Why Pizza Tastes Better at Restaurants, According to Chefs

Plus they share their best tips for on making pizzeria-worthy pies at home.

I remember the first time I tried to make pizza from scratch at home: The crust was too thick, doughy, misshapen and soggy, the herbs were singed and the cheese barely melted. Even with all of those flaws, the pizza was still pretty tasty—it's hard to complain about a fresh-from-the-oven pie—but I knew I could do better.

My pizza-making skills have improved vastly since that first attempt, but I still want to do better—I want to create a pizza that can stand up to those I've eaten at restaurants and pizzerias in Rome, New York City and other pizza centers of the world. I want that crispy crust with just the right amount of chew, the ideal balance of toppings, the zesty, just-sweet-enough sauce and the perfect cheese pull.

So, I consulted a panel of experts, including pizza makers from two award-winning pizzerias— Roberta's and Una Pizza Napoletana in New York—as well as a chef and instructor from the Institute of Culinary Education. Here's what I learned about why restaurant pizza is so often better than homemade, plus how to make the best pizza at home.

Pizzerias Have Really Hot Ovens

The No. 1 reason restaurant pizza is better than homemade is that they have ovens that can reach 900°F, or even hotter, which makes for perfectly crisp and chewy crusts, with those lovely charred spots, says Kierin Baldwin, chef-instructor of Pastry & Baking Arts at the Institute of Culinary Education. "Pizza ovens are made to get up to blisteringly hot temperatures, and home ovens simply do not heat that high," she explains. "Also pizza ovens usually have a heated tile on the bottom of the oven, so there is heat transferring directly to the bottom of the crust, and most home ovens do not have this feature." Chris Ancona, head pizzaiolo and director of pizza operations for Roberta's—the storied Bushwick, Brooklyn, pizza restaurant that's since expanded to locations around the world and even has its own line of frozen pizzas—concurs, adding that restaurants can push temperature limits that would be unsafe at home.

"For great pizza at home, the first thing you'll want to add is a pizza stone or baking steel to your oven and make sure to heat it up for at least 45 minutes at [your oven's] highest heat before cooking your pizza," says Baldwin. "You won't be able to get as much heat as a full-size pizza oven, but it will get you quite a bit closer to it." For a similar outcome to using a stone or steel, Ancona recommends using unglazed tiles in your oven to help retain the heat. "Bake them for a solid hour before your first pie, then let them reheat for 15 to 20 minutes in between pizzas," he says. This trick works with a pizza stone or baking steel as well.

Restaurants Have a Whole Staff Dedicated to Making the Best Pizza

"Restaurants have a staff like an army, deliveries of whatever [ingredients] they want, and a mission to f - - k around with food—a lot," says Ancona. "So they discover little things like how a two-degree temperature change will affect extensibility during the rush."

"Hopefully if you go to a restaurant, they are professionals and have honed their skills, and it's their job to make pizza, not a hobby," says Anthony Mangieri, founder of New York's Una Pizza Napoletana, which tied for the top pizza in the world in 2022's 50 Top Pizza list. He also recently launched his own frozen pizza line, Genio della Pizza.

But just because you don't work at a pizzeria doesn't mean you can't get advice from pros."Befriend your local pizza chef making the style you like—in my experience, scratch tickets and beer work really well," suggests Ancona. He also suggests trading tips on PizzaMaking.com —"a website from the Stone Age with a wonderful community."

They Take Their Ingredients Seriously

"Try to find the freshest, best ingredients you can, including the freshest herbs and amazing extra-virgin olive oil," says Mangieri. "The reason is the same as why you would do this for making anything at home—the fresher ingredients, the more flavor you're going to get."

Baldwin suggests making your toppings yourself for the best homemade pizza. "Slice your own pepperoni for a thicker cut, roast red peppers and garlic, crumble and sauté some sausage," she says. "Doing all these things from scratch makes the pizza truly great."

If there are specific toppings you love from your favorite pizza place, ask where they get them, along with what kind of flour, tomatoes and cheese they use. You might be able to get your hands on some of the same ingredients.

a photo of two people sharing a pizza together at a restaurant
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Professional Pizza Makers Have Dialed In Their Dough

The best pizza is built on a great crust, which is essentially bread. "Remember that the No. 1 ingredient that has to be in all pizza is bread, so step one is making good-tasting bread that shapes the way you want," says Ancona.

The Flour

Many pizza aficionados recommend starting with 00 flour, which Ancona says is helpful for making Neapolitan pizza but not essential for other styles. That said, "Freshly milled flour is what home pizza geeks should be thinking about," he adds. "I would suggest buying a small mill." Then he suggests seeking out wheat berries to grind: "Red Fife? White Sonoran? Abruzzi rye? If it's freshly milled, it's biodiverse and great food for your starter."

Mangieri recommends mixing different types of grains for your dough. "This will create a lot of fun, interesting flavors and textures in your pizza," he says. "One advantage of making pizza at home is you're more free to experiment and try new tweaks every time."

The Starter

For a complex flavor and great texture, Mangieri recommends using a sourdough starter rather than commercial yeast for making pizza. "It gives the dough a more complex flavor, and it has more interesting coloration when it bakes," he says.

The Water

Moisture is also essential to a great dough. "Hydration really is key to a great dough, so I would recommend trying to use as much water as possible so that it creates a more interesting crumb structure and a lighter pizza," he says.

The Oil

While not all pizza dough recipes call for oil, Baldwin is a fan. "Don't be afraid to go heavy with olive oil at every step of making your pizza," she says. "It will help crisp up your crust and make it taste great."

Pizza Makers Know How to Work, Shape and Stretch the Dough

For the perfect pizza, the pros say it's also important not to overwork the dough at any stage— from the initial knead to shaping it for baking—as this can cause your crust to be tough or dense.

"Make sure that you let your pizza dough come up to room temperature before stretching and using it," advises Baldwin. "This will give you a lighter, crisper crust because the yeast will be more active than when it's cold." And when shaping it, take care not to compress all the air out of it, says Mangieri.

How thin your crust should be is a matter of personal preference—try experimenting with different thicknesses to see what you like best.

Pros Take It Easy on the Toppings

Baldwin says one of the biggest mistakes home cooks make is over-topping their pizza. "Don't put too much sauce or go too crazy with the cheese and toppings," she says. "This can contribute to a soggy crust and also can make a mess in the oven if it's piled so high that it gets knocked off as you place it in the oven or it melts all over the place."

Ancona concurs, saying that over-topping is an easy trap to fall into. "We constantly train cooks to put only as much as you need—less than you think," he says. "Remember it's bread with some stuff on it. Let the bread part shine. If your slice droops, it's now a fork-and-knife experience. Do you want that? You can pile toppings high on thicker styles, but much like those comically tall hamburgers, actually eating it becomes a challenge."

Another pro tip: Ingredients like mushrooms that produce a lot of moisture should be precooked.

Pizza Makers Know When to Add Tender Ingredients Like Fresh Herbs

Speaking of toppings, the tender ones—including fresh herbs like basil and parsley, as well as spinach and arugula—should be added after baking so they don't burn, says Baldwin. "Some ingredients are great when they burn a little—meat, onions, some vegetables," Ancona adds. "Some ingredients taste quite bad when they burn. Think garlic, chili flake or tender herbs that lose their delicate complex flavor compounds and become flat notions of their former selves (parsley). Heat concentrates flavors, so use that knowledge to push the limits you want to push. Then apply fresh flavors that are as intense as the cooked ones. Flavors are like voices in a chorus; sometimes they sing together, sometimes they solo."

Pros Have Practice Getting the Pizza into the Oven

One of the worst things that can happen when making pizza at home is a failure to get it into the oven. If you are using a pizza peel to transfer the pizza directly onto a pizza stone, steel or tiles, cover the peel with a dusting of flour or cornmeal so it doesn't stick. Give the peel a shake before transferring the pizza to the oven to be sure it's not stuck, then move quickly as you slide it from the peel to the oven. "I've had a million make-your-own pizza parties at my house, and I've seen people let their pies die on the board," says Ancona. "Gotta certify that it's slidable/fireable before topping. Remember, speed is your friend."

They Know How to Treat the Pizza Once It’s Out of the Oven

Here's the best part: Serve the pie quickly. "As soon as it comes out, transfer it to a cooling rack and eat it as soon as you can without burning yourself," says Baldwin. "The cooling rack should prevent the crust from becoming soggy as you eat it."

They Embrace the Grandma (or Auntie) Pie

If all this talk of pizza sticking to the peel and $2,000 pizza ovens has you a bit freaked out, there's another pizza route to consider: the grandma pizza. "I would recommend what I grew up eating and what was common for Italian American families in the '70s and '80s—making grandma-style pizza, which is letting the dough make its final rise in a square pan and baking in your home oven," says Mangieri.

Ancona also recommends giving yourself permission to stray from the strict rules and traditions of Neapolitan-style pizza. "When people say 'homemade pizza,' I think of the pizza my Aunt Ida made on a cookie sheet in an electric oven—10-year-old me loved it."

They Sometimes Get a Little Geeky with Their Equipment

While you don't have to have any specialty equipment to make great pizza at home, the pros agree some tools can help. Ancona recommends using a digital thermometer to gauge your oven's temperature, as well as a food scale to weigh the ingredients.

If you are getting really serious about freestyle-shaped pizzas like Neapolitan-style, Mangieri says to consider leveling up to a small pizza oven like a Gozney. "Or take it further and get a small wood-burning oven," he says. "Without this kind of oven, it's going to be very difficult to achieve a Neapolitan-style pizza at home." Ancona also likes the Gozney and says it's great for roasting vegetables, reheating pizza, cooking steak and more.

They Have a Ton of Practice—and They Enjoy the Journey

The word "practice" came up over and over with all of the experts. "Don't give up! You can do it!" says Ancona. "If people don't arrive at that puffy crust destination of their dreams, they think the whole journey was ill-conceived. Not true. Try turning up your heat a little. Ask yourself questions about your ultimate moisture balance, structure, foldability. How crunchy or chewy do you want it? Are you trying to make Una Pizza Napoletana at home? Or are you trying to make a Prince Street square slice at home? Are you enjoying the journey and taking notes? Or are you just trying to make a 10-year-old happy?"

Bottom Line

Pizzeria pros have tons of practice, professional ovens and top-quality ingredients. But you don't need to be an expert to level up your pizza-making game at home. Letting your oven preheat for a long time at its highest temperature and using a pizza stone will help yield a crisper crust. Waiting until your dough is at room temperature makes it easier to roll out, and seeking out high-quality toppings is worth it for the most delicious pie.

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