How to Bake Pizza for a Crowd: Tips for Cooking Multiple Pizzas and Recovering from Epic Fails
If, as food culture writer Alicia Kennedy recently proclaimed in Bon Appétit, the old way of entertaining — perfect, coiffed, anxiety-inducing — is dead, then something’s gotta take its place.
We’d advocate for the pizza party.
The opposite of a cloth napkin Martha Stewart dinner, a pizza-based meal is messy, fast and communal. There will be cheese pulls and toppings on the floor, beers beading next to sweating dough, and, no matter how hard you try to avoid it, flour on your trousers. But that doesn’t mean it has to be mayhem. Here are our tips for throwing a successful (and stress-free) pizza party.
- Trial run. Just like you’d shy away from trying a new dish for a dinner party, test your pizza recipes before inviting people over. Learn how to make dough you can work with, or find a store-bought dough you can count on. Try out your topping combinations, especially if you’re venturing beyond classics.
- Consider gas. When cooking lots of pizza over long periods, you’re going to use lots of fuel. Gas-powered ovens are the easiest choice for fuel management: Simply turn on the oven and go. As long as you’ve got a full gas tank, you’ll be able to cook for quite a while. For more specifics on your gas needs, check out our gas consumption table.
- Have a backup. Whether it’s dough, a propane tank or a six-pack of beer, we’d recommend having a plan B. Char a few pizzas just a little too much? Pull out those extra dough balls. Run out of fuel? Bring out your extra tank.
- Prep in advance. Proof all of your dough, mill your sauce, grate your cheese, and chop or slice your toppings ahead of time. We sell pizza topping stations that include containers, but your favorite sealable takeout containers work great, too. Either way, you’ll thank yourself once you start cooking.
- Take the temperature, and take it often. Keep your infrared thermometer close at hand throughout the party and check back in on the temperature of the baking stone every so often. An oven that’s been ripping for a few hours will be hotter than one that just got going, and a stone that was just cooked on will be cooler than a stone that’s been unoccupied. Speaking of which…
- Recharge your stone. Think of your baking stone like a rechargeable battery. When cooking pizzas back to back, your stone will begin to lose heat. Launching pizza onto a stone that isn’t as hot as it should be can result in a limp crust or undercooked base. Waiting a few minutes between pizzas, will allow your stone to heat back up and give you great bakes.
- Use the whole stone. If you’re launching a pizza, try not to launch in exactly the same place every time. Keeping cold pizzas from landing in the same spot on every launch helps the stone remain at the desired temperature. While this is obviously easier if you’re working with a 16-inch oven, it’s still doable in a 12-inch oven. Shifting ever so slightly right or left, back or front, can make a huge difference.
- Make it interactive. Pizza-making is a full-time job at a party. Once you start cooking, you’re working until everyone is full. Take some of the work off your plate by getting guests involved in stretching and topping their pizzas.
- Consider parbaking. If you want to quickly finish your pizzas in the oven once people have arrived, parbaking is a great way to get ahead and leave yourself more time to mingle. Baking dough to its halfway point in advance means you’ll just have to top it and toss it back in the oven just before you want to sit down and eat. While this isn’t an ideal way to cook Neapolitan style, it will still result in some tasty pizzas and works well for pan pies.
- Double up. If you’re cooking for a really big crowd, firing up two Ooni ovens is a good idea. While it’s a little much for a casual backyard get-together, if you’re catering a small party, launching a farmers’ market pop-up, or you’ve just got a giant family, being able to cook on two ovens means less stone recovery time and more pizzas, faster.
- Remember the recovery calzone. Rips and tears happen. Pizzas go wonky when launched. If this happens, don’t panic: Check out our recovery calzone recipe — simply fold, pinch, and launch — and keep it in your back pocket as a trick to save torn dough.
- Clean as you go. So you didn’t catch a rip before you launched and some toppings stuck to the stone? Fire the oven for a few minutes at top temperature before launching a new pizza. The heat should burn off any crusted-on toppings. Use your peel or a pizza brush to swipe the ashes off the center of the stone, and you’ll be back in business.
- Keep pizzas warm. While you’re going to be cooking in your Ooni oven, it’s not a bad idea to keep your conventional oven on ultra low so you can keep pizzas warm if they don’t get gobbled up right away. A sheet pan lined with foil and an oven at a low temperature will help ensure your pizza stays ready to eat, even if your guests take a break from noshing in the middle of the party.
- Light it up with a headlamp. Cooking at night but don’t have great lighting outside? When our culinary advisor Kelsey Small throws a party that stretches well past sunset, he uses a headlamp so he can see exactly when his pizzas are done. Now, that’s a pro move.
- Finally, the most important rule: Stay calm. We may have said that we were leaving Martha Stewart’s perfectionism behind, but she does have some great , advice when it comes to hosting: “So the pie isn't perfect? Cut it into wedges. Stay in control, and never panic." Though she’s talking about dessert pies here, the advice holds. Mistakes can be a fun part of the process. The calmer you stay, the more fun the party will be.