If you want to know the secret of perfect pizza you could ask an Italian grandmother or the guy slinging pies at your favorite local pizzeria. Or you could ask a physicist. The branch of science usually associated with splitting atoms and probing black holes recently took a little time to focus on another truly pressing question: how can those of us with puny electric ovens recreate the deliciousness of authentic Italian pizza at home?
A study was inspired by the delectable pizzas one food anthropologist and two physicists — Rome-based Andrey Varlamov and Andreas Glatz of Northern Illinois University — shared while working together in Rome.
While the authors don’t go into all the details of the study’s backstory, one can easily imagine Glatz at home in Illinois making anguished calls to his collaborators back in Rome looking for the secret to replicating their beloved pizzas — with crispy crusts quick fired in a wood-burning oven — in his chilly American kitchen. From this nostalgia, the solution to your pizza prayers may have been born.
The pie-loving trio first learned the secret to great pizza by speaking to a local pizzaiolo (that’s Italian for pizza chef). The answer wasn’t special mozzarella, local water, or Italian passion. It was thermodynamics. Turns out traditional wood-fired ovens heated to 625 degrees Fahrenheit (329 degrees Celsius) radiate heat evenly in all directions, baking the pizza uniformly in two minutes flat (a little more if you like a lot of toppings).
But you probably don’t have a wood-fired oven at home. Are you out of luck? Nope, the researchers figured out you can replicate the effects in a regular electric oven using one wildly complex equation (it’s marked number 13 in their paper for you math whizzes; history buffs will also find an interesting dive into the history of pizza). Thankfully, the scientists took pity on the math-challenged and broke down the secret in everyday language too.
Here’s the bottom line: To get a similar effect at home, you’re going to want to heat your oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit (230 degrees Celsius) but bake your pizza for slightly longer than the scientists did — 170 seconds, or just under three minutes, to be exact. Also, vegetable lovers beware: Veggie toppings contain a lot of water, which cools down your oven through evaporation. If you’re loading on the peppers and onions, you’ll probably have to cook your pie a little longer.
High-quality ingredients and a passion for pizza probably won’t hurt the final product either. But this is the basic formula for great Italian pizza at home. Aren’t you happy physicists took a break from quantum mechanics and gravitational waves to figure that out?
Check out my related post: Two pizzas at a meeting anyone?