If you don’t think there’s at least a tiny mystery around the pizza peel, let me assure you … There IS! How do I know? Well, I’ve been making pizza for much of my life. I’ve been making it from scratch for around 30 years, but I’ve used mostly my regular indoor oven, and I’ve used a metal pizza pan which I moved around with my oven mittens! No peel required! Add to that the fact that I was a cheapskate, and no such tool as a pizza peel even entered my thinking!
Do Tell! What is a Pizza Peel?
Simply put, a pizza peel is that long-handled (or sometimes short handled) thingamajig that has that big, flat, round piece of steel on the end, and it’s used to insert and extract the pizza from an authentic pizza oven! There – clear as mud!
Okay, fine, I’ll get a bit more technical then! When I first saw one many years ago, I thought about how authentic they really were, and how only old world European baking artisans used them, to the exclusion of all other bakers. They just oozed exclusivity, professionalism, authenticity, competence, and quite honestly, GOOD TASTE! Pizza peels are most often seen in drawings or photos, as being used with bread and pizza in a large, outdoor authentic wood-fired pizza oven.
What’s in a Name?
Why did this tool get the name “peel”? That sounds weird. Well, the best guess is that it comes from the French word “pelle” which is translated “shovel” but describes both tools quite well.
Why Use a Pizza Peel?
This one is easy! A large wood-fired oven can approach 1000 degrees Fahrenheit, so it’s clear that you’ll need some sort of tool besides your fingers, to get close to the heat source. Compare that temperature to the most often used temperature in a regular oven (around 200 – 450 degrees) and you’ll get the idea. In addition to that, an authentic pizza is most often placed directly on the fire brick base of an oven, which means you’ll need a tool like a very large spatula (surprise, surprise) to scoop it up off the base of the oven and pull it out into the open where you can slice it up and serve with cold beer! I know I’m getting ahead of myself!
What Should You Look for in a Great Pizza Peel?
The answer to this question is that it all depends on your cooking conditions. For example, will you be alone in a big kitchen or outdoors? Will you have guests in a party atmosphere in a small kitchen? Will there be children involved? Those are just starter questions! Let’s get at it! As a general rule, you’ll probably want a long-handled peel with a thin, metal head with very rounded edges or even entirely round in shape. The shape issue is important since you’ll often be turning the pizza around in place, and that’s tough with a square or rectangular peel with sharp corners. Professional peels are most often totally round to make it easier for a chef to poke at his multiple pies from all corners of a large oven. It would be tougher to do well with a sharp-cornered peel. For most homeowner users with a smaller oven, a square or rectangular shape is easier when simply placing and extracting a pie straight on.
If kids are helping bake, or if you’re working in tight quarters, a short-handled pizza peel is easier to move around without poking bystanders or clipping the edge of a counter and depositing your entire project contents onto the floor upside down!
Wood or Aluminum?
Much to my surprise as I researched the mighty peel, I discovered that people often have a very specific (and complicated) relationship with peels! There are some that swear by using a short- handled wooden peel for making the pizza (right on the peel face) and placing it in the oven. Then, they use a long-handled, aluminum pizza peel to extract the pie from the oven once it’s done. This issue is really a personal one, and it may also be one of availability at your retailer or store of choice. I prefer an aluminum model since it is far easier for pizza making since it’s slipperier than wood (which makes it easier to yank it out from under a pie when placing it in the oven) and it’s more efficient at scraping the pizza off the stone oven bottom when it’s time to remove the pie, and also for cleaning the oven. If you only get one peel, I’d make it a metal one.
Wood pizza peels are good looking for sure! It’s also the best material to avoid sticking (especially if sprinkled with enough flour). Cutting a pizza will work on the peel itself and offer a very authentic serving experience which adds to the ambiance of the pizza-making process itself.
Wood is harder to maintain since you have to dry it well after each use to prevent warping and twisting. You’ll also need to rub it with oil (walnut or hemp oil are good options) to prevent the porous wood from absorbing all sorts of gross stains and smells. Wood pizza peels are also thicker, so it’s not so easy to slide under a pizza and you can’t use it to scrape and clean an oven very well.
Lots of items here! They’re durable, easy to clean, easy to slide under a pizza, good for scraping and oven cleaning, and most professional chefs (even the real pizza maker dudes in Italy) use aluminum.
The only real downside is that if you’re not careful and deliberate in sprinkling lots of flour on the peel prior to making a pie ON the peel, it can cause the dough to stick more than a wooden peel.
It Just Looks Cool
With the exception of a couple of very cool looking pots and ladles, this in one of the only kitchen tools that looks visually appealing enough to display on your wall or even hang off a pot rack if it’s a short enough version. Hey, you can’t say that about your can opener or pressure cooker!
Oh, and one final thought; There’s so much more to be said about the mighty pizza peel (believe it or not!) that I’ll probably touch base with this topic again in another post, but for now, you’re well-armed with enough knowledge to make a great choice … Which is, of course, a medium to long-handled pizza peel with an aluminum head! Did I just show my bias?
This topic is important enough to have several posts written about it, and you’ll notice what is conspicuously absent in this post is a recommendation for a peel. The reason is that we have another article just for that purpose. See it right now – HERE! Go already!!