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Serious Entertaining: How To Throw a Pizza Party

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[Photographs: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt]

Who says kids get to have all the fun? Throwing your own pizza party is an excellent way to get friends together, and working together on stretching and topping pies will help alleviate those awkward silences that occur some time before the last guest arrives and the first beers kick in.

Here's what you'll need to do to guarantee high-pie-ing success:

Know Your Dough

The type of dough you end up using will depend largely on the mood of the group and their skillet level, but here are a few suggestions:

For True Beginners and Kids: Premade

Come on: you know you love it. French bread, English muffin, or bagel pizza, it's all cheese and sauce-covered bread in the end, right? If quick and easy is your route, there's no shame in using either a par-baked pizza shell or some other sort of bread product.

If you want to take the next step up, look for pre-made pizza dough in your supermarket or from the local pizzeria. Those doughs generally contain conditioners that make them nearly fool-proof to stretch without tearing or sticking, and they taste just fine.

For First Time Dough-Slingers: Square Pie

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Of the three basic styles of pizza I make most, the Basic Square Pan Pizza is by far the easiest. It's made with a very wet dough that you mix up in a stand mixer, then pour directly into a rimmed baking sheet and allow it to stretch on its own to the edges.

If you prefer, you could also try out our New England Greek-Style Dough, which rises in 10-inch skillets or cake pans, making them more suitable for a smaller party with individual-sized pies.

Once you've got the dough made—and you can make a few well in advance and have them ready and waiting in your baking sheets—all that you and your guests have to do it top it and bake it. You end up with real-deal pizza with a crisp, golden brown, olive-oil-fried bottom, and fresh toppings.

Get the recipe here »

For The Experienced: New York Style

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New York Style dough requires manually stretching before each and every pie, but it's also a relatively relaxed and easy dough to work with. You can even have your guests go the rolling pin route, or stretch the dough out on oiled pizza pans instead of using the flour-and-peel method.

Get the recipe here »

For Pros: Neapolitan Pizza Dough

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This dough is significantly harder to work with than either a square pan or a basic New York style dough. Chances are if you haven't worked with a very wet dough before, you'll end up either stretching this one too thin, or making holes in it. Not to worry—this is a pizza party, not opening night at your new pizza joint with the whole world watching. The great thing about pizza is that even when it looks like crap, it still tastes great.

Get the recipe here

Dough Tips:

Get Saucy

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I like to give guests the choice of either red or white pies, though the specific sauces you make are up to you. You can go the simple route with a plain old can of San Marzano tomatoes crushed by hand and seasoned with sea salt, or try out one of these recipes below:

And of course, once again there's no shame in going with a store-bought sauce if that's what you'd prefer.

Top It Off!

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With your doughs resting and your sauce ready to go, all you need now is a toppings bar. Try and go for a mix of things and encourage people to experiment. I'd start with at least a dozen topping options, though warn your guests that more is not always more. The best pies are made with careful thought and restraint. Here are some of my favorite ingredients:

Cheese

Cured Meats

I'm a firm believer that the best meats to put on a pizza are cured meats, as they offer the requisite flavor punch to complement a pie without weighing it down. If you like things like chicken or barbecue on your pizza, go wild!

Vegetables

Watery vegetables should be applied thin sliced and sparingly, or should be par-cooked to avoid sogging out your pie.

Spices and Pickles

Post-Bake Toppers

These are things that you want to add to the pie after it's baked to keep their fresh flavor and texture.

And if you need more toppings ideas, I suggest you take a look at this scholarly work of stunning genius:

Let 'er Rip

Once you've got your ingredients all ready, throw your stone or steel into the oven, crank it up, and get ready to party. Limit your dough stretching and topping to one at a time, and make sure that you don't have a pizza topped and waiting while you've still got another on in the oven. Nothing worse than a pie that ends up sticking to the peel because it sat for too long.

If there's one mistake that's made more often by first-time pie makers than anything else, it's over-topping. Cheese and toppings should be applied very sparingly.

Have a cutting board and a pizza wheel ready for when the pies start coming out of the oven, and make sure that the person who created the pie explains his or her creation to the rest of the party. Half the fun of eating a pizza is the inspiration behind it!

(P.S.: Don't forget the dessert pies—honey, walnuts, and goat or blue cheese are awesome, as is an empty crust spread with Nutella post-bake).

And, well, that's about all there is to say on that matter. Happy pie-slinging!

About the author: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is the Chief Creative Officer of Serious Eats where he likes to explore the science of home cooking in his weekly column The Food Lab. You can follow him at @thefoodlab on Twitter, or at The Food Lab on Facebook.

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