What is a pizza peel?
What comes to mind when we hear the words “Pizza peel”? We definitely know what a pizza is, how it looks like, how it tastes, smells and even how it’s shaped, right? However, some, if not most, of us do not have a clue about the tools used to make a pizza, one of them being a pizza peel.
What then is a pizza peel? A peel, in definition, is a shovel like object used by bakers to slide bread, pizzas and pastries in and out of an oven. Get the best pizza oven here. It is basically a huge flat shaped shovel used to handle bread, pizzas and pastries when dealing with an oven. Peels can also be referred to as shovels or paddles; whichever name works for you. This tool basically consists of two parts: the carrying surface and the handle.
When choosing the right pizza peel, you first have to be aware of the main uses of a peel and the different types of peels so as to make your pick more informative. The main uses of the peel include placing, positioning and removal of bread, pastries and pizzas into the oven while still maintain the crisp and neat shape of the pastries and most importantly, protecting the baker from any burn injuries.
Interestingly, there are different types of peels to cater for the needs of each individual taking into account their shape and size, design material, length of peel handle and cost of the peel. Let us take a closer look.
Shape and size
The rectangular peel has a close similarity to a grilling spatula you would come across at a burger joint (of course, larger). This peel comes in two variants: one with the regular sharp edges and another with a semi-circular edge at the top. A rectangular shaped peel has been considered as the traditional choice for a peel as it offers a larger area of contact between the pizza and the grip point. The round peel has a somewhat striking resemblance to a table tennis paddle. This is a good choice as it can accommodate the whole shape of the pizza.
Both peels come in varying sizes, which can range from 12 square centimetres (narrow) to 1 square meter (wide). Where one would choose the rectangular peel, it is advisable to go for one that is considerably large to accommodate the whole pizza and not leave the sides of the pizza hanging out.
Design Material of carrying surface
The material used to make a peel has a great impact on the preparation of the pizza in toto.
Wooden peels are considered when the building of the pizza can be directly done on the peel. However, if you so decide to build your pizza on a different surface from that of the peel, preferably a cold surface such as granite or marble surfaces, you can still use the peel to scoop the pizza off the building surface, but you would need a pair of tongs to give the pizza dough a bit of a lift because a wooden pizza peel is thicker than a metal peel. Be careful when doing this because the shape of the pizza can easily be distorted. A metal peel can also be used for the same task and it is actually more preferable to a wooden peel as it is thinner thus easier to work with.
Nevertheless, metal peels run a higher risk of the dough sticking on the surfaces due to condensation caused by the dough being warm and surface cold. They also have sharp edges, which can lead to cutting oneself when handling and washing. When it comes to deciding on which kind of metal peel you would like it is good to consider that stainless steel works well with a dishwasher but aluminium is lightweight thus easier to handle.
It is also important to remember that metal peels are fireproof while wooden peels are not. This is a key factor to be considered when choosing a peel; safety first as always. Additionally, wooden pizza peels have a faster wear and tear resulting into jaggedness. The thought of ingesting pizza laden with specks of wood would be an awfully terrible experience.
Length of handle
Lengths of handles range from very short (about 6 inches) to very long (1.5 metres and above). A short handle would work if the oven in use is not as deep such as a friendly home oven but if it is an oven used in bakeries a longer handle will be required as those kinds of ovens are deep so as to accommodate many pizzas due to mass production. Please note that both peels have varying handle sizes, taking into account the depth of the oven.
The cost of the pizza peel should also be considered when choosing the right peel for you and we all know just as with other things, the quality dictates the cost, rather price, of the peel. If you are a professional you are better off with a high quality peel which will of course cost more as compared to a fair quality peel which may be more suited for pizza fanatics and baking enthusiasts.
How to use the peel
After having known the above considerations, picking the right peel will become less of a challenge. So now you have the right peel for the job. Great! But how do you use it? There is nothing as irritating as having kneaded your dough so well, shaped it perfectly, put delicious sauce and toppings then when it comes to putting the pizza into the oven it refuses to slide off the peel! One shake, two shakes, three shakes and nothing! That could be the epitome of your frustrations that day, even week. You just may have ruined a midday snack, lunch or worse, dinner and have to face your family and friends with their foul moods caused by the failed meal. To avoid all that (and more) it’s better to know how to use the peel before you actually start using it in the kitchen. If you find it hard folowing a recipe, try this instead.
First things first, similar to making “chapati” or “roti” dough, prepare the dough on a separate surface from the peel and make sure to sprinkle sufficient amounts of flour on the surface before you start kneading the dough so that it doesn’t stick on that surface also. Secondly, coat your peel with enough flour or cornmeal. The cornmeal or flour particles acts as a layer which will prevent direct contact of the flour from the peel surface and also provide mobility of the dough when it’s time to slide into the oven. Please note to use the cornmeal sparingly as too much of it can lead to the burning of the cornmeal and you would not want a burnt and smoky pizza.
Thirdly, speed is required when your dough lands on the peel’s surface as the dough will start absorbing the flour on the peel and then start sticking on the peel. If you decide to build your pizza on the pizza peel (which may take a bit of time), check from time to time whether your dough is starting to stick. If you notice it is slide some flour underneath that specific part. You could also periodically shake the pizza dough so as to ensure that it doesn’t stick. Lastly, when getting the pizza off the peel and into the oven, use a back and forth motion. The weight of the pizza will cause it to move forward with every jerk. Remember to do this quickly as a metal peel will begin to heat up and the pizza will potentially stick on the metallic surface. On the other hand, a wooden peel may ignite as this is a flammable material.
Video: Using it correctly
So what else can a pizza peel be used for? As stated earlier a pizza peel is like any other peel and can be used in bread and pastry making and it can be used as the work station for building your pizza, pastry or bread instead of using another surface. A peel can also be used as the serving platter of your food. It works just as good as any other tray or dish and you will have fewer dishes to deal with later on when it comes to cleaning up. An old peel that is no longer used in making pizzas can be converted to a chopping board, rather, cutting surface. Plus an old peel can be used as a decorative piece in the kitchen especially if it is a wooden peel as it brings a rustic feel to the kitchen in accompaniment with other kitchen decorations.
Now you know all about the pizza peel; its main uses, its alternative uses, the various types and how to use it. You can now go ahead and improve on your pizza making skills and maybe, decorative skills but remember to take care of your peels. That means, for a wooden pizza peel, not using it as a cutting surface if you intend to still use it for making pizzas or other baked delicacies, oiling it so as to ensure it does not dry out and crack with time and ensuring it air dries well after washing and before storage so that it doesn’t warp. For aluminium metal peels, do not expose them to high alkaline or acidic cleaning agents and also to dishwashers. For both aluminium and stainless steel peels do not use abrasive cleaning pads as they can scratch the surfaces and spoil them and create an environment for rust occurrence when it comes to aluminium. With that in mind, happy shovelling!