Part II of Tony’s discussion on pizza peels
Last month, I began a discussion on peels and how I use them in my pizzeria. Let’s continue by taking a look at some different types of peels (I covered out peels and perforated in peels last month).
• Epicurean peel or natural pressed composite peel: These are premium-grade pizza peels made from an environmentally friendly natural wood fiber pressed composite. It is perfect for sliding pizzas in and out of the oven if the head has a thin edge to it. These peels typically do not have a long handle, so getting pizzas into a deep oven can be a challenge. These offer a great surface for cutting your pizzas and it can easily be cleaned in a dishwasher without splintering or warping.
• Solid American wood “in or out peel”: Old-school peels typically made from a high-grade seasoned lumber and can come in 12-inch by 12-inch to 20-inch by 20-inch wide head. Short or long handles are available. These are primarily used for New York slice pizza. They can vary in thickness depending on the manufacturer. I prefer them thinner or tapered so the pizzas slide off more easily. Typically, a 20-inch-wide head is used and circles are outlined for different sizes on the board (anywhere from 10-inch to 18-inch pizzas). Flour, semolina and cornmeal is then used to make the pizza slide off easier. The process is to place your dough onto the surface and make your pizza, then slide it off into your oven. Because the peel is not perforated you can get a buildup of grains on the bottom of your pizza.
For maneuvering pizzas in your oven, 12- to 16-inch heads with long handles are great, especially once they are broken in. Back in the day we would work these peels on concrete, going back and forth really fast breaking them in and making them thinner on both sides. The friction and heat from this motion would break a peel in quickly with a little muscle. These peels work especially well in deck ovens. The wood grabs onto the pizzas easier than metal does and can turn a 20-inch pizza as well. A lot of the time cooks bring the pizzas toward them in an oven and turn the pizzas with their hands and then place the pizza back into the original spot for more even browning. When using a wood peel, it can be much easier to grab the pizza depending on the situation.
• Neapolitan solid wood “in peel”: When making traditional Neapolitan pizza, the pizzaiolo would slide the uncooked pizza from the marble work table onto this long wood peel. The pizza would then be fixed on the head of the peel before it would be placed into the oven. Sourcing these authentic peels could be a challenge. Some are very long for deep wood ovens. I have been lucky to find them online at antique stores (often labeled as bread peels).
I have a few more peel types to cover next month, so stay tuned.
RESPECTING THE CRAFT features World Pizza Champion Tony Gemignani, owner of Tony’s Pizza Napoletana in San Francisco and Pizza Rock in Sacramento. Tony compiles the column with the help of his trusty assistants, Laura Meyer and Thiago Vasconcelos. If you have questions on any kitchen topic ranging from prep to finish, Tony’s your guy. Send questions via Twitter @PizzaToday, Facebook (search: Pizza Today) or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll pass the best ones on to Tony.