Here’s how to make the dream of weeknight homemade pizza a reality.

I don't know about you, but the past year of being at home has meant that some cooking projects that used to be rare and occasional have gone into the regular rotation. And one of those has been pizza. Whether you received a pizza oven as a gift, or have recently gifted one to yourself, you might be feeling a little unsure about diving in. Have no fear! Here are 5 tips and tricks for getting the most out of your new pizza oven.  

1. Embrace buying dough.

I'm a bread baker by nature and have gotten good at homemade pizza dough, but I still purchase a lot of the dough I use for my homemade pizzas. Because let's face it: No one has time on a weeknight for artisanal doughmaking. Buy a ball or two of dough from the grocery store and let the toppings be your custom touches. Pro tip: Your favorite local pizzeria might be very happy to sell you balls of their dough, even if that's not listed on the menu. Just ask!

2. Freeze pre-portioned toppings and buy some prepped ingredients.

Keeping with the quick and easy theme, I keep a tub in my freezer of little freezer bags of some of my go-to pizza toppings, frozen in one-pizza portions. Cooked crumbled Italian sausage, sliced pepperoni, caramelized onions, roasted peppers: It's easy to grab a small bag and let it thaw on the counter while the pizza oven heats up, cutting down on prep time. I keep a few tubs of snack-size olives in the pantry (one is about one pizza's worth) and a tub of pearl-sized fresh mozzarella in the fridge (no need to slice a whole fresh ball). Pro tip: Do shred your own cheese, because pre-shredded cheese doesn't melt as well.

Pizza Slice
Credit: Getty / Rouzes

3. Use much less sauce than you think you need.

The more you make pizza at home, the more you will start to realize that sauce is a condiment on great pizzas, not the star. You want just enough of a base to provide a flavor that links the bread with the toppings and cheese, but not so much that it makes it sloppy or wet to eat. It is also a danger zone for moving pizzas in and out of your oven: Too much and the jerking motions you make with your peel to put the pie in for cooking can make your cheese and toppings slosh about and hit your oven deck, making for burnt pizza and much harder cleanup. Pro tip: A quarter cup of sauce is plenty for a 10-12-inch pizza. If you love things saucier, serve extra on the side for dipping or drizzling.

4. Let your oven heat up fully before baking.

Be sure to fully read the instructions that came with your unit, but generally, you really want your pizza oven at solid temp before cooking your pizza. The best pizzas cook super-fast at high heat, which keeps your crust chewy instead of crunchy, ensures that it doesn't dry out, and that your cheese stays gooey. If your oven isn't hot enough, your cheese will become a leathery lid, and your crust will be tough.

5. Respect the heat.

This very high heat that makes for amazing pies is also no joke when it comes to safety. You can really hurt yourself, or damage your property, if you do not follow all safety precautions. Use appropriate personal gear like oven mitts, make sure any accessories like pizza peels or pans are approved for use in your particular unit, and follow all safety guidelines for where you can use your oven. If it is not recommended for inside use or says to use only on fire retardant surfaces or a minimum distance from walls or ceilings, be sure that you follow those rules to the letter. Otherwise, you might be serving your pizza to the firemen or paramedics.