7 Foods You Should Cook Before Putting On Pizza

In this post we look at some of the toppings you should cook before adding to a pizza. After all, pizza is cooked rapidly in a hot oven and you might be wondering if those toppings are safe to eat.

Some foods just aren’t that good as a topping without a bit of preparation first. Let’s look at why you might want to cook these first, and which toppings you definitely should cook first.

Why you should cook them first 

Water loss

Vegetables which contain a lot of water will release the water when cooked. This can make your pizza wet and soggy. The dough might not cook through properly and it definitely won’t get crisp. You should saute these vegetables in a frying pan with a little oil. Cook them long enough so that they release the moisture and shrink down slightly. If you need to drain them at the end then do so, and you can pat them dry with a paper towel.

Better texture

As the pizza is cooked relatively quickly then the toppings only get a short period of cooking as well. Some toppings taste better when cooked a little longer, and that is down to personal preference. Peppers and onions will stay crunchy on a pizza if added raw. If you saute them beforehand then they take on a softer texture which may suit the style of pizza a little better.

Better taste 

Cooking toppings first can improve the flavor by intensifying it. This usually happens when moisture is pushed out and when caramelization happens. When foods get browned they have a reaction called the Maillard reaction and this creates a deeper flavor. Think of a mushroom which is quite bland when raw. After it is cooked it is strong in taste and is much more popular.

Avoiding raw food

I’m referring to food which should definitely be cooked through before eating, such as meat. As the pizza only cooks for a short time then this might not be long enough to fully cook meat. You don’t want to be eating half cooked chicken on your pizza! There can be a line between cooked and over cooked, so be sure to go lightly on the precooking so that you do not overly dry out the meat. Thin meats such as bacon don’t have to be cooked first. You should use your judgement to identify if your pizza cooking time will adequately cook your meat through.

1. Mushrooms

Why you should cook first

Mushrooms aren’t regular vegetables because they are fungi. And this means they are full of water. It takes them a longer time to release the water and start cooking, so when they are placed raw on pizza they do not have enough time to cook. This gives a raw mushroom taste which is inferior to cooked mushrooms for most people. At the same time, this water is released to the top of the dough causing too much excess moisture. This results in soggy pizza crust and watery toppings. You might have noticed this when you saute mushrooms in a pan. Instead you should cook the mushrooms first which will release the water, intensify the flavor and ensure the mushrooms taste better because they are cooked through.

How to prepare

Get a frying pan or saucepan and add the sliced mushrooms with some oil, pepper and salt. Let them reduce down as you saute them for 5-10 minutes until darker in color. Now you can drain on some paper towels ready for the pizza topping.

2. Thick Meat (Like Chicken)

Why you should cook first

You should use your intuition here and think about how long you would usually cook that piece of meat at that thickness. You want to cook your food, but you don’t want to dry it out. Most people will be cautious with food like raw chicken as that has some obvious concerns. I tend to avoid chicken as a pizza topping because it is lean and becomes dry quickly in the hot oven. That is typically why greasy cured meat and bacon go so well on pizza.

How to prepare

If your meat is fatty, then render that fat down by cooking slowly. This allows the meat to cook, the fat to melt and the meat to become crisp. If you are going for a leaner meat like chicken, then roast whole in the oven wrapped in foil to keep moist. Then you can slice and top on your pizza.

3. Root vegetables

Why you should cook first

These vegetables, like a butternut squash, are the toughest, and require the most cooking. That’s why they don’t suite well for going on a pizza raw. Especially if they are cut thick, it can be pretty unpleasant to bite into raw root vegetables. By cooking them first, they become soft the whole way through and become sweeter.

How to prepare

Cut into thin cubes and roast in the oven while you prepare the rest of your pizza ingredients and dough. Wait until they are slightly soft. Then the final cook on top of the pizza can brown them.

4. Broccoli

Why you should cook first

Broccoli can go straight on the pizza or it can be cooked first – the latter works better in my opinion. Raw broccoli takes on a darker, bitter taste which is undesirable on a pizza. If its had some cooking then it mellows the flavor and is softer in bite.

How to prepare

Blanch the florets in some boiling water for a few minutes. This takes the raw edge off and softens slightly. Then toss in some olive oil so that they don’t dry in the oven when placed on top the pizza.

5. Leafy Greens and Herbs

Why you should cook first

Leafy green vegetables and herbs need some preparation before going straight on the pizza. This is because they will burn, and then go bitter. Think of spinach and kale, which are thin and not ready to go raw into a hot pizza oven. A sprig of rosemary will just burn and become very unpleasant – but when covered in oil it works much better.

How to prepare

Food like spinach is easiest giving a saute in a pan with some oil before cooking. This allows it to wilt down and lose some moisture and generally be more manageable. Rather than putting a big clump on the pizza and letting it shrink there. Woody herbs like rosemary need to be well oiled before going on. Some grab a sprig and rub with a little olive oil before adding on top.

6. Bell Peppers

Why you should cook first

Similar to onions and mushrooms, peppers get better with some prior cooking because they can’t cook fast enough on top of the pizza. By cooking first they become softer, and full of flavor as the water escapes as the sugars caramelize.

How to prepare

I don’t think you can beat whole roasted red peppers for flavor. These are soft and sweet and cut up easily for pizza toppings. Check out this recipe to see how to properly roast bell peppers to get a charred surface.

7. Onion

Why you should cook first

You get more flavor out of an onion when it has been cooked down rather than straight up raw. This is because it starts to caramelize when the sugars are released, and the flavor is intensified as moisture escapes. As with peppers, they can be too crunchy when used raw.

How to prepare

Slice thinly and saute in some oil until soft. They take them a little further until they start going golden and they start to sweeten – delicious!

Toppings you don’t need to cook first

Note: Any raw meat should be the last thing you add to a pizza topping so that it gets the full cooking that it needs. As with cooking any raw meat, ensure it is fully cooked through before eating.


Providing this isn’t in too larger chunks, I think this is fine. A nice trick I like to do is take the sausage meat from out of their skins and add blobs of meat to the top of the pizza. This lets the meat brown and crisp up and taste great. Remember to keep the balls an inch or less wide so that they cook through thoroughly, and pinch them thin between your fingers so they aren’t too thick. Always place above the cheese.


Because it is nice and thin, bacon should cook fine when place on the top of the pizza above the cheese. Here it gets the cooking it needs, and the fat melts into the pizza. In my opinon that makes the pizza taste great, and is a better option than crisping the bacon up first.


Again, if its sliced thinly then pepperoni is fine when placed above the cheese and should not need any prior cooking.

Related Pizza Topping Questions

Do you cook pizza sauce?
Both ways have different outcomes. If you choose to not cook the sauce then you preserve a more raw tomato taste which works well for pizzas which are cooked fast like a wood fired Neapolitan pizza. If you cook it first then you get a more concentrated tomato flavor which usually is accompanied by garlic, tomatoes and herbs. This stands up well to pizzas with more toppings like the American varieties.

Do you have to cook pancetta before putting it on pizza?
You generally don’t have to cook pancetta first because it is thin and will cook adequately in the oven. Ensure your oven is very hot so that the pancetta renders its fat and it crisps up. Place above the cheese so it gets direct heat.

Do you need to cook peppers before putting on pizza?
Pizza is cooked relatively quickly and peppers need a long time to soften. So if you add raw peppers to a pizza they are likely to be crunchy. You can soften them by roasting first if you like a softer pepper but it is down to preference.

My best tip for making pizza in a home oven is using a pizza “steel”. This adds intense heat from below like a brick oven would – I have this steel from Amazon which is significantly lower priced than the original brand, but works perfectly. Steel is more conductive than stone so transfers more heat, they don’t shatter and they are easier to clean. If it’s out of your price range then the 2nd best option is a pizza stone made from cordierite. To see a round-up of the most important pizza equipment then see my essential pizza equipment list.

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