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Equipment: What's the Best Pizza Peel For My Home?

Each week J. Kenji Lopez-Alt (KA Cuisine and GoodEater.org) drops by with a tool you might want to stock your kitchen with. Kenji also writes The Food Lab column here on SE. You can follow him as The Food Lab on Facebook or on Twitter for play-by-plays on his future kitchen tests and recipe experiments. —The Mgmt.

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To get a good, crisp, well-charred undercarriage on a pizza, you need to have some means of transferring it to a blazing-hot surface (like a pizza stone or a grill) without any intervening pan. The best way to do this is with a peel—the long handled tool with a flat paddle on the end that pizzaioli use to deposit and retrieve pies from hot ovens.

Most professionals use extremely long (think 40 inches or more) peels with heavy-duty, rounded metal heads to poke their pies at a safe distance from the mouths of their 1,000°F wood-burning, fire-belching ovens. But what about the rest of us? The home cooks for whom pizza is not a lifestyle, but who still enjoy hosting the occasional pizza party? Which pizza peel works best for the home oven or grill?

Shape

Professional peels generally have a rounded head, and with good reason: a professional has to be able to work with pizzas in all corners of a large oven, all from a single small doorway. A square-headed peel makes it much more difficult to maneuver pies at the sides of the oven because of the angle of insertion. So for them, a peel that's symmetric no matter what angle it's inserted (I.E. round) is a necessity.

A home cook, on the other hand, works in a single small oven or a grill. You only ever have to attack your pizza head-on. For that reason, a square-headed peel makes the business of inserting and retrieving much easier.

Square it is.

Materials

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Pizza peels come in three basic materials:

We'll stick with metal.

Handle Length

20100825-pizza-peel-offset.jpgThe handle of a peel needs to be long enough that the head of the blade can reach all the way to the back of your oven while allowing you to keep your hand a good 4-5 inches away from the door. That means that despite the offset blade on the Offset Pizza Peel by Outset ($24.95) which is designed to keep your knuckles from coming in contact with a hot pizza stone, the shortness of its handle negates its usefulness.

Much better is the Wooden Handle Aluminum Pizza Peel by American Metalcraft ($9.95), which features a flat, thin, lightweight aluminum blade, and a wooden handle in a variety of lengths to suit any oven size.

20100825-pizza-peel-aluminum.jpgIt's also extraordinarily cheap. $10 for a peel that outperforms all the other $25+ peels ain't half bad.

The one problem with is is storage: many people, myself included, might have trouble finding a place to keep a 26 to 40-inch long piece of not-too-oft-used equipment. A nail on the wall works well, or if you can fit it, slide it into the space between your fridge and its housing (like I do). But for those of you who are willing to shell out a bit extra for convenience, go with the Mario Batali Pizza Peel ($32.95).

20100825-pizza-peel-batali.jpgIt's got a stainless steel blade with a sturdy, fold-out beechwood handle. Yes, it's from a celebrity chef, yes it costs three times as much as the American Metalcraft model, but it's well constructed, handsome, and folds down to a mere 16 1/2-inches long (fully extended, it's nearly 30 inches), making cabinet-storage a possibility.

The Late Contender

20100825-pizza-peel-super.jpgThere's been some discussion here about the Super Peel, a wooden pizza peel with a cloth conveyor belt that helps transfer the pizza to a stone much more easily than a regular peel. I've not had the opportunity to test one, so I'm not qualified to make any statements on how well it actually works.

I will say that from watching it in action: it seems like the shortness of the handle and the proximity of your hand to the stone when operating the conveyor belt would be a problem if you are using a really hot oven (550 degree +). It also seems like although you can transfer the pizza to the stone, you'd need a separate peel to rotate and remove the pie, as the super peel is pretty thick, and the cloth would not make it conducive to sliding under a cooked pizza. The cloth is also made of a cotton/polyester blend, making it unsuitable for use over an open flame. Grilling pizza requires you to constantly be monitoring the underside and rotating the dough as needed for even charring. I'd hate to have my peel catch on fire while I'm doing this.

I'll be getting one for testing soon. In the mean time, anyone who's used one of these for high oven temp pizzas or on open-flame grills have comments?

Got a suggestion for an upcoming topic? Email Kenji here, and he'll do his best to answer your queries in a future post. Become a fan of The Food Lab on Facebook or Twitter for play-by-plays on future kitchen tests and recipe experiments.

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