From the screen to the deck
Tom Lehmann explains the advantages and disadvantages of starting the baking process on a screen.
Why are some pizzas baked right on the oven deck while others are first baked on a screen and then finished on the deck?
Many pizza makers prep the pizza skin on a screen, bake it in the oven for a couple of minutes on the screen, and then remove it from the screen and finish the bake on the oven deck. There are several good reasons for this approach, including:
It can effectively eliminate the need to use peel dust when transferring the dressed skins to the oven. Otherwise, the peel dust ends up in the oven, where it gets charred, and must be periodically removed with an oven rake and broom.
The dough won’t bake as quickly if it isn’t touching the deck surface. As a result, you can usually bake the pizza a little longer to develop a thicker, potentially crispier crust and a drier top to the pizza.
This technique can also allow for better or more convenient staging of the preopened dough skins prior to rush periods. In this case, you can place the opened dough skins on a screen, which is then placed into a wire tree rack for immediate use when things start to get backed up.
Finally, by “decking” the pizza, we get the advantages of prepping, handling and baking the pizzas on a screen while also achieving much of the crispiness typically associated with a hearth-baked pizza.
Of course, there are some disadvantages to this practice, too. For starters, the dressed dough skin must always be removed from the screen at about the same time after going into the oven. This requires additional attention to the baking process, and it adds to the complexity of the oven tender’s job.
Additionally, this practice will usually reduce the number of pizzas that you can fit into the oven at any one time. Once you remove the pizza from the screen, you must have an open spot on the oven deck on which to place it. In some cases, especially where the pizzas are almost fully baked on the screens, the oven may be filled with screened pizzas; now the oven tender must go into the oven to rotate or move the pizzas around while at the same time figuring out how to peel a pizza off of a screen, remove the screen from the oven, and place the pizza back down onto the deck. This can be done, but it requires a lot of attention and finesse by the oven tender!