 16 ounces, making “one pizza.” This will make a standard 12-inch pie and can feed 2 to 3 people depending on how hungry they are.

Step 2: Rest then stretch the dough in an oiled pan

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Your store bought dough needs to be stretched out to completely fit your pan, but if you try to do it while the dough is cold, it will either shrink back to its original shape, or tear. That’s why you need to let your dough rest out of the fridge. Not only does the gluten need to relax, a resting period allows the yeast to wake up and let the pizza dough rise. Time will give you bubbles of gas in your dough, critical for an airy, chewy crust.

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With a pan pizza, you can let all that happen right in the pan. Add a couple tablespoons of oil to its surface (I use extra virgin olive oil for the best flavor), spreading it all over. It may seem like a lot, but you will need it for a crisp crust.

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Now for the easy part. Just invert your dough straight from its packaging into the pan covering it on both sides with oil, gently shape it into a flat disc, and let it sit covered in plastic wrap for an hour or two. The Trader Joe’s packet says to let it rest for 30 minutes, which is simply not enough time. Go for two hours in the summer, more in the winter.

Step 3: Blast your oven as hot as it will go

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One of the secrets to great pizza? High heat. A pizza needs to be subjected to a super hot oven to cook, especially when cooked in a pan. This is what leads to a pizza that’s crisp and not soggy on the outside and soft and tender on the inside.

The Trader Joe’s dough packet instructions say to bake their pizza at 350 degrees F. That’s complete non-sense. We’re baking a pizza here, not a birthday cake.

Other pizza doughs come with instructions to set your oven to 425 degrees F. We want more that that. Crank your oven to as hot as it will go. This will be around 500 degrees F, and up to 550 if your model allows you to. While you prepare the pie, it will be pre-heated and ready to go.

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Oh, and while you’re at it, adjust your oven rack to the lowest position.

Step 4: Stretch the dough to fill the pan

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With your dough nice and rested, it will now stretch very easily. Using your fingertips, carefully stretch out the dough until it reaches the edges of the pan. The nice thing about a pan pizza is that the dough is coated in oil. This makes stretching really easy. Just be sure to be gentle, stretching the dough all around its edges as you do.

Step 5: Spread on some sauce

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You can find some great quality pizza sauces in the stores.  If your grocery store deli sells it, get their own pizza sauce. Either way, look for a sauce that has less sugar than others and has as few ingredients as possible, preferably tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, and salt, maybe some sugar. I found Trader Joe’s pizza sauce to be way too sweet. Their jarred marinara sauce, however, would work better. Since this is a thick pan pizza, we go with an entire cup all the way to the edges.

Step 6: Top it with cheese

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Do yourself a favor. Use low-moisture whole-milk mozzarella from the cheese section or deli counter of your grocery store for your pizza. The pre-shredded part-skim mozzarella in packets is coated in starch to keep separate, but hurts its ability to melt. And since it’s made with part-skim milk, the cheese can get rubbery when hot. The whole-milk stuff, though, is made for pizzas. It melts like a dream and has the best flavor.

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Make sure to get the low-moisture whole milk mozzarella, not fresh mozzarella. You can grate it, run it through the slicer of your grater, or just break it up by hand into little chunks. It’ll all melt in the ultra-hot oven.

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Load it up on top, about half a pound per pie. This pizza is meant to take it big. Oh, and be sure to go the edges. You’ll see why later.

Step 7: Add toppings

Now for the fun part. We’ve created a super flavorful base of a pizza with the best olive oil, sauce, and cheese. Now you can add toppings to enhance already awesome pizza. And since a pan pizza is thick and heavy, it can hold a lot of toppings, allowing you to go for gusto. Here are some choices:

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Fresh herbs. Like basil, the traditional pairing from Italy. Its fragrance perfectly compliments tomato sauce and cheese. Add it on whole before baking, or chopped sprinkled on the hot pie right after it finishes baking. Don’t have it on hand? Try topping with fresh parsley after baking. It’s technically just as Italian.

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Halal fresh sausage. AKA “qeema,” as in meat mixed with salt and spices. You can go ethnic like using Middle Eastern or Desi style seasonings, but I recommend finding a recipe for spicy Italian sausage and season ground beef, lamb, or chicken in place of the usual pork. The flavor profile works better on pizza. Add it in small 1/2-inch chunks all over the the pizza lightly dusting each bit with a little bit of flour on top to promote browning. Just make sure you add it on raw. Pre-cooking it will lead to chunks of meat that are dried out in the final pizza. Don’t worry, the meat will cook through in the hot oven.

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Halal cured meats. Finally, your chance to eat the Halal pepperoni pan pizza that’s haunted your childhood! You can buy Halal beef Pepperoni from your local Halal meat store. Which is pretty good. My recent favorite, though? Sujuk, the cured sausage of the Middle East and Turkey. Its strong coriander profile tastes a lot like a Pakistani chapli kabob but somehow it works wonders on pizza.

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Vegetables. Halal meat on pizza is cool and all, but sometimes you want a Pizza Hut Veggie Lovers Supreme only in a superior homemade form. Whatever vegetable (or fungus) you use, make sure that you cook them down a bit in a little bit of olive oil and salt until they’re well softened, but not fully cooked through. That’ll drive off a lot of their moisture that if topped raw could lead to a soggy pizza.

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Whatever the heck you want. Hey, it’s your pizza. Do your own thing. Here I’ve got a mix of spicy Italian chicken sausage, mushrooms, and basil.

Step 8: Bake until brown and crisp

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In it goes into your ultra-hot oven. Watch, as the high temperature starts to heat up the oil until it practically fries the bottom side of the pizza. That’s because that’s exactly what it’s doing, and in flavorful extra virgin olive oil, too. This pizza takes about 12 to 13 minutes to finish.

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Once it seems done on top, I remove and carefully check with a metal spatula if the underside is crisp and GBD, golden brown and delicious.

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Pizza not browned enough bottom? No problem. Simply cook the pizza on the stovetop over medium-high heat moving it around a bit to finish the bottom. Need more brown on top? Hit the pizza under the broiler. That’s the beauty of a cast iron pizza. It really is foolproof.

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Once done, I remove it to a cutting board. In our house, we use the same pizza peel used for thin-crust pizza to cut and serve our pan pizzas from.

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Just look at this. The sujuk is rendered of its fat and curls up like good sliced pepperoni should on a pizza. And remember how we laid the cheese to the edges of the pan? That created an external layer of caramelized ultra-flavorful cheese, just like the famous Peaqoud’s pizza of Chicago.

Step 9: Top with aged cheese and rest

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We are almost there. The pizza is done cooking, but needs to rest a bit before slicing. Cutting through now would leak a lot of liquid all over your board. While we wait, it’s time to add some grated aged cheese.

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My favorite? Parmigiano-Reggiano, the certified, real deal Italian stuff that’s aged for two years that the American “Parmesan” (that’s aged for 10 months only) is based off of. It’s deeply cheesy, but also somehow nutty and sweet. American grated Parmesan, the stuff in the green container, works, too. Whatever you use, add it on afterward. It’ll instantly melt as it hits the steaming hot surface of the pizza.

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Oh, I almost forgot. Remember that Halal Italian chicken sausage, mushroom, and basil one? Here it is out of the oven topped heavy with Pecorino Romano, an aged Italian cheese made from sheep milk.

Step 10: Slice and devour

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Just look at what you can do with a nice pan, store-bought dough and a really hot oven.

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The dough was hit with so much heat, it got mad oven spring (when dough lifts up) creating super tall air bubbles in the dough.

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And while the inside is cooked through and tender, the bottom is ultra-crisp with tons of extra virgin olive oil flavor. A pan pizza like this takes a more time and effort than placing a phone call, but will make you think of it the next time you order out.

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This pizza is the ultimate gateway into home pizza making. Not only is it pretty fool proof, it’s ridiculously delicious when done right. Go ahead and try it out yourself. As you scarf down gooey, cheesy, saucy slices think to yourself: If you can make this pizza, what other kinds can you make?

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Mind blowing, right? We’ll get to other kinds soon. Until then, keep makin’ it great.

 Make it now. Get the recipePan Pizza

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