- If your pizza sticks to the peel when you put it in the oven, you might be using the wrong kind of peel for that purpose.
- Another possible culprit: the peel dust. Plain flour works, but there are some better alternatives.
The late, great Tom “The Dough Doctor” Lehmann loved solving pizza-makers’ dough problems almost as much as he loved his family, hunting and corny jokes. PMQ continues to republish the best of the Dough Doctor’s advice for all of those pizzeria operators who still need his help—we believe Tom would have wanted it that way.
Q: Our pizza occasionally sticks to the peel when we put it into the oven. It makes a real mess on the stones and throws a wrench into things, as it invariably happens at a busy time. What can we do to prevent our pies from sticking to the peel?
A: Nothing is worse than peeling a dressed pizza skin into the oven and pulling out a half-dressed pie still clinging to the peel—except when it happens at 7 o’clock on a Saturday night. Fortunately, there are a few things that can be done to reduce the possibility of the dough sticking to the peel.
First, make sure you’re using the correct peel. Pizza peels come in two styles: metal and wood/composite. The wood/composite peel is the correct peel to use as a prep peel. The metal peel should be relegated to the oven as an oven peel only. The wood/composite peels are much less likely to cause condensation to form on the peel due to temperature differences between the peel and the dough. This condensation can cause the dough to adhere to the peel.
The next thing to consider: What are you using for a peel dust? While plain flour works well, it isn’t very forgiving. If the dough is a little cold or sticky, for whatever reason, you must be on top of your dough dressing game, or you might end up with the dough sticking to the peel at the oven’s entrance. Some operators swear by cornmeal as a release material on the peel; it works great, much like thousands of tiny ball bearings under the dough skin. With just a little shake, the dressed dough will slide effortlessly off the peel.
The only problem with cornmeal has to do with the grit that it can impart to the bottom of the baked pizza. For some, this is desirable; for others, it is not. Then, too, the excess cornmeal has to be regularly swept out of the oven, or it will show up on the bottoms of the baked pizzas as hard black spots.
Some operators use semolina flour instead of cornmeal. Semolina flour is significantly coarser than regular flour, and it doesn’t absorb moisture as quickly as regular flour does. For this reason, it makes for a pretty decent peel dust—a good compromise between regular flour and cornmeal.
Still other operators have turned to more “exotic” ingredients to use as a peel dust, such as wheat bran, rice flour, corn flour, coarse-ground whole-wheat flour, and even rye flour. Any of these materials make for an effective peel dust. My own personal favorite peel dust is a blend of equal parts of cornmeal, semolina flour and regular pizza flour. Don’t ask me why I like it—it just works for me. It gives me the confidence necessary to peel the dressed dough into the oven with authority and confidence, knowing that the dough will slide off the peel every time.
Finally, here’s a little trick to keep from dumping your pizza toppings onto a hot deck while the dough remains firmly affixed to the peel: As you’re taking the dressed dough skin to the oven, give it a little shake to confirm that the dough is not sticking to the peel. If it is, there is no reason to believe that it will miraculously free itself as you peel it into the oven! Now is your chance to address the problem by freeing the dough from the peel or, at worst, dumping the pizza and starting over again. This sure beats transferring the mess to your oven stones, where it will continue to plague you until you clean it off, not to mention the smoke and aroma of burning toppings emanating from your oven.
The late Tom Lehmann was the director of bakery assistance for the American Institute of Baking (AIB), a leading pizza industry consultant and a frequent contributor to PMQ.