What Is a Pizza Peel Used For?
When you see pizza makers on TV or in the movies, they’re often very skillfully transporting their pizzas from point A to point B using long flat paddles. Sometimes they’re even several feet long. These aren’t just movie props, though.
These paddles are called pizza peels, and they serve a very important purpose. A pizza peel is used to get the raw, flattened pizza dough onto the surface of a brick oven or pizza stone without losing its shape. Pizza peels are also used to retrieve a cooked pizza from the oven without burning yourself or needing to stick your hands inside a hot oven.
Pizza peels are such an essential tool for making pizza that I recommend everyone purchase one. And if you’ve ever tried to transfer an uncooked pizza into the oven using your hands or a couple of spatulas, you’ll find out very quickly that it doesn’t work. In fact working with raw pizza dough is basically impossible with a peel.
The only exception to this is, of course, pan pizza which bakes entirely in a pan and can be placed in and out of the oven using oven mitts. And while some styles of pan pizza are nice, like Detroit style, it’s usually a downgrade from doing it properly with a peel and stone.
So, let’s go over how to use a pizza peel, how to avoid common problems such as sticking, as well as some DIY and alternatives to commercial peels you can make at home.
How To Use A Pizza Peel: A Step By Step Guide
Using a pizza peel is simple, but it does take a bit of know-how and a bit of practice to avoid common problems like sticking. Let’s go over the basics to get you started. To use a pizza peel you’ll need:
- A pizza peel
- Semolina flour (or whatever you have available)
- Proofed pizza dough
- Preheated baking stone, steel or upside-down baking sheet
I’m also assuming, for the purposes of these instructions, that you already have a prepared pizza dough that’s been kneaded and properly risen and proofed as a dough ball. If you need a recipe and proofing instructions, check out my recipe here. Otherwise, let’s move on to the first step in using your peel.
To use your pizza peel, follow these steps:
- Shape your pizza dough on a thick bed of semolina flour. I recommend doing this on a clean countertop and not the pizza peel itself. Turn the dough over multiple times as you shape it and dust it with an ample amount of flour as you do so. The goal here to to coat the sticky parts of the dough with flour.
- When the pizza dough is shaped to your liking, drag it slightly along the counter to test it. The dough should slide freely and not stick.
- Lightly dust your pizza peel with semolina flour and carefully slide your pizza dough onto it. If your pizza peel is thicker, you may need to lift the dough slightly to avoid tearing.
- Place whatever toppings you want on your pizza, but do it very quickly before the dough begins to stick. You might even consider baking the crust by itself first to make things easier, as I’ve done in this example.
- Give the peel a very gentle shake to see if the dough has stuck to the peel. If the dough is ready, it will slide freely on the peel and not stick anywhere. If you notice part of your dough is not moving as you shake it, wedge a dough scraper or spatula underneath it with a bit of flour to unstick it.
- Now for the moment of truth. Pull the rack with the pizza stone on it partially out of the oven for easier access and position the pizza peel at a slightly downward angle towards the back of it.
- Very carefully shake the peel so the edge of pizza dough is touching the back edge of the pizza stone. Now, slowly but purposefully pull the pizza peel towards you. If all goes well, the pizza should slide onto the stone as you do so. Do not shake the peel as you do this, only pull it backwards
How To Avoid Common Problems With Your Pizza Peel
Using a pizza peel isn’t difficult but there are some common problems people run into. Most of these problems have to do with sticking, especially at the final moment when sliding it onto the pizza stone.
1. Avoid sticking at all costs
Sticking is pretty much the worst thing that can happen to your pizza. It will cause your pizza dough to not slide off the peel at all, or worse, slide halfway off the peel and then stick causing your pizza to tear or fold all over the hot stone.
So do your best to recognize that your dough is stuck before you transfer to the stone. You can do this by shaking the peel slightly and watching closely that all parts of the dough are moving together. If one section seems to move slower on the pizza peel than the rest, practice caution and wedge some flour under there with a dough scraper to avoid a disaster.
Also, work quickly once the dough is on the pizza peel. Even a well floured dough will eventually begin to stick if left to sit on the peel too long. This also means if a portion of the dough is sticking slightly now, it will likely be completely stuck by the time you go to slide it off
2. Use parchment paper to slide the pizza dough off
You may have heard this suggestion before, and it’s a good one – with some caveats.
To use parchment paper to slide the dough onto the pizza stone, follow these steps:
- Prepare pizza on a large piece of parchment paper.
- Place the parchment paper with pizza onto the pizza peel. Make sure the underside of the parchment paper as well as the peel are completely dry to avoid sticking.
- Slide the entire parchment paper with pizza from the peel onto the pizza stone. Do this carefully as the parchment paper will slide very easily and quickly off the peel.
- Wait for 30 seconds to 1 minute then remove the parchment paper and let the pizza could directly on the stone. You should be able to easily remove it using a pair of tongs or spatula.
Step 4 is the most crucial step in this process despite many recipes that call for baking the pizza on the parchment paper for the entire time. Most consumer parchment paper are not capable of holding up to the heat of a pizza stone and will burn. It can also disintegrate and you’ll wind up eating microscopic bits of it in your pizza crust.
It’s also just a bad idea to have anything in between your pizza dough and the hot pizza stone. This is where the delicious texture of the crust comes from and the parchment paper is just getting in the way. So use it as a tool to get it on the stone and remove it as quickly as possible.
3. Par-bake your crust to make sliding it on the stone easier
Par-baking your pizza crust is a great and underutilized option for anyone baking pizza in a home oven, especially if you’re a bit squeamish about sliding the pizza dough off the peel.
You’ll find that sliding a pizza dough off the peel is much easier when the crust is completely plain. This makes the dough lighter and less prone to sticking than it is with toppings on it. It’s also easier to make up for mistakes when you don’t have pizza toppings falling on the hot stone.
To par-bake your pizza crust, do the following:
- Prepare your pizza dough as usual but without any toppings.
- Slide the dough onto the hot pizza stone.
- Take the par-baked crust out of the oven as soon as the outer edges have puffed up. This should take around 2 minutes.
- Top your pizza as you would normally and bake until the crust is very lightly browned.
Par-baking also has the benefit of getting a nice well-done crust without the burnt toppings, since toppings tend to cook faster than the dough bakes. I actually do this all the time myself when making Neapolitan style pizzas which just isn’t the same with burnt cheese.
4. Practice to improve your pizza dough sliding skills
Using a pizza peel is easy but it takes practice to really master it. So if you’re only making a homemade pizza once in a blue moon, you’re never going to really master the technique or achieve the perfect pizza.
This is why I recommend taking some time out to practice sliding the dough off the peel. You can do this by making an extra big batch of dough and simply practice sliding the pizza dough on and off your countertop. Then when you’ve built up enough confidence, you can practice doing the same thing but on a hot pizza stone.
Before long you’ll find that it’s a lot easier and your pizza crust will turn out lighter and fluffier now that you’ve managed to get the dough off without a fuss.
Pizza Peel Alternatives
Pizza peels aren’t particularly expensive, but there are times when you don’t have one available to you for whatever reason. If this happens, there are a couple of things you can use in its place.
These are a few of the things you can use in place of a pizza peel:
- A large cutting board
- An upside down baking or sheet pan
- A stiff piece of cardboard, as long as it’s completely smooth.
I’m sure you can use your imagination to think up some more items around your house that could serve as a makeshift pizza peel. But think about purchasing a nice pizza peel, especially a large flat one, because it really makes the whole process easier.
Wooden Vs Metal Pizza Peel
Most of the pizza peels available for sale are made out of wood or metal. Either of these materials are going to perform well as a pizza peel, but there are a couple of differences.
Wooden peels are generally better at preventing sticking when sliding. This is because wood is better at absorbing moisture, whereas any amount of liquid will pool on metal.
Some metal peels slightly make up for this fact by having lots of small holes to prevent sticking as well as a way to prevent excess flour getting on the pizza stone.
That being said, a wooden peel can only absorb a small amount of moisture and if you’re dough is sticky it will stick to any material. So I wouldn’t consider the material a major factor when deciding on a pizza peel to buy.
The main factor to consider when picking out a pizza peel is the width. A thin pizza peel works better and makes sliding the pizza dough on and off the pizza stone much easier.
How To Clean A Pizza Peel
Make sure you keep your pizza peel as clean as possible between uses because any residue or debris that gets stuck to it will cause sticking the next time you make a pizza.
I generally just use a wet cloth and warm water to gently rub off any dirt or grime from my pizza peel. If something is really stick to it I’ll use a some vinegar and paper towels.
Just be sure not scrub with anything too abrasive that will make the peel less smooth and you should be fine.
A pizza peel is necessary if you’re going to use a pizza stone. After all, without one there wouldn’t be any way to get the dough to the stone.
But if your pizza does fail to launch correctly and falls folded or twisted on the stone, wait about 10 seconds and it should slide fairly easily back onto the peel where you can hopefully fix it. This gives the dough enough time to dry and solidify every so slightly so that it can dislodge from the stone.
Prepared properly, your raw pizza dough shouldn’t have any problems sliding from the pizza peel to the pizza stone without sticking in any case. Just make sure you’re using plenty of semolina flour.
And whether you use parchment paper or some kind of diy or alternative pizza peel, as long as your pizza gets on the stone in one piece, you should be good to go.