Finally got that baking stone or steel (or outdoor pizza oven) you’ve been wanting? Before you heat it up for your first pizza night, you need one more tool: a pizza peel. In this post, I walk you through what a peel is, why it’s essential, which kind(s) you should look for, and how to use one like a pro.
What is a peel?
A pizza peel—a.k.a. pizza paddle, baker’s peel, or pizza spade—is a large, flat paddle used to slide pizzas and breads onto hot baking surfaces in the oven, then retrieve them after baking.
Some models, meant for wood-fired ovens and commercial kitchens, have long handles that allow chefs to keep their distance from the extreme temperatures. Others have medium and stubby handles, which offer more control.
Models also differ in makeup, thickness, surface size, and shape:
- There are super-thin aluminum or steel peels, perforated metal ones, and others made of varying thicknesses of wood, bamboo, and other materials.
- They range in paddle sizes, from teeny 7-inch turning peels to those with XL (16-inch or larger) surface areas.
- Some have round paddles; others are square or rectangular.
The main types of pizza peels are metal and wooden/bamboo, and there are pros and cons for each:
Metal peels are super thin, lightweight, and easy to slip under pizzas while they’re baking on super-hot stones or steels. However, raw dough sticks to the metallic surface, which can make it really difficult to shimmy stretched out and topped pizza dough from the peel to the hot stone without using a ton of excess flour.
Wooden and bamboo peels have relatively nonstick surfaces, making it easier to launch uncooked pizzas onto preheated baking surfaces in the oven. However, these peels are much thicker and heavier than their metal cousins, and they can make it difficult to quickly retrieve baked pizzas from the oven. Not to mention, wooden and bamboo tools can crack if not maintained properly, so their lifespan tends to be shorter than metal versions.
The best of both worlds—perforated metal and composite peels—are great alternatives to the traditional metal and wooden models. For example, perforated metal peels are still stickier than wooden or bamboo, but the extra flour used to keep the dough from adhering to the paddle falls through the perforations when you launch, rotate, and retrieve the pizza from the oven. Similarly, peels made of paper composite* are much thinner than regular wooden peels (though still not as thin as metal), won’t crack, and can be used for slicing and serving, too.
Which Type of Pizza Peel is Best for Home Ovens?
When you’re shopping for a pizza peel, there are three main things to consider: 1) The size and shape of your baking stone, steel, or pizza oven, 2) How much storage space you have in your kitchen, and 3) Your level of experience. (Links below earn me a small commission)
- If your stone or steel is round and on the smaller side (10 to 12 inches in diameter), you’ll get the best results with a short-handled peel like this one with a paddle no more than 12 inches wide.
- If the surface of your stone/steel/pizza oven is square or rectangular, I recommend choosing a square or rectangular peel that is about as wide as your stone or steel. For example, I use a 14-inch square peel like this one to make pizzas on my 14 x 16-inch baking stone.
- If you only have room for one peel, get one that can be used for launching, turning, and retrieving the pizza from the oven. My favorite all-purpose peel, the Epicurean, is made of nonstick paper composite material and is much thinner than wooden peels, which means raw dough won’t stick as much to it, and you can easily slip it under a pizza on a hot stone or steel to rotate and then remove it from the oven. If you choose a wooden peel, make sure it isn’t too thick and has a blade cut into the edge of the paddle surface; this will help you slide the topped dough onto the hot stone and scoop the pizza off of the baking surface when it’s done baking. (This one is great!)
- If you’ve got some extra space, invest in two peels: a nonstick wooden/bamboo/composite one for topping and launching the pizza, and a thin metal perforated one for rotating the pizza while it bakes and taking it out of the oven when it’s done.
- If you’ve never used a pizza peel before, start with one that has a nonstick surface. (See “If you only have room for one peel,” above.)
- If you’re a pro looking for a fancy new pizza peel set-up, splurge on commercial-grade models like this pair or these beauties from GI Metal. Metal peels are fun to use, once you get the hang of them. They’re also great for prepping multiple pizzas at once, then scooping them up right from the counter. (I have yet to master that technique . . . but I’m working on it!)
How Do You Use a Pizza Peel?
Once you get the hang of it, it’s super simple! Here are the steps for using your peel:
- Preheat your stone/steel.
If you have a baking stone, place it in the top third of your oven (closer to the broiler); if you have a baking steel, place it in the bottom third of your oven (farther away from the broiler). Preheat the oven to 550°F or has high as it will go, and let it heat up for 45 minutes to 1 hour. Then, switch your oven setting to Broil on high.
- Stretch and top the pizza dough.
Prep your toppings while the oven preheats, and stretch or roll out a ball of pizza dough, dusting the bottom with flour as you go. Then, sprinkle your pizza peel with a light dusting of flour, lay the stretched-out dough on top, and quickly add your sauce and toppings. (The longer it takes you to top the pizza, the more chance the raw dough has to stick to the peel.)
- Make sure the topped dough will shimmy.
Slip a long offset spatula* between the dough and the peel, then gently shake the peel back and forth in a shimmying motion until the dough slides freely around the peel. If it won’t budge, sprinkle a little flour on the end of the spatula and work it under the dough. Do not attempt to transfer the topped dough to the hot baking surface in your oven until you know it will release from the peel! (Watch the video above for a visual demo of this process.)
- Slide the topped dough onto your super-hot baking surface.
Once you know your pizza will slide off the peel, bring it over to the oven and shimmy it onto the preheated baking surface.
- Rotate the pizza during baking.
Bake the pizza for a minute or two, then quickly slip your peel underneath the pizza and rotate it to ensure even baking.
- Scoop the finished pizza off the hot stone/steel and out of the oven.
When the pizza is evenly browned on the bottom, golden around the edges, and charred in spots on top, quickly slip the peel underneath to remove it from the oven. Transfer the pizza to a cutting board to slice and serve. (Or, if you’re using a wooden, bamboo, or composite peel, you can slice and serve it right on the peel.)
Yep! You can also use your peel to bake bread or cook anything else on a baking stone or steel.
Well, technically, you can use an upside-down baking sheet to transfer the unbaked pizza to the hot stone or steel, but then what? Unless you have a great strategy for getting the finished pizza off the stone/steel without burning yourself, I recommend investing in a pizza peel instead.
First, dust the bottom of your stretched-out dough with flour, and sprinkle a little flour on the peel before you lay the dough on top. Next, top the dough as quickly as possible (the longer the raw dough rests on the peel, the more likely it is to stick). And finally, before you go near the preheated oven, shimmy an offset spatula between the dough and the peel to loosen the dough and make sure it will slide onto the hot stone/steel for baking. If the dough won’t move on the peel, sprinkle the spatula with a little flour, and work it under the dough until you can get it to slide on the peel with gentle jerking motions.
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