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A peel is a tool used in baking, to move food in and out of a hot oven. You get the best pizza when the surface it’s baked on is hot – this gives bread and pizza an ‘oven spring’ which is when the heat makes it rise rapidly.
That’s why you shouldn’t put your raw pizza onto cold baking sheets and pizza stones – you need a way to get it in the hot oven somehow. That is where the peel comes in.
This article has some beginner advice on the pizza peel, and some more advanced tips on how to use it if you are having problems. It can be a difficult tool to master, but as with everything – practice, practice practice!
How To Use A Pizza Peel
You use a pizza peel to transfer your raw pizza from the worktop into the oven, and also to retrieve it.
Start off with some dough from my pizza dough recipe. The recipe has all the instructions to prep your dough properly before putting it on the peel.
Deploying The Pizza
This is quite hard to do right and takes some practice. It has a certain technique to it, but once you master it you can get it right every time.
1. Stretch the dough on the worktop to the desired size. Dust the peel with flour and semolina mix and lift the dough on top. Stretch it back out to the size it was, as it will have shrunk slightly.
2. Add your sauce, cheese, and toppings. Be careful not to get sauce on the peel as the moisture will make the dough stick. Periodically give it a small shake to make sure it hasn’t stuck.
3. Now for the tricky bit. Open the oven, pull the rack out with the pizza stone, and use a swift back-and-forth wrist action to drop the pizza on the stone.
Think of it like the magic trick with the tablecloth – pulling back quickly and confidently. Try not to angle the peel down too much otherwise the edge of the dough will get caught on the hot stone, and your toppings will fall off.
4. Once on the stone, you can give it any minor stretches to get it back to the circular shape here but watch your fingers. If it has flopped over the edge (which can be quite common!) then don’t worry.
Close the door and let it cook for a few minutes. Then use the peel to pick it up and place it back in the middle of the stone – the crust will end up looking like the rest of the crust as it cooks so don’t worry.
Don’t Shake The Pizza Off The End
The action should be swift and smooth. You don’t want to shake the pizza off the end of the peel.
This only makes the edge of the pizza catch on the oven, then you pull it back shaking and end up pulling the pizza lengthways and ruining its shape.
If you do a nice quick drop, then the pizza retains its shape and there are fewer things that can go wrong.
Retrieving The Pizza
This is much simpler. The pizza has now cooked and firmed up, and there isn’t much that could go wrong apart from dropping it on the floor.
Use the metal peel to slide it under the pizza firmly, keeping the peel flat. You can now pull it out and place it on your pizza platter.
How To Keep Pizza Dough From Sticking To Peel
The pizza dough sticking to the pizza peel is a big problem. You can do all the work of proofing, stretching, and topping the dough, only for it to get stuck and ruin all your efforts.
What to use to stop sticking
For the anti-sticking dusting that I put on my peel, I use a 50/50 mix of semolina and the flour used for making the dough. The semolina helps the dough slide on the peel and adds a lovely texture and flavor.
It is a bit rough on its own so needs to be softened with flour. If you don’t have semolina then flour is fine on its own. Try not to drench the peel as the flour just burns on the pizza stone.
Tips to stop pizza dough sticking to the peel:
- Pizza dough sticks to metal much more so consider getting a wooden peel if using metal.
- Dust the peel with a 50/50 mix of flour and semolina. The semolina is like little balls which help the pizza slide.
- Stretch the dough on the worktop and then move to the peel for the toppings.
- Don’t overload the pizza with toppings – this adds weight
- Move fast on the peel – spend as least time as possible so the flour doesn’t absorb water from the dough.
- Make sure your dough is at room temperature for less condensation and moisture.
- If using a metal peel that is cold, warm it slightly under the hot tap to avoid condensation and moisture.
How To Practice
It can be a daunting task to try and slide the pizza off cleanly once it’s all topped – and you’ve only got one shot!
So you should practice beforehand – that way you get a feel for how to do it. It’s better to make mistakes here rather than ruin your pizza.
Fold up a dish towel and place it on the peel. You can practice the motion needed to get the towel/pizza off the peel in one quick go.
Aim for something – your pizza stone, or serving board. And don’t stop until you can get it on there every time. It’s a good idea to practice it at the same height as the actual height – so open up the oven and give it a go in there too.
If I’m feeling a bit rusty then I always give it a quick go before the real deal.
You can also use your stretched-out pizza skin to practice. Once you’ve got it to your desired size, you can give it a few attempts with your peel onto your worktop. Just don’t go for too long as the dough will dry up quickly.
How To Use With A Pizza Stone
You should place your pizza stone on a rack that is near the top of the oven.
I usually put mine on the top rack and it works perfectly, but ovens vary so the top rack might burn the toppings for some.
(I lowered it for the pictures in this article, but it still worked great.)
Heat the pizza stone for as long as you can up to an hour, as the more heat the better. At the very least, 30 minutes. Always put the stone in the oven first.
Pull out the rack with the stone to slide the pizza. When your pizza is on your peel and ready to go, open the oven door and pull out the rack 3/4 of the way. This allows you to use the peel properly to transfer.
No trying to get your peel into a gap that is a few inches tall. The stone won’t lose too much heat – you are opening the oven anyway. Just be quick as you do want to retain the heat, it should all happen in 15 seconds or less.
How To Use With A Pizza Oven
In a wood fired oven, the difference is obviously the distance to the cooking area and also the heat. This makes it unsuitable to use a short-handled peel.
As the pizza is further away, retrieving the pizza is also different. You can’t easily retrieve it with a wooden peel as you can’t get under the pizza. So a metal peel is the way to go.
You will want to rotate the pizza so that all the edges cook evenly, not just the one facing the flame.
You can buy a round peel with a smaller surface area which is easily maneuverable and can get under an edge and spin the pizza around. This can be used for retrieval as the pizza is now cooked and firm so it won’t drop over the edges.
Just make sure that you get a peel which had a long enough handle so you don’t burn yourself. One metal peel will work fine but just ensure you dust it with semolina and flour to stop it sticking.
Pizza Peel Maintenance
Using For The First Time
There isn’t much you need to do the first time you use the peel apart from just ensuring it’s clean. You don’t need to season or oil a peel or anything like that.
A pizza peel should be grease and moisture free to allow the pizza to slide off easily. You should not put any seasoning coating because the wood is porous and absorbs moisture to stop the dough from sticking.
Looking After The Peel
Avoid cutting the pizza on the peel when it’s cooked. This will cut grooves into the wood and make the surface rougher and harder to slide the pizza off. Get a wooden serving board to do this job.
Keep the wood away from direct heat and definitely don’t put it in the oven. Wood expands and contracts with heat so will end up splitting.
To clean the pizza peel, you can scrape any stuck-on debris with a knife or dough scraper. Wipe it down and let it dry.
For wood peels, don’t get it too wet as wood absorbs water i.e. don’t put it in the dishwasher as the water and the heat will only make the wood split.
Storing The Peel
They are good decorations for a kitchen and will impress your guests for sure, so I like having them on display. You can get creative – I’ve seen people use a guitar rack on the wall.
It can then hang high up on the wall when you need it. I just lean mine up next to a wall on the worktop.
Choosing The Right Pizza Peel
If you are unsure what pizza peel to buy, then here is a buyer’s guide. I’ve bought a few in my time and made some mistakes so will advise where needed.
Wood Vs Metal
You may wonder if a wood or metal peel is better. Wood pizza peels are better to transfer the pizza to the oven as the wooden surface is porous so absorbs moisture from the dough and stops it from sticking.
Metal peels tend to stick a lot more (which can ruin your pizza party), but they are thinner so are more suited to retrieving the cooked pizza. You can’t really get the wooden peel under the pizza easily.
I would buy both sets if you can, but if you can only get one then go for a wooden peel and move on to a metal one when you get more experienced.
Perforated Vs Standard
This refers to the pizza peels which have small holes on the paddle. These holes help excess flour to drop through the gaps and can help with less sticking from the reduced surface area.
If the pizza maker doesn’t move fast though, the dough can mold to the holes in the peel and then actually make it harder to slide it off.
Go for a standard peel if you are a beginner – I find that the flour rarely burns that much on the stone.
Make sure to get one that is big enough as it is frustrating to buy a smaller one and then be limited to the space when you want to make bigger pizzas.
Think of the largest pizzas you want to make – a 14-15″ peel is better than a 12″ peel, so aim for that.
If you are making pizza at home in a home oven, then a short-handled wooden peel is fine.
If you are cooking in a wood fired oven then you need to buy a peel with a longer handle. You don’t burn yourself, and so you can reach into the back of the oven.
Making A Homemade Pizza Peel
If you are caught short without a pizza peel then there are a few tricks you can use.
Try using parchment paper to transfer the raw dough to the oven. Or find some other kitchen items for a makeshift peel. See my article 7 Kitchen Items To Use As A Pizza Peel Substitute.
They can be bought for very cheap online now, but if you can’t get hold of one cheaply, then this guy makes one himself for under $10.