The best way to eat pizza is with others, which is one of the reasons pizza parties are universally beloved. Making pizza for a crowd, however, can present some logistical challenges, especially if you are only able to make one pizza at a time. These tips and tricks (the results of our team’s extensive experiments), along with a bit of planning, will help you to keep the pizzas coming and ultimately keep the crowd happy.
Choosing the Right Pizza Style
Serving at a party comes with some risks, depending on the type of pizza that you choose to serve. It can be a very fun occasion, but the key is to plan it correctly and choose the right pizzas. Your guests want to see you (presumably!), so it’s not ideal to be stuck in the kitchen the whole time. If you have an outdoor wood-fired or propane-fueled oven, you can bake pizzas while your guests hang out around you or even help. Indoors, the spaces are tighter, the ovens are generally smaller, and you can bake only so many pizzas at a time.
If you go with a Neapolitan or artisan pizza, you’ll be able to serve only one guest at a time, you’ll need a special oven to do the job right, and it’ll require someone with a high level of expertise to make the pizza. And this assumes that you are making the pizzas a la minute in front of the guests because these styles of pizzas won’t hold for longer than a few minutes. You could opt to make larger New York pizzas that will feed multiple people and reheat well (this is, after all, the business model for countless slice shops across the United States). But we don’t think that it’s the absolute best solution.
Our recommended solution is to choose to make pizzas that reheat very well and can be made well in advance: Detroit-Style Pizza, New York Square Pizza, or Al Taglio Pizza. You can make the pizza crusts ahead of time, cool them down, wrap them in plastic wrap, and freeze them for up to 6 months. In the case of catering, you can bake them offsite, freeze them (if you’d like), and transport them to the event. You don’t even need to defrost them. You can reheat whole pans or slices. You can slice ahead of time too.
Consider having a toppings station as well. Your guests can either tell the event staff what they want on their pizzas or, if you are entertaining at home, they can build their own pizzas using the naked prebaked pizzas. This will let you spend less time alone in the kitchen and more time with your guests.
The term “parbaking” is used a lot in the baking industry. It’s a process that involves baking bread until it’s about 90% done, allowing it to cool, then finishing the baking later. The initial baking period is enough to deactivate the yeasts and enzymes and set the structure of the crust and crumb (so the loaf can maintain its shape as it cools), but not enough to fully brown the crust.
But what about parbaking pizza? Does it deliver the same glorious results that you get when you bake your pizza normally? In some cases, it does work well. For example, if you are selling frozen pizza or if you are a caterer and you have an off-site event, you can parbake your pizzas two-thirds to three-quarters of the way, freeze them, and then finish baking them later. We also found that parbaking works well for thin-crust pizzas and medium-crust pizzas (especially if you’re freezing them).
We decided to test another technique that lets you do part of the work in advance: prebaking. In prebaking, the pizza is cooked all the way through and can be reheated later. If you’re in the pizza business—or if you’re throwing a pizza party at home—the ability to prebake can help organize the workflow because you do most of the baking ahead of time.
Prebaking is part of the standard process when you’re making a New York square pizza. This pizza is baked and cooled, then sauced and topped later if you are using it as the foundation of a pizza. Prebaking is how we make the pizza gourmet style. Al taglio pizzas are also prebaked, sometimes with sauce and sometimes just the dough alone. Then they’re cooled, and additional toppings can be added later and the pizza can be heated again in the oven. The same can be done for Detroit-style pizzas.
We wondered if prebaking could streamline the process for other kinds of pizza, too. The answer is yes—for some styles of pizza. You may, however, prebake thin-crust and medium-crust pizzas for the purpose of freezing. In those cases, the pizzas are prebaked with sauce and cooled. We recommend adding cheese just before baking. (Adding the cheese before baking on a prebaked pizza will influence the cheese’s complex melt rheology and textural attributes.) When you’re ready to eat, you don’t even need to defrost; you can bake it straight from its frozen form.
For a few pizza styles, we found another big benefit of prebaking: it helps eliminate the gel layer, a pale, gooey layer of underbaked dough. We found that by prebaking the dough alone, the gel layer can be eliminated. Sauce, cheese, and toppings are added later, then the pizza is reheated.
All styles of pizza go through a short, intense, high-temperature bake (some higher than others). As such, the pizza changes dramatically both during and after baking. When it comes to reheating pizza, the main objective in general is to reheat the base, sauce, cheese, and toppings without letting anything burn or dry out like a crouton. Some staling may have occurred, as often happens when baked dough is refrigerated, but fortunately, reheating the pizza to the correct temperature (between 79.5°C and 85°C /175°F and 185°F) will make the staling less noticeable.
One of the most common ways to reheat pizza is in the microwave, but we don’t recommend it because your pizza will reheat unevenly and become gummy and unpalatable. For the thicker-crust pizzas that we recommend for a crowd, reheat them in an oven but be careful because the exposed crust may dry out and become too crunchy. To avoid this, don’t reheat the pizzas longer than recommended, reheat slices side by side so the exposed crust is protected, and cradle the pizza in aluminum foil to protect the exposed crust while keeping the surface exposed to the hot air. The cradle should cover up only the exposed crust areas and not the surface or the rim crust that is not exposed. Doing so prevents the crust from drying out; the only caveat is that reheating will take a few minutes longer (about 1–3 minutes).
Make sure to preheat your oven fully. A baking steel and stone can be used interchangeably for reheating. A baking steel will take slightly longer to preheat, which gives the stone a small advantage for reheating. In order to heat a baking steel or stone in a home oven, it is best to use the broiler to heat it up fast. Once the broiler has heated the baking steel or stone, switch the oven to regular heat (205–260°C / 400–500°F) to reheat the pizza. While a baking steel is better for baking pizzas than a baking stone, for reheating purposes they work very much the same.
How to Make Pizza for a Crowd
- Once the pizzas have been baked and cooled, cut them into portions using a serrated knife.
2. Place the sliced pizzas back in their baking pans, cover, and set aside until you’re ready to reheat.
3. About 1 h before you’re ready to serve the pizzas, place one or ideally two baking stones or baking steels stacked in the oven. Preheat the oven to 230°C / 450°F.
4. To reheat the pizzas, uncover them and simply slide the pans onto the hot baking steels or baking stones. They’ll take 5–7 min to reheat and recrisp the bottom.
5. For Detroit-style pizza, apply the hot tomato sauce over each hot slice, plus any other post-bake toppings. For al taglio pizza, apply any heat-sensitive toppings, like arugula, blue cheese, or tapenade, after baking.
6. Transfer to a serving platter.