Bad news for home chefs: you’ll probably never be able to make the perfect Italian pizza. Don’t take it personally—the reason is all science.
Let’s start with the basics. A simple pizza has three parts: a dough, tomato sauce, and mozzarella. Though they start out raw, these ingredients turn into a golden crust, cooked tomatoes, and bubbly cheese. Just put them in a hot oven for just two minutes. How hot? About 625 degrees Fahrenheit!
Reaching this high temperature is easy for Italian-style pizzerias. According to a recent study from two hungry researchers, wood-fired brick ovens are the cause of an Italian pie’s perfection. Specifically, these ovens have certain thermodynamic properties that conventional electric ranges just can’t match. The vaulted shape of the oven is formed by curved brick walls and a brick, or stone, floor, as a wood fire burns in a corner. This construction ensures that heat moves around the oven, getting it hot and creating convection currents.
This means two things. First, the brick floor has an ideal thermal conductivity to cook dough. In other words, in a 625-degree oven, the direct contact of the floor to the pizza will heat the dough to about 392 degrees, ideal for creating a crispy crust. Second, the thermal radiation of the hot oven brings the cheese and tomato sauce to 212 degrees, allowing water to boil off and cook the pizza top fully.
Home ovens, of course, can’t get this hot and achieve the ideal thermodynamics. But some tricks—such as using a pizza stone and the oven’s broiler—may get you close.