There is no single best way to make pizza at home. But there are all kinds of ways to screw it up by messing with your pizza mojo.
Finding your way with pizza is a fantastic thing. The first time you pull a bubbling out pizza out of the oven and your home starts to smell like a pizzeria with the mingling aromas of hot meats and caramelized crust and toasted semolina and you can’t help yourself and you begin salivating as you take that first hot hot hot bite that’s just a little too too hot hot because you couldn’t wait and your tongue curses you and loves you simultaneously as the taste fills your mouth and the scent fills your head and your body is filled with a feeling that wells up inside you and you realize, oh, yes, this is it: Actual pizza joy…
Well, that’s a powerful moment. This is the beginning of something big. You are beginning to find your pizza mojo. But um… what the heck is mojo, anyway?
Mojo is magic. Mojo is a spell. Mojo is a method. Mojo is something you’d can’t quite put your finger on because mojo is arcane and complex and esoteric and no two mojos are the same.
Some people think about the famous jump blues of the Muddy Waters song, “Got My Mojo Workin’." But mojo predates any recorded music. It’s an esoteric Hoodoo practice of amulets assembled with various components in a small bag worn around the neck beneath the clothes for fortune, luck, love, protection, or any of a myriad other desired results.
But let’s look at the music for a moment. Besides the Muddy Waters version of “I Got My Mojo Workin’,” there’s a different version by Preston “Red” Foster. And is his version the right one? After all, he wrote the song in the first place.
But the first recorded version of “Mojo” was by Ann Cole. Hers is different than the one Red wrote, and the one made popular by Muddy.
See? Not even mojo music is in agreement over the same song. They sound similar. And like those records, all pizzas are round. But the methods behind them can all be different.
The idea of mojo has been culturally appropriated for so much. “Don’t mess with my mojo.” “I lost my mojo.” “I got my mojo back.” Businesses are named for mojo. The word permeates elsewhere with no relation to Hoodoo. The mojo in Cuban mojo marinade (pronounced “mo-ho”) is from a Portuguese word via the Canary Islands. And while there’s an accepted version of mojo marinade, it really is anything you want it to be as long as it contains some kind of citrus juice and spices.
So what and how? The same problem happens in pizza.
When I was first starting out, I found my mojo by reading one particular pizza book. It made sense. I was using one particular oven, using one particular stone, experimenting with other stones, and eventually hitting on the method that worked for me.
Over the years, my mojo evolved. And it always happened by trying new things—but one tweak at a time. Better stone. Stone to steel. Baking using the broiler. Detouring into the land of the wood-fired dome oven was big—but it wasn’t my pizza mojo, really. It was wood-oven mojo. That required its own ingredients. It was less about making pizza and more about learning how to use the oven. BTUs are BTUs, but building a wood fire is its own skill.
Along the way, I tried other tweaks that I quickly abandoned. The one that comes to mind immediately is putting the baking stone in the very bottom of the oven. That did not work.
But it was recommended in a book by a famous pizzaiolo. If it worked for him, why didn’t it work for me?
Probably because I was messing with my own mojo. I wasn’t following his entire process. I merely grabbed that one piece of his process and stuck it inside my own mojo bag. Under other circumstances, it might work brilliantly. I’ve seen people in Pizza Social making great looking pizzas that way.
And there’s the rub: Pizza is a process. And a process must be coherent. Often times, when you just grab a new component for the process, it doesn’t dovetail with the other parts.
Example: Blaine’s Big Pizza Fail In Mexico. I’d promised a pizza dinner to friends in Puebla. I’d bought what I was told was my desired flour. When the time came to make pizza, I went to the oven and discovered…
Mexico was messing with my mojo. I already knew the stone was different before I started. But the oven was also different. The flour was different, too. The cheese was different. And there was no way for me to know all of this without knowing the right questions to ask.
There was no Mexico mojo at the pizza party that night. The pizzas were a soaring disappointment. (Read: crash & burn.) I hadn’t done enough homework, assumed too much, and delivered too little. I’d messed with my own mojo.
This morning, I was looking at a pizza group in Pizza Social. A woman was asking a simple question. And looking at the answers, I knew every single one of them was going to mess with her mojo. She had a different bag of tricks working, and most of the answers were going to screw her up in a big way.
I also wasn’t going to get involved. Too many adamant voices offering misguided advice. Her pizza was going to suffer for it and I didn’t need to be part of her confusion.
Pick your path. Find your mojo. Don’t let anybody mess with it. Once you have a way through, and pizza is coming out the other end, that’s a good time to begin adding the tweaks.
But if anyone tells you you’re doing it wrong, and you have pizza to prove otherwise, you win. Just smile and nod and don’t let anyone else’s magic mess with your own.
If you’d like to hear the “Mojo” of Muddy Waters, it’s here. Ann Cole’s “Mojo” is here. Red’s version is right here.
If you don’t need no mojo music, but just want help finding your pizza mojo, there’s one book that is all about one process, start to finish, without any diversions. It’s called Free The Pizza: A Simple System For Making Great Pizza Anytime You Want Using The Oven You Already Have. (There are other books with other mojo. This just happens to be my own simpleminded, award-winning bag of tricks.)
Blaine Parker is the award-winning author of the bestselling, 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, pro-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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