It takes a little more time than ordering delivery, but few meals are more fun (or more satisfying!) to make than pizza.

By Tiffany Stevens
June 01, 2020
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Getting pizza delivered is a delicious way to treat the family, and frozen or take-and-bake pizzas provide a budget-friendly alternative to having pizzas sent to your door. But too often, pizza is depicted as a convenience food whipped up by others, rather than a home-cooked meal. If you’ve never made up your own pizza before, or if you’ve only topped your homemade ‘za with pepperoni and bagged pizza blend cheese, then creating your own gourmet pie is well worth the effort. Besides, once you get used to working with the dough, custom pizzas will become your go-to for using up vegetables, meats, and other leftovers that might otherwise go to waste. 

To help you create your best pizza yet, we’ve put together a guide that includes tips for making dough and sauce from scratch, as well as how to pick the best cheeses and toppings for your pies. We’ve also included instructions for several alternative forms of pizza, like pizza bagels and bagel bites. Since pizza is obviously a vast culinary universe unto itself, we couldn’t possibly include every regional variation on this classic recipe, so feel free to consult this round-up if you’re looking for tips on how to create a U.S. regional pizza not mentioned here. 

Photo: Victor Protasio; Food Styling: Tina Bell Stamos; Prop Styling: Christine Keely

Step One: Choose Your Crust

Creating your own pizza dough is a great exercise for fledgling bakers, since it usually only involves the use of baking ingredients that are likely in your pantry, like all-purpose flour, yeast, sugar and olive oil. If it’s your first time making a dough from scratch, make sure you lightly flour a clean surface before proceeding to the kneading step; this will cut down on the dough’s stickiness and make it easier to work with. Once you get used to making pizza dough, you can of course experiment with other variations on the dough, such as using sourdough starter for a slightly sour kick or using wheat flour for a slightly healthier crust. Gluten-free pizza dough can also be created using an alternative flour, such as rice or sorghum. 

Once you’ve created your dough and allowed it to go through a rising process (if applicable), form a ball and sprinkle the ball with cornmeal on a floured surface. Flatten the ball with your hand and, working slowly from the inside, stretch the dough until it becomes a flattened disk the size of your pizza pan or stone. The crust should form as a ridge while you stretch the dough outward, but you can press your finger tips around the pie an inch from the edge if you want to make the crust more pronounced. Make sure to rotate the dough as you stretch to prevent tearing. If you’d like to challenge yourself, you can also hand toss your pizza to have it reach its iconic shape, as explained in the guide above.

Of course, if you’d rather not bother with kneading and stretching the dough, you can turn to several shortcuts for the perfect pizza base. Most stores sell prepared pizza dough in refrigerated or frozen forms, and other forms of breads can also be used as a replacement pizza base. Crescent rolls or canned biscuits, when pressed together by hand or with a rolling pin, can make for an unusual but delicious pizza base. Italian or French bread loaves can also be used as a pizza base, as can pita or naan. Feel free to get creative when choosing your ideal crust.

To avoid a soggy crust, wait five minutes after taking the pizza out of the oven before slicing it. This will give any liquid given off during cooking time to be reabsorbed by the toppings, rather than dripping down into the crust. 

Photography: Greg DuPree Food Styling: Rishon Hanners Prop Styling: Thom Driver

Step Two: Choose Your  Sauce

Now that you’ve got your crust stretched out, you’re ready to spread sauce over it. But before you reach for marinara, consider that there’s a world of pizza sauces outside of tomato-based ones. You could use pesto, chutney, alfredo, even a peanut sauce to cover the base of a pizza. You can even skip the sauce altogether and just add a generous drizzle of olive oil, which is customary for white pizzas. If you’d rather stick with tomato sauce though, then feel free to cook your own, or, if you’re pressed for time, reach for your favorite jar of marinara sauce. Both will taste delicious coming out of the oven.

Meredith Food Studios

Step Three: Choose Your Cheese

Naturally, this step is optional for vegans and others who don’t consume cheese. However, for those who do partake in the gooey ingredient, there’s plenty of choices to make at the cheese stage. Mozzarella is a classic option, but other cheeses like feta, provolone and parmesan can all add intrigue to your pie. Soft cheeses like goat cheese and Brie can also make for delicious additions to homemade pizzas, as can blue cheese, Gouda and quality cheddar.

If you’re still feeling a cheesy taste but don’t eat cheese yourself, consider using a vegan cheese or sprinkling your pizza with nutritional yeast, and you’ll get the umami goodness you desire. 

Photo: Aaron Kirk; Prop Styling: Sarah Elizabeth Cleveland; Food Styling: Robby Melvin

Step Four: Choose Your Toppings

We’re not kidding when we say that literally anything can go on a pizza. Your topping options are only limited by your fridge contents. Leftover roasted chicken is a perfect convenient protein to pile onto your pie, and cooked lasagna or macaroni noodles can make for unconventional but delicious toppings. If you’re feeling seafood, try grilling up some shrimp to go on your pizza or add some smoked salmon. Even nettles can make for an intriguing pizza ingredient. If you’re looking to use up some of your produce, toss a bunch of cut-up veggies on a baking sheet and roast them, then add them to your pizza.

Jennifer Causey

Step Five: Choose Your Cooking Method

With your ingredients all assembled, it’s time to cook your pizza. Most pizza recipes will call for you to bake your pie in the oven on a circular or rectangular baking sheet, but if you prefer, you can also use a pizza stone or a cast iron pan to achieve a crispier crust. 

If you’d rather cook your pizza on the grill than in the oven, make sure it’s heated to 400 degrees or higher before placing the dough on the grates. This will ensure the dough begins to cook immediately and will result in a better crust.

Additional Pizza Styles

How to Make a Deep Dish Pizza

If you’re a huge fan of deep-dish pizza, then all you need is a regular casserole pan and enough dough to create a solid dough vessel. From there, assemble your pizza and ingredients and bake as directed. You can also buy a deep-dish pan specifically for pizza or use a deep cast-iron skillet, if Chicago’s signature variation is one of your family’s favorites. 

How to Make a Pizza Pie

Get the Recipes: Pizza Rustica, Supreme Pizza Pie

What’s better than pizza? A pizza made into true pie form. For a pie variation of your favorite pizza, you’ll want a pie tin and a greater ratio of toppings and cheese than you would include on top of the more traditional version of this dish. Since this variation most resembles a pot pie, checking out our guide on that dish may be of help to get you started.

How to Make Pizza Bagels

We’re sorry to those of you who now have this iconic ‘90s jingle stuck in your head—but why not put pizza on a bagel so you can have pizza anytime? Just make sure to keep a closer eye on the oven or toaster oven while whipping up this quick pizza treat so that the bagel doesn’t end up burning.

How to Make Personal Pizzas

Once you’ve made full-size pizzas, mini-pizzas are a breeze. Just divide up the dough you would use for a normal pizza into quarters, or half the dough ball if you’d like your personal pizzas a little bigger. The cooking time may be less than with a full size pizza as well, so you’ll want to consult directions or keep an eye on your oven.

How to Make Pizza Bites

Get the Recipe: Homemade Pizza Bites

Pizza bites are made much like mini pizzas, just smaller. Roll out three- to four-inch circles, or cut your dough into squares of about the same size after rolling it out into a uniform rectangle. Add a small amount of your toppings, sauce and cheese in the center, and then close the seams on each pizza bite. If you’d like, you can cook these together in a circular tin (preferably with some cheese sprinkled on top, or you can separate out the square ones on a baking pan for a more recognizable version of this popular snack food. You can even deep fry them, provided you have oil and a large pot on hand. 

How to Make a Decorative Pizza

Our example recipes here might be from Halloween, but don’t let that limit your imagination. There’s no reason you can’t create an intriguing design using the pizza toppings you have on hand. For example, you could lay out your pepperoni and cheese to make a flag for Independence Day, or you could make an olive tree decorated with red bell pepper, pepperoni, pineapple and mushrooms for Christmas. With a little effort, you can make a decorated pie for any occasion.

How to Make Dessert Pizzas

Nothing is stopping you from making pizza both your main course and your after-meal treat. So if you’re surrounded by pizza fanatics, then feel free to finish off your dinner with a different, sweet kind of ‘za. Fruit and sweet dough can be used to create a dessert version of the dish, but if you’re feeling especially industrious, try making the above “pizza” cake, which uses red velvet cake, coconut shreds and candy topping to achieve a surprisingly authentic pizza look.