Pizza shops cook pizzas at temperatures between 700 and 800 degrees Fahrenheit, a feat you cannot attempt to duplicate in your home oven. But you can turn up your oven as high as it will go; the high temperature creates a crisp, perfectly browned pizza. Keep the pizza on the lower rack, so the cheese doesn't burn.
Although you probably set your oven at 350 to 375 F for baking bread and cookies, pizza crust is another story. You want the crust to cook quickly so the outside is crisp and the inside is chewy. Preheat your oven to between 450 and 500 F. Allow 20 to 30 minutes for the oven to preheat completely before you put in the pizza.
How long you cook your pizza depends on several factors, including the size of the pizza, the thickness of the crust, the weight of the toppings and whether the pizza is frozen or fresh. In general, pizzas take between 8 and 15 minutes to bake. Larger, thicker pizzas will always take longer than thin-crust, small pizzas with just a few toppings. Frozen pizzas take a bit longer than fresh pizzas. Keep a close eye on the pizza, though. At such high temperatures, the line between "nicely crisp" and "scorched" is thin. Set your timer for 8 to 10 minutes and add a few more minutes, as needed.
When you bake a pizza, you want to accomplish two goals: an evenly browned crust and deliciously melted cheese and toppings. Place the pizza in the lower-to-middle portion of the oven initially to ensure the bottom of the crust gets done. Rotate the pizza to the top rack to brown the cheese if necessary. If you've packed on a lot of toppings, bake the pizza for 10 minutes or so before you add the toppings to ensure that the crust cooks completely. For added flavor, saute vegetables, such as onions and peppers, in a bit of oil before you add them to the pizza.
The type of pan -- or if you use a pan -- can also affect how long a pizza takes to bake. Most restaurants use a pizza "peel," a large wooden paddle, to slide the pizza directly onto the oven racks or onto a pizza stone. This method bakes pizza quickly. You can roll pizza crust out onto a sheet of parchment paper and slide the parchment paper into the oven for a similar approach. Remove the paper as the pizza bakes. Pizzas baked on metal pizza pans take a bit longer. Place your pizza stone in the oven before you turn on the oven. Placing a cold pizza stone in a hot oven may crack it.
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