Pizza is one of the most, if not the most, recognizable Italian dishes served around the world. Since it is so famous, a group of physicists from the US and Italy took up the challenge to describe the process of baking the perfect pizza using thermodynamics. And they did it! What's more, their results were confirmed by Roman pizzaioli that know every secret of the pizza baking art. We turned this study into our pizza baking calculator, so now you can estimate how long you should bake your pizza for by yourself. Give it a try!
The physics of baking good pizza
Not so long ago, we created the perfect pancake calculator where we told you how specialists used pancakes to gain a better understanding of eye disease. Now it's time to bake a pizza with scientists! In 2018, a group of physicists from the National Research Council in Rome teamed up with the Argonne National Laboratory at Northern Illinois University in the USA to analyze and compare different ways of baking a pizza in two different ovens: wood based (brick) and modern metallic (electric). In their open-access paper, you can find a rather complicated equation (fortunately, it's based on only a few basic thermodynamic principles). They found that to estimate the appropriate amount of time
τ to heat a pizza with a thickness
d, you need to solve the following equation:
a₁ * τ + a₂ * √τ = a₃ * d,
a₁is the thermal radiation part of heat transfer,
a₂is the conduction part of heat transfer,
a₃relates to the amount of heat needed to raise the temperature of the dough and evaporate water.
For those who are not familiar with thermodynamics, there are three fundamental modes of heat transfer in solids: conduction, radiation, and convection. Here, physicists have ignored convection assuming it has only a small effect on the baking time.
You may ask yourself, does this formula work at all? Actually, yes! And it even provides accurate results. To test the equation, scientists consulted the real pizzaioli of Rome, experts in baking pizzas. They explained that at the optimal temperature of 325 - 330 °C in a wood burning oven (617 - 626 °F), a pizza should be done in two minutes. And, if you're really hungry, you can increase the temperature to 390 °C (734 °F) and reduce this time to one and half a minutes. Feel free to verify it with our pizza baking calculator! Just assume that a traditional Roman pizza has a thickness of about 0.5 cm (0.2 in).
Wood based ovens vs. electric ovens
In the previous section, we've mostly talked about wood burning ovens. But what about modern electric ovens? Can you use the pizza baking calculator in that case as well? Since the same physical principles apply the answer is yes, but you should keep in mind there is one main difference. In electric ovens, the baking surface is made of steel, which has a much higher thermal conductivity than fire brick. Because of this, the bottom of the pizza is heated much faster, increasing the risk of burning it. Surely you don't want to be eating coal!
However, you can still bake pizza like a real pizzaiolo with an electric oven! These simple tricks may do the job:
The temperature of the boundary layer between the pizza and the baking surface should be about 210 °C (410 °F). To achieve this in a metal oven, you should set the temperature to about 230 °C (446 °F).
To simulate a classic brick oven in your home, you can insert a special ceramic stone in a modern oven (see picture below).
Use the convection mode if your oven has it. A convection oven has a fan that helps to blow hot air over the top surface of the pizza, cooking the toppings evenly.
If your pizza has many water-rich toppings (e.g., vegetables), first bake it normally in the oven. Then, when the bottom is ready, lift it with a spatula and hold for another 30 seconds to prevent the base from burning while getting well cooked toppings.
If you don't have enough patience in the kitchen, consider ordering some pizzas. How many? Let our pizza party calculator help you! But before calling the restaurant, remember to check which pizza size is most cost-effective.
When to visit a pizzeria?
Is there a best time to pay a visit to a pizzeria? Actually, there is. You are about to learn a secret of real pizzaioli. You have to check the working schedule of your favorite pizzeria and see when there is the biggest crowd of people feasting. You should avoid this period! The reason is the effectiveness of the pizza oven, it has a limited capacity so there can only be a fixed number of pizzas baking at one time. A roman pizza should be baked for about two minutes at a temperature of 617 – 626 ℉. So, if the oven can fit only two pizzas, the pizzaioli will only be able to prepare ten pizzas in 10 minutes at most.
When there is a large number of people to serve, such a rate may be insufficient. Faced with conditions like this, some pizzaioli use a simple trick to increase their production speed. They turn the temperature of the oven up. This way it takes less time to bake a pizza. Unfortunately, there are some downsides. The crust and the bottom may be a little bit overdone (black). In turn, the tomato topping can end up slightly undercooked. How can a pizza made like this satisfy the taste of professional pizza-eaters like us?!
In summary, you should visit pizzerias when they are half-empty. This will make sure that you will get a perfectly cooked pizza. And don't forget to leave a tip if you enjoyed your pizza! Our tip calculator may be a great help here to share the bill equally if you're not alone.
Pizza has a very long and rich history. Because of how widespread and popular pizza is across the world, its origins remain covered under a veil of mystery and legend. The first food that was to some degree similar to pizza was a simple flatbread made of coarse grain flour. Our ancestors used to bake it on a rock heated with fire during the Neolithic era, the last period of the Stone Age.
Further development of this proto-pizza took place in the Mediterranean area. It is mentioned in some 6th century BC texts that soldiers of the Persian King Darius I baked flatbreads with a topping of cheese and dates on top of their battle shields. Ancient Greeks then spread this dish, a flatbread called Plakuntos, across the Mediterranean Sea, including to the city of Naples. Plakuntos was covered with common elements of Greek cuisine: oil, garlic, onions, herbs, minced meat, and small fishes.
As Naples changed owners and became a Roman city, so Plakuntos changed its name. The Romans called it Placenta (eng. flat-cake - we wonder how this also became the name for the organ providing nutrition to fetus?). Virgil, a famous ancient Roman poet wrote in his Aeneid:
"Their homely fare dispatch’d, the hungry band Invade their trenchers next, and soon devour, To mend the scanty meal, their cakes of flour. Ascanius this observ’d, and smiling said: “See, we devour the plates on which we fed."
The first time the word pizza appeared in written form was in a document from 997 AD. It was a letter to the Bishop of Naples with a list of donations that were supposed to be delivered regularly to the Bishop’s mansion. Among them were 12 pizzas. The Bishop desired to receive them on every Christmas Day and Easter Sunday. Without a doubt, he knew how to celebrate properly 😉.
The invention of pizza
Pizza, as we know it today, emerged on the streets of Naples in the 18th century. At first, it was a staple food of the urban poor, at a time where the number of Neapolitan citizens was increasing rapidly. Everyone hoped to find a better life in a city with a constant supply of goods coming in from overseas trade. Unfortunately, only a select few would succeed. The rest joined a rising number of beggars or lazzaronis, named so because their appearance resembled that of Lazarus himself.
Without much money nor a place to eat properly, they were constantly running in search of another side job. Pizza was the ideal food for them. It was cheap and easy to eat. A man could buy a slice of it from a pizzaiolo (a street pizza-maker) and continue his march through the city while eating.
In that period, pizza toppings included: garlic, lard, salt, basil, caciocavallo (a cheese made from horse’s milk), cecenielli (whitebait), and tomatoes.
The surprising case of the extremely murderous tomatoes
It may surprise you, but tomatoes were not a core ingredient of European cuisine for a very long time. They were first brought to Europe from America after the Columbian exchange. In the beginning, they were treated as a decorative flower. Rich people were afraid to eat them as there was a rumor that they were poisonous.
The most likely explanation for this it to do with the plates the nobles used, which contained large amounts of lead. The acidic juice of tomatoes could dissolve the lead in the plate, meaning the lead would get into the food and intoxicate the person eating. The poor who ate from pots made of wood didn’t have such problems. They ate tomatoes willingly because of their low price and lack of other products.
Pizza overtakes the world
As a result of the characteristics of the first “pizza-lovers” and its "super deadly" tomato topping, the pizza wasn’t considered a real food by the upper classes nor cooking chefs. It wasn’t even mentioned in the first Italian cookbooks! Everything changed in 1889. Shortly after the unification of Italy, King Umberto I and Queen Margherita arrived in Naples, with the wish to try local delicacies. A pizzaiolo named Raffaele Esposito prepared pizzas of 3 kinds for them: one with caciocavallo, lard, and basil, the second with cecenielli, and the last with mozzarella, tomatoes, and basil.
You've probably already guessed which was the Queen’s favorite 😉. Queen Margherita fell in love with the third style of pizza, which was then named after her and is still called margherita pizza to this day. This event turned everyones perception of pizza upside down. It showed the nobles that pizza is something that even the royal family could have on their tables. Furthermore, pizza became a symbol of Italian cuisine on par with dishes like pasta or polenta.
At the turn of the century, Italians began their massive migration to the USA, and so the pizza migrated with them. By 1905, Gennaro Lombardi opened the first American pizzeria. Located in Manhattan, New York, it is still open today! The restaurant changed its location, but they are still using the same oven they did in 1905! Pizza spread across the USA and was constantly gaining popularity. The real boom, however, came soon after the end of World War II. Soldiers returning home, who had tasted a lot of pizza during their campaigns in Europe, wanted to have their new favorite dish available in their homeland. Luckily one of them, Ira Nevin, came up with an idea to create a gas-fired pizza oven. It lowered production costs and preparation difficulty, making the pizza even more accessible.
The last step, which gave pizza the title of the most iconic food in the world, was the opening of pizza chains. Pizza Hut, Little Caesar’s, and Domino’s were founded in the late 50s. Papa John’s joined this group in 1989.