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After I have made my pizza and put the toppings onto it, I find that I am unable to transfer the pizza on to the pizza stone in the oven.

When I try to do it the pizza goes out of shape, gets folded, the toppings get messed up and sometimes it sticks or rips. I have tried putting lots of flour under the pizza before I add the toppings but it didn't really help.

I am having to make the pizza on a metal tray and then put the tray onto the stone. Put I think that doing this prevents my pizza base from crisping properly.

What am I doing wrong? Is there some technique I should use, or am making the dough to wet, or to thin or something?

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do you have and are you using a pizza peel, or are you using another method? I've noticed that some answers assume you have and are using one, while mine doesn't. –  justkt Nov 12 '10 at 15:44
    
@justkt - no, I have just been using a metal tray with a lip only on side (3 sides without a lip). I didn't know what to call a pizza peel until now, I might look into getting one. –  flamingpenguin Nov 12 '10 at 16:51
    
personally I use a try like yours and with the trick I described in my answer don't need a peel (I've used them before), but the peel is how all the restaurants do it. –  justkt Nov 12 '10 at 17:25

10 Answers 10

up vote 29 down vote accepted

I've worked as a pizza cook, so I can give you a hard-earned answer. Cornmeal, and plenty of it. If you aren't putting cornmeal (or flour, but cornmeal works better) on the peel before you put the pizza on it, start. If you are putting it on, use more. Then put the pizza on it and give it a shake and make sure the pizza is loose before you try to shove it in the oven. If it isn't, lift up the edge that is stuck and sprinkle more cornmeal under it, then try again. The pizza should be completely free-moving on the peel before you try to transfer it to the oven.

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The peel is a lot of fun. It's very satisfying to get the perfect wrist flick to slide the pizza into the best spot in the oven without hitting the embers. We use semolina meal, probably a local thing as corn meal is more expensive here? –  TFD Nov 13 '10 at 6:46
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Semolina is a nice choice as well; better than plain flour because of the coarser grain. It acts more like ball bearings. Local availability is a factor, as is the different taste. Cornmeal adds a certain flavor which can be a plus or minus depending on the rest of the pizza. –  Michael at Herbivoracious Nov 14 '10 at 15:50
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one of my favorite places uses sesame seeds - a little up higher on the crust as well. try it out for variety sometime, you may get hooked :) –  zanlok Dec 18 '10 at 11:07
    
My former boss--a certified pizzaiolo from Naples (as in, the certification org is Neapolitan)--agrees: cornmeal, cornmeal, cornmeal. –  daniel Apr 4 '11 at 20:25
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Thanks for this very helpful answer. I didn't really like the flavour/texture that the cornmeal added, but for me the slightly toasted Semolina actually improves the flavour and texture of the bottom of the pizza. Shaking the pizza to make sure it is not stuck, and adding more Semolina if it is seems to be the key step. And then transferring it quite quickly before it can get stuck again. After a bit of practise I am able to reliably transfer very thin based pizzas off the back of my tray now using this technique. –  flamingpenguin Jul 24 '11 at 2:28

I believe that the tool you want is one of these. It's kind of like a conveyor belt attached to the peel, so you can just roll it off onto the stone, without ever having to slide the pizza across the peel.

This video shows a pizza being moved.

I've never tried one but the videos make them look like they are pretty good.

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Using three pizza stones of the same size works. But they really do need to be of the same size. One goes into the oven. The other two are used to set up the transfer.

The general methodology is as follows. It is assumed that the fresh dough is prepared but has not been removed from its work surface. It is also assumed that the first pizza stone is already in the oven.

STEP 1: On a separate work surface place the second pizza stone. Apply a thin film of grapeseed oil to the stone and then dust it very well (and very uniformly) with cornmeal or grits. Carefully lay the fresh dough across it, being sure not to slide it around. (Folding good, sliding bad.) Now, assuming there's an overlap, here's a great opportunity to easily complete two common tasks. First, go round and gently push in a bit of the dough so that the border becomes just a bit puffier than the rest of the pizza. The height and firmness of the stone makes it easy to get this just right. (You can even fill a fold with thin strips of fontina or fresh basil.) Second, use your pizza wheel to trim off all the excess dough. The stone makes the perfect border for that task, especially if placed on a turntable.

STEP 2: Add your fresh toppings (as soon as possible). Sprinkle a trail of cornmeal all round the very top edge of the crust. Then place the third pizza stone on top. Either side is fine. Just line it up. Now grab the whole thing with both hands and flip it over. Set it on a round cutting board, like the ones used for cheese, the diameter of which is less than that of the pizza stone. Room enough for your hands is the idea. Now remove the first pizza stone, thus exposing the pizza's underbelly.

STEP 3: Open the oven, pull out the rack, and leave it that way. This won't take long. Using two pot holders, remove the heated pizza stone from the rack and flip it over so that the cooking surface is facing downward. Place it squarely onto the bottom side of the pizza which, of course, is the side now facing up. Now immediately grab the whole thing with both hands, flip it all back over again, and place it onto the center of the oven rack. All that's left is to remove the cool pizza stone from the top of the pizza and close things back up.

Of course it may seem excessive to own three pizza stones. But there are other considerations. Take this same process for example and apply it to making a pair of calzones. For STEP 1 you would have to avoid puffing or trimming the crust, at least at first. And in STEP 2 you would be placing another layer of dough on top and then stuffing/folding/primping/trimming to your own personal specs. However, in the part of STEP 2 where normally you would utilize a cool second pizza stone, instead you will be using a second heated one. Just be sure first to lightly dust the top of the dough with cornmeal too.

This time there's no need to flip the thing before placing it onto the oven rack. You just put it there and leave it that way. In other words, the second heated stone stays right there on top of the calzones, at least for awhile. Then, not long before midway through the baking process, you open the oven door, pull out the rack, flip over the whole thing, and remove the topmost pizza stone before closing things back up. (So you're removing the stone that was on the bottom.) In this way you have ensured of evenly cooked calzones with a nice crust on both sides.

You will possess therefore only one extra pizza stone, not two. And even here, there's something to be said for having a cool one out and ready when the calzones are done. Transferring them to a cool stone stops the cooking process (prevents overcooking) and, obviously, promptly promotes the cooling process while at the same time providing a good cutting surface. Plus, honestly, you don't want to gunk up a pizza stone. It's good for that spare to be used just for slicing and serving, as it still possesses that touch of authenticity. The other two should never see aught but dough, and should be stored facing each other.

~~

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I guess this would work, but along with there being simpler ways, it seems like it's prone to making a mess of the toppings, and it involves unnecessarily handling a really hot stone. –  Jefromi Oct 17 at 17:11

One element not emphasized enough in previous answers is frequent shaking of the peel while making the pizza, especially with wet dough. Using more cornmeal or semolina (or flour) is important, but if it's not spread evenly, wet dough will eventually start to stick in places.

With a relatively dry dough, this may not be necessary. But if you're using a high hydration (wet) dough, such as for a Neapolitan style pizza, it's often useful to shake periodically. Personally, I shake at least after every addition to the crust. So, it's something like: stretch crust, place on peel, shake immediately to be sure no initial sticking, put on sauce, shake, put on cheese, shake, put on other toppings, shake, then final shake check right before opening oven just to be sure you don't have anything sticking before you begin the final slide.

Besides allowing you to use high hydration doughs, the periodic shaking has two other benefits: (1) you can detect sticking in a small area early, and potentially get it to release just by shaking before it becomes really stuck (or detach with a spatula and add extra semolina/cornmeal under that spot while allowing the crust to be more mobile without ripping under the weight of more toppings), and (2) you'll require less semolina/cornmeal/flour, which means less effect on the flavor of the pizza (most people don't like the flavor of a lot of raw flour or cornmeal stuck to the bottom of their pizza).

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This probably won't be terribly popular, but I've had good success using a two-stage process. First, I roll out and bake the crust on a metal sheet, then I pull out the mostly-baked crust and separate it from the metal sheet so it slides freely. Add toppings and sauce, then slide onto pizza stone for an additional ten minutes. Take the pizza off by quickly sliding a baking tray under it. The crust is nice and crisp, and the sauce doesn't dog out the top off the crust. The great part is that you can prepare your crusts ahead of time, so when you have lots of people over, you can crank out a pizza with a homemade, crispy crust every ten minutes!

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I use a technique similar to this when I don't have access to a hot-enough oven. I put an oiled tray on the hob, and place the pizza on to that. This cooks off the base quickly. I add the toppings while it is in the hob then transfer it to a stone in the oven to finish cooking. I have found that this results in a pleasant crispy/chewy if a bit non-traditional crust and base, reliably avoiding the mushy base that you can end up with if the oven is not hot enough. –  flamingpenguin Apr 2 at 13:09

What I've been doing lately is putting a long piece of parchment paper on the peel, assembling the pizza on it, then transferring it to the stone using the parchment paper as sort of a conveyor belt.

Basically, the piece of parchment paper is long enough to hang several inches off of the front of the peel. I hold the handle with my right hand and use my left hand to grab the paper underneath the front end of the peel. I then hold the front of the peel close to the back of the stone and pull slowly on the parchment paper. This moves the pizza forwards onto the stone. Once an inch or so of the pizza is touching the stone, I pull a little more quickly on the parchment paper and pull the peel back at the same time.

If done correctly, the pizza will transfer perfectly onto the stone. I do flour up the parchment paper, but not as much as I would flour up the pizza peel since there is less friction.

As for serving, I serve directly off the stone (good pot holders are essential here, obviously).

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You can get perfectly crisp pizza bases in an domestic oven without using a stone. Use a thin steel tray. A flat cookie sheet works fine

Clear all non required trays and racks out of your oven. Turn you oven onto bake and MAX heat and make sure it has reached max temperature before you put the pizza in. This can take more than 20 minutes on a domestic electric oven

Make the base thin and use olive oil where the base hits the tray. Build the pizza on the tray

Place the tray in the middle of the oven, not top or bottom

If the pizza takes more than ten minutes to cook, your oven is not hot enough

Ideally it's done in five to seven minutes

A peel and a stone is better, but there is usually not enough room to maneuver in a domestic kitchen, and it make a lot of mess for not much gain

The secret is the really hot oven, and olive oil

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I agree on the hot oven, but I think the olive oil would fall into a personal taste thing rather than a tip. I think most people would think it atypical to have a pizza that's sort of fried on the bottom, as it would be with oil under it. Not that it wouldn't be excellent, but it would not be traditional. –  bikeboy389 Nov 13 '10 at 2:55
    
All the Pizza's I have ever had in Italy had Olive oil in them. Must be a new thing? It doesn't taste fried at all when I do them. (when you butter the sides of a cake tin, does the cake taste fried?). From what I have seen the Olive oil seems to be on the surface of the stored individual balls of dough before they are pulled –  TFD Nov 13 '10 at 6:40
    
When I can't use a stone I use olive oil. I wouldn't describe the taste as fried, I'd say delicious, but there is some taste for sure. Olive oil has a stronger taste than butter and the oven is hotter. –  Julio Nov 13 '10 at 9:29
    
Must try one without and check out the difference! I must admit to liking pizzas where strong flavoured olive oil is on the toppings too –  TFD Nov 13 '10 at 10:38
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All the pizza I had in Italy had olive oil ON them, but without exception they were dry on the bottom--often with toasted flour stuck on that indicates flour was used to ease the dough off the peel. I love olive oil, and I bet a pizza with olive oil under it would be pretty awesome (in fact that's the only positive thing about Pizza Hut's pan pizzas), but I really don't think traditional pizzas have it underneath. –  bikeboy389 Nov 13 '10 at 17:43

All good suggestions. One thing I would add is that you can use semolina flour instead of cornmeal--then at least you're not adding another flavor, as it's wheat, but it behaves more like cornmeal than regular flour.

I personally like the parchment trick. My sister, who built a brick oven in her backyard and makes a lot of pizza, just says it's a knack and you learn to handle the dough properly, work quickly, and eventually hardly need any flour.

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Thanks for this suggestion. I have had great success with using semolina flour, I actually quite like the change in texture it adds to the base of the pizza. Although it does tend to burn on the the stone a bit. I have started to mix a small amount into the flour when making my dough too. –  flamingpenguin Jul 24 '11 at 2:19

I have had this problem in the past myself. There are 4 main factors involved:

Technique - You have to use a very fast and smooth movement. Sliding the edge of the pizza off the peel onto the stone, allowing the pizza to catch the hot surface as you slide the peel out from underneath.

Dough - The dough needs to have enough gluten developed to keep from ripping easily. You can make a really thin dough, as long as it has enough gluten, it shouldn't rip. There are 2 ways to develop gluten, working the dough or time. So take a tip from the pros and let the dough rest overnight, most pizza places do. Also make sure to use a good high gluten flour to begin with.

Time - The amount of time the pizza is on the peel with give the moisture extra time to soak into whatever you have underneath the pizza. If it's flour, it will soak up pretty quickly and cause it to stick, also depending on the moisture content of the dough. Work quickly and shake the peel often to make sure there is no sticking.

Peel - There are many different times of peels out there, but wooden is the way to go. With a porous structure there is less contact with the pizza dough as the surface isn't completely smooth. Metal tends to stick more. You can use just about anything to dust the peel, traditionally flour, but if that doesn't seem to work, you may want to try cornmeal or even rice flour.

I used to have a tough time with the dough myself, and though I still haven't found the right recipe or ingredients to make that pizzeria style pizza, I'm enjoying all the practice!

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have you tried this book to teach you how to make the perfect pizza? amazon.com/American-Pie-Search-Perfect-Pizza/dp/1580084222 –  justkt Nov 12 '10 at 15:19
    
I'll have to check it out. I'm probably also going to use my website to see if I can get some tips from local pizza places that I really enjoy. I just want to find out what kind of flour they use, yeast, oils, other special ingredients. I know I can't get my oven hot enough, but I think if can get the right recipe, I can get close. –  FoodTasted Nov 12 '10 at 21:07

A neat trick I learned from The America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook is to make your pizza on parchment paper. Do this on the metal tray as you are doing now, which works as a pizza peel. Your metal tray should not be a jelly roll pan, but should be one without a lip. Slide the parchment paper and pizza off the metal tray onto your stone for cooking. Once cooked, use the tray to get the parchment paper and pizza off the stone and onto your rack.

You can also use cornmeal or flour under your pizza. The trick is to use that metal tray like a pizza peel. The parchment paper will make this process a lot easier, and also eases removal.

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+1 for cornmeal. –  Marti Nov 12 '10 at 15:01
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If (like me) you don't have anything without a lip, you can use the bottom surface of a baking sheet. Not quite as good as something completely flat, but at least the pizza can still slide off it smoothly! –  Jefromi Nov 12 '10 at 15:58
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I use a wooden cutting board in the same manner, and cornmeal is a life saver. –  Manako Nov 12 '10 at 16:27
    
@Manako - that must be one large wooden cutting board! –  justkt Nov 12 '10 at 16:35
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IF you bake pizza at high temps (I always back at 550F, which is as high as my unmodified oven can get), please check with the manufacturer of your parchment first -- Reynolds parchment is only rated by them to 420F. I used their parchment above 420F before I knew that with no apparent ill effects other than some nasty browning at the paper's edge, but don't any more. I don't know if their rating is for safety or CYA. –  bgporter Nov 13 '10 at 15:22

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