There are a lot of things in this world that people disagree about—sports, politics, bands, you name it. And with many of us staying home alone for the past year because of the pandemic, spending inordinate amounts of time on social media—because literally what else is there to do?—we’ve become absolutely steeped in dissent and argument. But as more and more people get vaccinated and we slowly start venturing back into the world, it would serve us to remember that there is actually one thing that all children, adults, and members of the animal kingdom agree on, and it’s that pizza rules.
Before the pandemic, I loved having pizza parties. My friends and I would either order in from our favorite local spots, or I’d set out to fire up a pizza smorgasbord to feed the whole gang. But despite my passion for making pizza, I never felt super confident in my game; people seemed to like my pies, but I always knew in my heart that I could do much better. So over the last year, while everybody was learning about sourdough and becoming day traders, I worked on pizza. With dreams of future pizza parties giving me life, I perused books like Ken Forkish’s The Elements of Pizza and Gabriele Bonci’s Pizza, watched online tutorials, talked to local experts for tips, and started buying really good imported flour. I even went on a warehouse tour of a local Italian import shop to check out which tomatoes and flours they offer to their most discerning pizza-slinging restaurateurs. Eventually, after many middling experiments (and despite working out of my apartment’s horrible electric oven), I finally started to make decent pizza.
With spring around the corner and my list of vaccinated homies growing higher by the week, I’ve been mentally planning the pizza party to end all pizza parties. My fantasy banquet would be airy and outdoors, and would involve plenty of natural wine, a bangin’ playlist, a comfortable vibe, and, of course, a bunch of dope pizza. But since I’m a bit out of practice for entertaining, I consulted an expert to get some tips.
Anthony Falco is basically a professional pizza-party-thrower. You may know him as one of the original pizzaiolos behind Brooklyn’s Roberta’s, or perhaps you’ve seen one of his mouthwatering pizzas on Instagram. As an international pizza consultant (yes, this is a real thing), Falco has traveled all over the world to help people start pizza programs from scratch, consulting on kitchen design, equipment, menus, and, of course, making pizza. His first cookbook, Pizza Czar (available for pre-order now on Bookshop and Amazon), will be released on Abrams this May, containing everything from pizza philosophy and technique to recipes for doughs and an array of sauces, including a painstakingly R&D’d ranch dressing. (“I’m pro-ranch,” he said. “Haters gonna hate, but be free and live your dream.”)
Falco is a big proponent of outdoor entertaining and validated my goal to throw a baller pizza party in my backyard. “I think we’re all looking forward to something a little more in person, and the backyard is a great way to do it,” he said. “If you can set up outside, that’s the way to do it.” Here are the tips he shared for getting down and dirty with fresh mozz, killer tunes, and, of course, your vaxxed friends.
Start with a rock-solid recipe
Pick a pro-level oven and learn to use it
The starting point for any outdoor pizza party is deciding how and where you’ll cook a large quantity of pizza. “The New York vibe is that you make your pizza in the apartments and you come downstairs and pass off the pizza,” Falco explained. “I don’t have a backyard, ‘cause I’m in Brooklyn,” he added, laughing. But I do have a backyard, and have had months to research restaurant-grade outdoor pizza ovens. In the end, I whittled it down to the Gozney Roccbox and the Ooni Koda, two fairly reasonably priced products with epic reputations. I ended up going with the Roccbox and am 100% stoked to break it out once the weather gets a bit warmer.
Ooni Koda 12 Gas Powered Pizza Oven, $349 at Ooni
ROCCBOX by Gozney Portable Outdoor Pizza Oven, $499 at Amazon
Work clean, even if you’re outside
“A good tip if you’re going to be making pizza outside: mise en place,” Falco said. “Have everything as clean and organized as possible so your ingredients are in a nice row out on the table.” (He went on to warn outdoor pizzaiolos to watch out for heavy wind.) Cheap deli containers can be one’s best friend when trying to stay organized, especially since once the oven heats up, things move quickly. Get a bunch of these and fill ‘em up with your favorite ingredients.
DuraHome Deli Containers with Lids set, $22.91 at Amazon
Don’t limit yourself… to one style of crust
People are really in different places right now when it comes to pizza. Artisan Neapolitan-ish and grandma-style pizzas were huge a few years ago, but over the past year, everyone seems to have become obsessed with Detroit-style pizza. Grab a variety of pans (Lloyd and Lodge make great ones) so you have the mold to make whatever your company desires. (And make sure you prepare the appropriate dough in advance!)
Home-Complete 14-Inch Cast Iron Pizza Pan in Black, $25.99 at Bed Bath and Beyond
Lodge 15" Cast Iron Pizza Pan, $39.99 at Cabela's
LloydPans 10 x 14 Inch Detroit Style Pizza Pan, $38.99 at Amazon
American Metalcraft HCSQ1610 16" x 16" x 1" Hard Coat Aluminum Square Pizza Pan, $26.90 at Webstaurantstore
Take the pizzeria vibe all the way
You can bring out your cheap grocery store container of red pepper flakes and serve some freshly grated parm in a boring old bowl… or you can increase the vibe tenfold by investing in some inexpensive shakers to stoke nostalgia as people top their slices with chile flakes, Sicilian oregano, and cheese. “That’s a sick move,” Falco said.
Kamenstein® 3 oz. Glass Spice Jar with Stainless Steel Cap, $2.99 at Bed Bath and Beyond
American Metalcraft 12 oz. Glass Beehive Spice Shaker with Stainless Steel Lid, $1.69 at Webstaurantstore
Don’t forget the salad
Salad is so important. “Salad. Yeah, definitely,” Falco said when I asked him if salad was necessary for a pizza party. “Pizza and salad’s a great model.” If you’re not a salad master, just dish up something basic: Make the ranch from Falco’s book, find a good local Italian dressing, or just grab some nice oil and vinegar. People may not tell you, but they’ll love you for this.
Lipper International Acacia Wave Serving Bowl, $38.81 at Wayfair
Crank the yacht rock
Pizza parties and good music go together like Hall and Oates. Falco recommends harkening back to the days when pizza took over the world: the 80s. “If you wanna have a good playlist… that’s pretty crucial,” he explained. “[And] I feel like the 80s was the decade where pizza kind of conquered the globe. It harkens back to a time where pizza was more fun. So make a good 80s playlist.” If you really want your guests getting wild to Bruce Springsteen and The Cure (or Whitesnake and Guns N’ Roses, if you’re truly turning up), you need a serious Bluetooth speaker capable of reaching every corner of the yard. Since making pizza (once you’ve got the gear) really isn’t that expensive, make like a yuppie and spend a little more on a powerful speaker that will crank that Tears for Fears to high heaven.
Sonos Move, $399 at Sonos
Hop on the natural wine train for pizza pairings
You could buy a bunch of cheap beer—and you should, for later—but nothing complements fresh pizza like a crisp, effervescent pét-nat, a juicy natural rosé, or a mellow skin-contact wine. “I’m a big fan of pairing my pizza with natural wines,” Falco shared. “The acidity is really great with all the cheesiness and fattiness of the pizza.” Join the wine club at a cool winery or just buy a case from Dry Farm Wines, Winc, Swick Wines, Las Jaras, or Old Westminster. Or, if you want more spontaneity, keep it local by finding a good wine shop in your town. Once you’ve got the juice, you’ll need something to keep the bottles cool outside; make sure it’s big enough to hold some Topo Chicos for your non-drinking pals.
Coleman Rolling Cooler | 50 Quart Xtreme 5 Day Cooler with Wheels, $36.07 at Amazon
Arthur Leather Cognac Ice Bucket, $105 at Annie Selke
Final Touch Skull Ice Bucket, $24.99 at Amazon
Don’t forget the hot honey
It’s a must. Just trust us.
Bee’s Knee’s Spicy Honey, $14 at Sur La Table
Send your guests home with a to-go box
Probably the best recommendation Falco gave me was to stock up on pizza boxes. “Then you can send people home with extra doughs and extra pizzas,” he wisely suggested. “They can have their own private pizza party the next day.” Can you imagine anything cooler than your host pulling out a classic carryout box and tossing you an extra pie for the road? I can’t.
Choice 14" x 14" x 2" White Corrugated Plain Pizza / Bakery Box, $17.99 for 50 at WebstaurantStore
And there you have it: the perfect way to say “I’m so glad we can all hang out again.” For any occasion, for every occasion, the answer is always pizza.
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