Step 1: Preheat oven to 550, place rack in highest position
Put temp as high as it will go, 550 is common.
Some ovens only go to 450 and don't work as well.
Your smoke alarm may go off in ten minutes, even with no smoke. That is a good sign meaning your over is hot enough!
Step 2: Oil your pan or cookie sheet
Add about 2 tablespoons of olive oil and spread is around evenly with your fingers, or use a wad of paper towel, or a pastry brush for the kitchen gadget inclined.
Step 3: Dust dough ball with flour. Use medium dough ball for a large pizza
I buy my dough balls from the pizzaria nearby. But once I tried to buy a doughball from a new pizza place and the owner got really mad and kicked me out of the restaurant. I think he thought I was a cheapskate and cutting into his business.
You can make your own dough, that's fine too.
Pizzarias seem to have med, large, and extra large pizzas. Buy the smallest doughball, you will stretch it thin even for an extra large pizza.
Step 4: Pinch a ring around the dough ball
Step 5: Stretch dough ball over your fists
Step 6: Hand stretch. Italian law makes rolled pizza dough illegal.
You can roll your pizza dough if you want, but if you do you are not allowed to call it pizza anymore (at least in Italy). Maybe then they call it pizz-ahhh. Anyway, there is a difference between hand stretched and rolled, but I don't think one way is better, just different. I always hand stretch because its faster you don't need to get flour all over your counter.
To hand stretch hold the edge of the dough and allow gravity to pull the dough down. Rotate your hand along the edge. Hold it up to the light and grab the thickest sections and pull slightly apart.
You can try tossing, too. It's fun! It seems like first timers get pretty nervous and excited about tossing the dough, but its almost impossible to mess it up. Just make sure your floor is relatively clean or do it first over a table. Go for it!
Step 8: Microwave cold toppings. Squeeze wet toppings with your hands.
Grab that wet pineapple or artichoke hearts in your hand and squeeze over the sink. If the wet toppings are cold, microwave them too.
Don't microwave the cheese.
Step 9: Add topping VERY lightly.
For a large pizza use about:
SAUCE - less than 1/4 cup (see pics)
CHEESE- less than 1/2 cup (see pics)
I know it seems unpatriotic to use such light toppings on a pizza. But try it, you might like it! If you feel its your duty as an American to add more sauce than shown in the pictures, make sure it is good and hot before you spread it.
Step 10: Drizzle olive oil on crust with a spoon. Sprinkle dried basil or sea salt.
Sprinkle dried basil, thyme, or oregano all over, its more for looks than taste. Large grained sea salt is also nice.
Step 11: Put in top rack of oven for 5 minutes only.
Step 12: Turn oven off. Slide pizza off pan onto bare rack and return to oven 2 more minutes.
Your smoke alarm may be sounding now, even with no visible smoke. Mine does. When sliding the pizza off the pan, try not to dribble any excess olive oil into the bare oven.
Check at one minute for scorching or burning of the bottom of the pizza. You turned the oven off, right?
Ovens are different, so you may have to adjust a minute or two. Don't go above nine minutes total. Even if the crust isn't brown, pull it out at nine minutes anyway and you will be happy.
Step 13: Pull the entire rack out at seven minutes. Allow to cool 1 minute.
Step back. Observe the pizza. Take the time to notice anything new about this pizza that you have not noticed before in other pizzas. Relax. Let go. The pizza is done.
Allow to cool on the rack for a few minutes or you will get a soggy crust.
Step 14: More info
A simple cheese pizza takes less than 15 minutes from start to finish and is a very fast snack or fun hors d'oeuvre.
Its easy to scorch and burn the crust in the last step. I usually just stand in front of the stove for the last 2 minutes so I don't get distracted.
Most of the pizza nerds I know (that's a compliment) swear by a pizza stone. Its like a stone pan that you can cook directly on or put your metal pan on top of. I've tried one a couple times. I think maybe you can get a crunchy crust with less oil than my method. I don't use one. If you love your pizza stone, tell me why in the comments!