Two physicists and a food anthropologist walk into an Italian pizzeria…
No, we’re not setting you up for a bad joke. Rather, this is the premise of a real study describing how to make a perfect pizza (and for real, we want in on that study) using thermodynamic principles relevant to the processes of cooking by taking a pretty standard approach.
"Provando e riprovando", which roughly translates as "trying and trying again”, explained author Andrey Varlamov in a statement.
"So speaking with Italians, visiting with their different pizzerias, speaking with pizzaiolo, trying to learn from them the experience of generations," Varlamov said. That’s right, their research was literally hanging out in Roman pizzerias and ordering margherita pizzas topped with tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil.
Let’s start with takeout. According to one pizzaiolo (“dude who slings pizzas”), one should “always come for a pizza either before 8 pm or after 10 pm when the pizzeria is half-empty” for an optimum slice of pie. That’s because of oven capacity. In a wood burning oven with a firebrick bottom, a pizza should be baked between 325 to 330°C (617 to 626°F) for 120 seconds. During peak hours, pizza guys crank up the oven heat to around 390°C (734°F) to accommodate more people and their orders. Pizzas “fly out” of the oven about every 50 seconds and have a much lower quality (crispy bottoms and undercooked tomatoes? No thank you).
Brick ovens, the authors argue, are better pizza producers because of the way heat is transferred. So, they created an equation for the perfect pizza for you to try out at home.
Traditional brick ovens have a wood fire that burns in one corner, allowing for heat to transfer and radiate uniformly throughout the curved, open-air oven. In normal electric ovens, the pizza is often placed directly on the metal rack. But metal conducts heat more powerfully than brick, so the bottom of the pizza absorbs heat faster than the rest of it. Using the same technique as our Italian doughboys will essentially turn the pizza “into coal”.
That’s where equation number 13 comes into play. To account for this change in conductivity, the authors say pizza connoisseurs should turn the heat down to 230°C (450°F) and cook the pizza for just 170 seconds. Additional toppings with more water content may require a longer cooking time due to evaporation, but you’re going to have to read the rest of the study published in arXiv for yourself.