The Dirty F-Word And 7 Simple Steps For Making Sensational Homemade Pizza With Your Own Two Hands, Part 2: The Oven
PART 2 IN A 7-PART SERIES.
Maybe you’ve seen the photo: a picture of what looks like The Charcoal-Tortured Dough Monster That Ate Naples. In the twisted wreckage of this pile of alternately half-baked and black-scorched pizza ingredients is a substance formerly known as cheese, some reddish, sauce-like protoplasm, and the scant remains of an unidentifiable cased meat product, all of it looking amoeba-like and desperate to escape the camera’s eye.
And there’s the post that goes with it: “What am I doing wrong!? I just got my oven and I can’t get it hot enough and I’m making ugly, deformed pizza and I’ve thrown away nine of them this weekend alone and I hate life! Help me.” Welcome to Pizza Social meeting the lack of focus.
Last time, we were talking about how, if you want to make perfect pizza, be prepared for disappointment. Perfection is unattainable. But pursuing perfection comes with its own satisfaction. It includes eating some excellent, imperfect pizza.
At the end of the day, all pizza is imperfect. Yet we continue to chase that elusive butterfly of pizza perfection, both from within and from without.
But really, this is more about The Secret Ingredient in pursuing perfect pizza. The secret ingredient is the dreaded F-word: Focus. In pizza, focus is everything—and people hate hearing that. It’s probably because focus sounds un-fun and work-like.
The reality is that focus makes work (and pizza) easier. Focus is an absence of intensity. Focus makes pizza more fun. And focused pizza tastes better.
If you want to know more about the etymology of focus and why it fits so well with pizza, go visit part one in this series. You’ll love it. It will warm the pizza oven in your heart.
Last week’s #1 focus was Style Of Pizza. Getting good at pizza is best done by picking a specific style and working it. It alleviates frustration and makes you into a proper pizzamaker who wins friends and influences people.
And that kind of focus works. It’ll work for you. It’s just simple practice. After years of focusing on a style, my pizza gained its own reputation.
People who didn’t know me would tell me that “I’ve heard the best pizza in town is just some guy who makes it at home. You have to know somebody.” A few questions would eventually reveal that they were talking about my pizza. Which is amusing.
So last week, it was about focus on pizza style. Get ready for your next object of focus in the pursuit of pizza perfection.
Focus #2: The type of oven. Ironic, perhaps, since the Latin word “focus” actually means “hearth.” Focus is where the fire is.
Focusing on the correct oven for your situation can make all the difference. And for most newbies, I always encourage focus on the standard home oven. There are all kinds of practical reasons for this.
First of all, the home oven is readily available. You already own it. It’s simple to use. And when you travel with your tools (as I often do), you can really make pizza anywhere there’s a home oven available. I’ve made pizza across the country in home ovens of friends and in VRBO rentals. It’s very convenient.
Does this focus on the home oven mean that I’m biased against purpose-built outdoor pizza ovens? Yes—for the beginner. If you’ve never made pizza before, you’re developing a new skillset. It involves making dough, assembling a pizza, launching it and baking it.
That’s all challenging enough without adding a tiny, hellish and cruel oven to the mix. That oven can feel like the enemy. I’ve used some of the best outdoor pizza ovens. None of them are easy. Using them is a skill in itself.
And here’s a reality of those ovens: the bigger they get, and the exponentially more expensive they become, the easier they become. Facility comes at a price.
But people lust after these ovens. Especially newbie pizzamakers. Why is this? What about the outdoor pizza oven makes it such an object of desire? I have a two-pronged theory.
Prong #1: People are fascinated by fire. Buying anything that has an open flame seems like a win. Wood fire is especially fascinating. That accompanies the mistaken belief that woodfire is flavor. (It’s not. 90 seconds baking in a wood oven, which is designed to vent the smoke out of the oven, is too insignificant to impart smoke flavor to a pizza.)
Prong #2: The belief that the oven will somehow make the perfect pizza for you. It will not. The pizza is in you. The oven will not make great pizza for you any more than an $8,000 camera will take great pictures for you. You need an eye, and an understanding of what makes a great photo. With an outdoor oven, you need to already know how to make pizza—and then learn how to use the new oven.
Yet in the US especially, we have a fascination with gear and accoutrements. We feel as if the right gear will solve all our problems. Our gear will elevate us. The truth is, no pizza oven will elevate us at all until we have developed the pizza within.
Pizza Oven Materialism is a quick road to pizzalessness! Crap. Now I feel like I’m channeling my freshman-year political science professor. He was a noted and raging gray-flannel socialist. He would bark about Locke and Marcuse and American “root-less-ness!” and “reification!” and “Americans who define themselves not by the quality of their character but by the quality of their crap!”
Juxtaposed into his dismal equation, the average American pizza-oven owner would be saying, “I must be a good pizzamaker, look at my oven!” I’m not saying that. But I am saying that focusing on that oven first is unproductive.
I am not anti-oven—I am pro-skills. When you focus on the context for your oven, and focus on developing your related actions rather than on the oven itself, things change.
“But what if I want to make authentic Neapolitan pizza?!” Fair question. You need an oven that gets hotter than your standard home oven—upwards of 900 degrees. In that case, I recommend focusing on a style of pizza that can be made in your home oven.
Then, when you’re convinced that you can actually make pizza and it’s the medium for you, invest in a purpose-built pizza oven. That sounds very conservative. I think it’s healthy. But that doesn’t mean you can’t just take the plunge.
Just like some motorcycle riders will start on the biggest, baddest bike they can buy, some pizza guys will jump right into the outdoor oven. And that’s OK. Especially after some killjoy like me rains on the pizza parade and seems to say, “You’re doing it wrong!” There really is no wrong. If you’re that person, jump on that high-octane death sled and ride it into the flames!
Also be prepared to throw away a lot of pizza. Like I said, you can seen the photos in Pizza Social. Ugly, deformed pizza destined for the trash accompanied by cries for help. And the replies to that cry are most often half-baked at best.
But Pizza Social really wants to help. I stay away. They’re all yelling things about “semolina!” and “dough hydration!” and “oven temp!” I would say something nobody wants to hear: Put away the new oven for now. Focus on making pizza right in your kitchen. You’ll be much happier.
Next Focus: #3, Making Pizza Dough. Sound boring? It’s not.
Have a fantastic Christmas!
Blaine Parker is the award-winning author of the new, unusual and amusing how-to pizza book, Free The Pizza. Also known as The Pizza Geek and "Hey, Pizza Man!", Blaine is fanatical about the idea that true, professional-quality pizza can be made at home. His home. Your home. Anyone's home. After 20 years of honing his craft and making pizza in standard consumer ovens across the nation, he's sharing what he's learned with home cooks like you. Are you ready to pizza?
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