It's only been in the last two weeks that I finally have cracked the code to making great pizza at home, and I've tried off and on for over 8 years. It seems to me in my culinary adventures that the more simple a food is, the more difficult it is to make it "restaurant" like.
One of the biggest obstacles in homemade pizza is the oven. Pizza ovens are big and get really hot. That really hot heat is the secret to making pizza crust crisp, yet chewy. The typical kitchen oven has a max temperature of 500°F which is on the low-end for making pizza. It's not unusual for pizza ovens to operate between 600-800°F.
Pizza stones came about to help the home cook get the most out of their ovens. For years I'd dabble with my round pizza stone but seldom was happy with my efforts. Then one fateful day I came upon some helpful tips from various sources. I tried out the new tips and presto! Yummy pizza!
My not-so-secret methods: Place the rack on the lowest position so that the stone is as close to the bottom heating element as possible. The temperature I set the oven to is 475°F and let it heat up.
As for dough, I make Alton Brown's Pizza Pizzas dough. I make a double batch using two packets of rapid rise yeast and Pillsbury bread machine flour (plus the other ingredients). I'm lazy and use our handy-dandy bread machine to mix the dough, knead it. I also like to proof my yeast, just to make sure the yeast will do its job. I notoriously kill yeast. There's nothing like having dough that doesn't rise!
My sauce is just this: canned tomato sauce, garlic and onion powder to taste, and some olive oil. I like the flavor and buttery quality the olive oil gives the sauce.
I like cheese blends, so I usually get a pre-shredded Italian or pizza cheese blend.
Some people like to use cornmeal to slide the raw pizza from the peel, but I prefer parchment paper. Plus when I go to remove the parchment paper there is that danger factor of setting an accidental fire that gets my adrenal glands frisky.
Being I'm usually starving to death by the time the dough is done in the bread machine, I roll it out and use it immediately. After I slide the pizza in the oven, I let the dough set on the parchment for about 2 minutes, then quickly yank out the scorching parchment using tongs and the peel. (Note that parchment paper is rated to only 420°F)
I let the pizza cook until the cheese is all melted and starting to brown. Here comes the next secret: About half-way through cooking, or for the last 1-2 minutes, switch the heat to 500°F broil. This will brown the crust on top and will darken the cheese. The broiling can go quickly, so the pizza can go from brown to black if not watched. (Ask me how I know this.)
What's amazing is that making a basic cheese pizza at home costs about $1.50 to make. The most costly parts of the pizza are the cheese and meat toppings. Each time I make pizza at home, it's like I'm earning a $20 tip!