When Making Pizza What Goes On First? Get The Order Right

When you’re preparing your pizza you’ve probably wondered which order your tomato, cheese and toppings should go. Sometimes this is actually a hotly debated topic depending on where you are in the world.

So should you put the cheese or tomato first? Do you put toppings or cheese on pizza first? When making pizza what goes on first?

Typically tomato sauce will go on first on top of the dough, then cheese and then toppings. This allows the cheese to bubble and brown and the toppings to get direct heat and become crisp. There are some exceptions where the cheese is put first, or the toppings are put under the cheese but these are only certain pizzas.

Lets discuss why this is and what are the exceptions. I’ve got some instructions on how to properly top a pizza too. If you are in need of a reliable dough recipe then check out my pizza dough recipe which has all the instructions.

Why Top The Pizza In This Order

Probably the most important is the texture and flavor which is improved with the right order. With the cheese and toppings at the direct heat they get toasted. Cheese that has been toasted gets a deeper flavor and crispy texture. No one wants raw, mushy cheese on pizza.

Presentation is also important. By adding the toppings last then you can easily see what is on the pizza and makes it look appetizing. This wouldn’t be the same if you buried the pizza toppings under the cheese.

Pizza just looks better when the toppings are over the cheese. You can easily identify what is on the pizza and the eye catching colors of the toppings will make the pizza look very appetizing.

In addition to just looking better, having pizza toppings on top of the cheese can prevent the toppings from getting soggy and mushy. If the toppings go under the cheese, they will be steamed and rapidly cooked when the pizza goes into the oven. The heat from the oven will cause the toppings to release water vapor as they cook. This water vapor will get trapped under the cheese, causing the toppings to steam themselves.

If you put pineapples under the cheese, you will get pineapple mush. If you put pepperoni under the cheese, you may have some soggy pepperoni on your pizza. Many pizza toppings should not be steamed. So, if you want to avoid mushy toppings, keep them on top of the cheese when they can cook and crisp in the oven.

My best tip for making crispy pizza in a home oven is using a pizza “steel”. This adds intense heat from below like a brick oven would – I have this steel from Amazon which is significantly lower priced than the original brand, but works perfectly. Steel is more conductive than stone so transfers more heat, they don’t shatter and they are easier to clean. If it’s out of your price range then the 2nd best option is a pizza stone made from cordierite.

To see a round-up of the most important pizza equipment then see my essential pizza equipment list.

Lastly, the order comes down to ease of use. It is much easier to spread the liquid tomato sauce on a blank pizza base rather than spread it evenly over cheese and toppings. So you can get a nice even layer of tomato sauce.

Problems with this order

The main problem you can get by adding wet tomato sauce directly onto the pizza dough is a soggy pizza base. The dough will absorb water and become less crisp in the oven.

To avoid this you can make a water proof barrier by using sliced cheese on the base first. On top of this you put your layer of tomato sauce (easier to apply on cheese slices) and then toppings. You don’t get the advantage of toasted cheese on the pizza topping, but you can add some grated Peccorino or Parmesan when it comes out of the oven for a great finish.

Exceptions Where Cheese Goes On First

There are several pizza which have the cheese on first. Sicilian style pizzas put the cheese directly on the pizza crust and then the sauce goes on top. This style is common in Chicago, New York tomato pie, as well as many other parts of the USA. The idea behind this method is that the crust cooks better without the wet sauce directly on it.

The Sicilian pizza is deeper and cooked in a tray, almost like a Focaccia with toppings on. It is traditional to put the cheese on first. This helps the thick bread-like dough underneath to not become soggy.

Where Should Toppings Go?

Unfortunately, the answer is a little more complex than you may have thought and it all revolves around what toppings you are choosing to put on your pizza.

The main thing to think about when deciding when to put toppings on a pizza is how the toppings will hold up in the oven. When you bake a pizza, you use a very hot, dry oven which can cook foods very quickly. This high heat will have a great effect on your toppings, especially if they are placed on top of the cheese.

If you have ingredients that are very sensitive to hot, dry temperatures, you will want to bury them under the cheese on the pizza, protecting them from the oven heat. Think about it this way- if you put your favorite pizza topping on a sheet tray all by itself and placed it in the oven, what would happen? Would it burn quickly? Would it get dry and crunchy? Or would it stay soft and tender, allowing the oven to enhance it’s taste?

The answers to this question will determine when to put the topping on the pizza. Toppings that will get dry and burn, hide under the cheese. Pizza toppings that benefit from heat, keep on top of the cheese.

So, as a general rule, consider if your toppings will become dry and crisp when exposed to the hot oven. If so, they should be buried under the cheese. If the toppings will hold up well to the heat, put them right on top of that cheese!

Of course, you can cook the toppings first, separately from the pizza and give them some moisture and resistance to the heat. If you do this extra step, they can definitely go right on top of the cheese.

How To Top A Pizza Properly

Start with my pizza dough recipe which you can find here.

1. Stretch out your dough on a flat worktop with some flour and semolina. Using your hands is better than a rolling pin. You can turn and stretch outwards on the worktop or pick it up and help gravity stretch it over your fists. Place it on top of your peel with some flour.

2. Add your sauce in a circular motion. Then add your cheese and then the toppings. You don’t need too many toppings when cooking fresh dough, so don’t overload it. Be careful not to get sauce on the peel as the moisture will make the dough stick. Periodically give it a small shake to make sure it hasn’t stuck.

3. Open the oven and transfer the pizza to the stone with a swift back-and-forth wrist action to drop the pizza on the stone. Think of it like the magic trick with the table cloth – pulling back quickly and confidently. Try not to angle the peel down too much otherwise the edge of the dough will get caught on the hot stone, and your toppings will fall off.


While it is typically best to put the tomato sauce before the cheese, and the toppings on your pizza on top of the cheese, there are a few exceptions to this rule as you have just seen.

Consider the effect the dry oven will have on the toppings in order to decide if they should be tucked under the cheese or piled up high on top. After making a few pizzas covered in toppings, you will surely be a pizza topping expert.

You should also give the Sicilian style pizza a go and put the cheese on the base first. This pizza is one of my favorites, and is great when cooking for a crowd

How To Freeze Pizza Dough (And Thaw It Quickly)

Pizza dough recipes usually make multiple balls of dough which you might want to use later. It can be a lengthy process to create good dough, so some short cuts are good to have on hand.

Can you freeze pizza dough?

Yes – it is best done after it has had one rise and then been balled into individual dough balls. Freeze on a flat surface until firm, then wrap individually in plastic and use within 2 months. When removing, defrost in the fridge overnight or at room temperature for 3 hours before use.

Does freezing pizza dough kill the yeast?

Yeast activity slows down as the temperature drops. In the fridge it is slowed down, and in the freezer the activity practically stops. Freezer temperatures do not kill yeast, but the ice crystals formed can damage a minority of the yeast cells. When the dough thaws, the undamaged yeast will reactivate and produce gas to rise the dough again, the damaged cells won’t. So while not perfect, freezing can be useful for dough preparation. Using slightly more yeast in the recipe can be a way to counteract this. Will it rise again after being frozen? Yes it will.

Steps For Freezing Pizza Dough

You can freeze pizza dough after it rises, and has been balled up. This ensures it has built some flavor from yeast fermentation, and it is also in a convenient shape to thaw and use quickly.

1. Start With A Good Dough Recipe

Follow my pizza dough recipe here – Crust Kingdom Pizza Dough. This makes two dough balls but you can scale up the recipe by multiplying it two or three times for four or six dough balls.

2. Let You Dough Rise Once

Once the dough is mixed and kneaded, you want to allow it to rest and ferment as one piece. This bulk fermentation stage builds flavor and character to the dough. One to two hours at room temperature, or 24 hours in the fridge.

3. Ball The Dough

Split the dough into equal portions and form into medium-tight rounds. Pull the edges into the middle so that you have a smooth face, and then place face-up on a worktop. Roll it around with your hand so that it builds tension on the surface. Put these balls on a flat surface and cover up – a sheet pan, or a box work well. Ceramic plates aren’t so good as the dough balls freeze solid to them. Remember that this needs to go in the freezer so use a container that will fit there.

4. Freeze The Dough Balls

You can now transfer these dough balls to the freezer to firm up – put the whole pan in the freezer. Once they are solid (several hours), you can remove the flat tray they are on and move to a freezer bag. It’s best to wait until just firm to move to a freezer bag otherwise they can stick to the pan. To prevent “freezer burn” you need to get them airtight – wrapping individual dough balls up in plastic wrap first is best.

How long will it last in the freezer?

Dough typical lasts about two months in the freezer. As with anything in the freezer, the quicker you use it then the better it will be. Ideally you would use the dough within one month.

How To Thaw Frozen Pizza Dough

To thaw the dough, its best to do this on a flat surface. Either a plate if a single ball or a baking sheet or box for multiple. This keeps its nice round shape to make a base later on. Remove the plastic wrap but keep it covered so that a skin doesn’t form on the dough.

Thawing can happen in the fridge or at room temperature, depending how much time you have.

How long does it take to thaw frozen pizza dough?

At room temperature might take 3 hours depending on the temperature. In the fridge is best if you want to wait longer, such as overnight. Remember that it still needs to warm up for an hour or two after coming out of the fridge, otherwise you can’t stretch it.

Proofing frozen pizza dough

Proofing is refered to as the last rise before baking. Once the dough ball is at room temperature, the yeast will be active again so it will rise its last amount. This adds a bit more flavor from fermentation and also the dough relaxes so it becomes easier to shape. You can proof it for a few hours at room temperature, but then the dough ball becomes weak and hard to use without tearing. Aim for max 4 hours after thawing.

Will pizza dough rise after being frozen? Yes it will rise again. The yeast is dormant when frozen but becomes active again and starts fermenting the flour to produce gas. Depending how much yeast was used and how long a rise you gave it before the freezer will determine how much it rises after thawing out.

How do you thaw frozen pizza dough quickly?

There is a trick to speed up thawing pizza dough. You can take a bowl of warm (not hot!) water, and submerge the unwrapped pizza dough balls for 10-15 minutes. Then remove and continue to thaw as usual on a baking sheet covered up with plastic wrap or lid. This kick starts the thawing and will cut the time taken to completely thaw by about half – 1.5 to 2 hours depending on ambient temperature. Briefly submerging in water doesn’t affect the final dough.

Will Freezing Change The Taste Or Texture?

The key thing freezing does is turn water to ice which means it expands. These crystals can break through cell walls and change the texture slightly – fresh dough is always a bit better as you would expect.

Freezer burn is the white or brown dry spots on frozen food. This happens when air oxides and dries out things in the freezer. So to counteract this, you should wrap the dough balls in wrap so that no air is in contact. Doubling up with a freezer bag is even better.

As for the taste, this remains unchanged. That is unless you get it tainted by some other food in the freezer. So keep your dough balls away from other strong foods.

Freezing Prebaked Pizza Bases

There is a second option in freezing pizzas and that is freezing the parbaked bases, also called “skins”. You can then retrieve these, thaw them out and then top and bake for a quick and easy pizza.



The only reason we can afford to eat pizza every two weeks is that it’s homemade.

I know exactly what goes into my kids’ pizza. The pizza dough is homemade and my tomato sauce is also homemade, so, I’m in control of what ingredients and how much cheese is on that pizza.

It is fun! especially if you plan ahead and get the kids to dig in.

There really is no right and wrong with pizza! You can add almost anything you want! Make it your own!

Dough – while you can get ready-to-use pizza dough, you can just as well make your own in an hour or more.

Classic pizza dough – needs to be kneaded plus an hour or two for rising and proofing.

Overnight pizza dough – A softer dough with less yeast that needs overnight proofing. Perfect to plan ahead.

No-knead pizza dough – For those times when you don’t have time to knead. The long rising is what gives this dough its structure.

Sauce – you can use ready-to-use pizza sauce but you can also make your own and it does not take long.

5-minutes pizza sauce – this one is quick and easy mostly using ingredients you already have in your pantry.

Marinara sauce – a thick marinara sauce is perfect over homemade pizza. Definitely better than one from the jar.

Fresh tomato sauce – made with fresh tomatoes and one you can use for pizza or pasta.

Cheese – For my pizzas, I like to use a combination of three kinds of cheese. The classic Parmesan and mozzarella, pus one other such as cheddar, feta, gouda, etc.

Toppings – The options for this are endless from everything to nothing!

Classic Margherita pizza – just tomato sauce, cheese, and a few basil leaves – pizza at its best!

Mushroom pizza – a sprinkle of a combination of mushrooms is perfect if you love mushrooms.

3 cheese pizza – a cheese lover’s dream. Add any cheese you like!

White pizza – instead of tomato sauce use a classic bechamel white sauce to give this one a new twist.

Olives and red onions – a Mediterranean flair with salty olives and onions caramelized on top

Hawaiian pizza – made with ham and pineapples – kids favorite!

Pepperoni pizza – nothing says pizza with slices of pepperoni, does it?

Pesto pizza – topped with red pesto instead of tomato sauce.

Now that we covered the four components, let me share my 10 tips for making amazing homemade pizzas.



You will see a huge difference in your pizza baked on a pizza stone as compared to the baking tray. The pizza stone has the ability to draw out moisture from the dough, which means you get a nice crisp bottom pizza and crusty bread.

Buy a good quality pizza stone that will last you a lifetime. I’ve been using mine for over 10 years. My oven has changed but not my pizza stone. It looks really shabby because it has baked me many pizzas and bread over the years.


If possible, invest in a pizza tray or a pizza peel. That will help you transfer your pizza to and out of the oven. I have both and I can’t think of making pizza without them.

These let you keep the dough soft, so you don’t have to struggle with transferring the pizza from one place to the other. Soft dough means a thin and crispy pizza crust.


I know it’s very professional to use cornmeal, but I hate the mess it leaves behind. So, I use a parchment paper. I place the parchment paper on my pizza peel and then just slide the parchment onto my pizza stone. After 8 to 10 minutes, I pull the parchment out. This helps crisp the base much better.


Keep the dough soft and elastic and make sure it’s room temperature. If the dough is cold, the gluten is much stiffer, which means you won’t be able to stretch the dough as easily as the room-temperature dough.


Preheat the oven for a good 30 minutes before you bake your first pizza. The pizza stone takes longer to heat, so while your preheat indicator may show that your oven has preheated – the stone takes longer to reach that temperature.

The reason you want your pizza stone hot is so that you get that nice bottom crust while still maintaining the softness of the dough on the inside.


The pizza base is as important as the sauce and toppings. So, don’t drown it with too much sauce, toppings or cheese. Good homemade pizza dough is delicious so enjoy it.


Pizza toppings are great but avoid those that will make the base soggy or get burnt. Leaves, such as spinach, are better cooked first then added to the pizza. Similarly, veggies such as mushrooms give out moisture. So, while a few slices are ok, too many mushrooms will give you a very wet pizza.


Often, the pizza edges tend to stay pale even though the bottom is crisp. Brushing the edges will give a nice crisp edge, which is delicious but also looks wonderful. And if you want a crisp pizza crust, then also brush the pizza tray with oil.


After you roll the base, let the dough rest for 5 to 10 minutes. This proves the dough a little giving it that little lift. The edges get puffy and when baked it gets a nice beautiful crust. See that curst?


Do you ever find that often the cheese tends to get dark while we wait for the bottom to get crisper? This happens when you want the bottom crust to be crisper.

I don’t usually do this, because I’m happy with just crisp edges and a nice soft base. However, here’s a solution for you. Next time, pre-bake your pizza for 7 minutes before you add the cheese. That way you will have a crispy base and your cheese won’t get brown.

All About Pizza Dough, Hydration And Other Bakers Percentages

Learning a bit more about bakers percentages and dough formulas is an important step in making better pizza more consistently. Hydration is one of these percentages and this affects the pizza dough the most.

This article has some information on how to formulate and read percentages. Also answering questions, What is the best hydration level? as well as a comparison of some popular recipes from online and in books. I have done hours of testing and created my best pizza dough recipe from all this research, you should give it a go too.

What Are Bakers Percentages?

Bakers percentages are a common way to define the proportions of ingredients in a recipe by defining percentages of ingredients compared to the total amount of flour. While typical recipes will specify the ingredients in volumes, the bakers percentages allow the reader to quickly compare recipes, and scale the recipe by multiplying the proportions.

Flour is always stated at 100% and then the other ingredients can be worked out as a percentage of that flour weight. For example, if you have 340g of flour, then you would need 221g/ml of water to have a 65% hydrated dough.

If you take your starting flour and divide by 100, you get 1% of the volume. You can then multiple this by the percentage you need, for example to find one percent you do 340 / 100 = 3.4. And so to find 65% we take our one percent and multiply it – 3.4 * 65 = 221.

Remember that 1g of water equals 1ml of water, so if you get 221g of water as your result then you can use 221ml of water.

The Main 4 Ingredients In Dough

Pizza dough needs flour, water, yeast and salt for its key ingredients. This means that the variation of any of them, particularly water, has a large impact. The addition of sugar and oil is optional.

Sugar is optional but many recipes will include it. It is beneficial for the home cooked pizza as the oven isn’t hot enough so it will help with browning the crust. It also adds a slight sweetness to the dough. It isn’t needed in a pizza oven because the high temperatures will be enough to brown the crust.

Oil is optional and added to dough, more traditionally a New York or home baked pizza. It will add some flavor, make the dough smoother, and also help with the browning.

Weigh Your Ingredients

When dealing with bakers percentages, it is important to use a scales to weigh your ingredients. Especially for the salt, yeast and sugar, which use such small quantities around 1%. Errors can easily happen if using teaspoon measurements.

For these measurements, you can pick up a cheap digital scales online. Be sure to get one which is accurate enough (to the 0.1g) like this one I like from Amazon. Most scales don’t go to such accuracy so keep an eye out when buying.

Use The Pizza Dough Calculator

You can work it out yourself, but there are a few online tools to help you calculate your dough quantities, giving you clear measurements for each ingredient.

I like the tool at PizzaCreator.net which you can use to help you work out the numbers. Just input how many pizzas you require. The advanced option allows you to control the percentages of water, salt, sugar and oil. I always put my hydration higher then their default 60%.

Pizza Dough Percentages Comparison

When I started out testing pizza dough, I wanted to see how different dough compared. Each different website or book will swear by different recipes and methods so its hard to know who to go by. It’s largely down to preference, so test a few ways out and see which one you like the best.

I’ve listed a few of my favorite resources for pizza dough. Tony Gemignani and Tom Lehmann are two of the most well known pizza experts. You should get a copy of The Pizza Bible by Tony (Amazon link), which has world champion-winning recipes for every pizza type from the USA and Italy. 

How To Mix Ingredients

I follow the same steps for every dough, and this specific sequence produced perfect, consistent dough.

Hydrate the flour with the water for 30 minutes (autolyse stage, but can be skipped)

Hydrate the dried yeast in a splash of water then add and mix for a minute

Add the salt and sugar and mix for a minute

Add the oil and mix for a minute

Transfer the dough to the worktop and knead for 3-5 minutes

Rest for 1 hour at room temperature to start fermentation

Bulk ferment in the refrigerator for 24 hours for flavor

Remove 250g dough for one pizza and ball

Rest for 2 hours before stretching to return to room temperature

Best Tips For Homemade Pizza

As a kid, my mom would prepare homemade pizza for us as a treat. Unfortunately, I didn’t really like it back then because my mom would use toppings that I detested at the time, such as peppers and mushrooms. I would have been much happier with a frozen pizza.

Thankfully, one day I saw the light and realized that homemade pizza is SO much better than frozen (crazy concept, I know!). So as a teen, I became obsessed with making my own pizza and trying to recreate the flavors that I loved in store-bought and restaurant pizzas.

Over the years, I learned a few tips and tricks to make the process easier and get the most out of homemade pizza. Today I’d like to share some of those tips and tricks with you!

1 – Cook your pizza on a preheated surface

If you’re going for more of an artisan pizzeria feel to your pizza, it’s best to cook it on a preheated, heavy surface. There are many options available for this: a heavy-duty baking sheet, a pizza stone, an upside-down cast iron skillet, etc. Use whatever you have available! But make sure you preheat your surface in a hot oven for at least half an hour before baking your pizza.

2 – Cook your pizza at a very high temperature

Restaurant pizza ovens can get very hot. To recreate that taste, it’s important that your oven temperature is high enough. I recommend 500°F.

3 – Cook your pizza on parchment paper

When I first started out making homemade pizza, I would dutifully dust my pizza peel with cornmeal, lay my pizza dough on top, create my pizza, and transfer it to the oven. The cornmeal helped to make the pizza slide off of the peel, but boy did it ever make a mess. Some of it would inevitably end up on the oven floor and burn. Not fun.

Then I discovered parchment paper! It makes the transfer SO much smoother, and there’s a lot less mess. I will say that the crust doesn’t get quite as crispy using parchment as opposed to cornmeal, but it’s very much worth it in my opinion.

4 – Think outside the box with your sauces

It’s easy to get stuck in a rut and only reach for your typical red pizza sauce. But there are so many more options out there! Here are just a few ideas:

  • pesto
  • salsa
  • ranch dressing
  • ketchup
  • refried beans
  • BBQ sauce
  • Alfredo sauce

5 – Don’t overcook your protein

I recommend slightly under-cooking your protein since it will cook a little bit more once it’s on your pizza. For example, don’t cook your bacon until it’s crispy because it will be singed once the pizza comes out of the oven.

6 – Get creative with your toppings

As with my sauces tip, I recommend branching out with your toppings. I’ll be the first to admit that I love a plain pepperoni and cheese pizza. But it’s really fun to experiment with creative toppings!

7 – Brush your crust with an olive oil and garlic blend

I’m not sure where I learned this trick, but it really amps up the flavor of your pizza! Simply pour extra virgin olive oil into a dish and add minced garlic. Then, before adding any other toppings,  brush your crust with it, making sure to get some pieces of garlic on your crust as well.

8 – If you crave a crispy crust, par-bake it first!

Not gonna lie, it can be a challenge to get homemade pizza crust crispy and done all the way through. To help combat this, you can par-bake the crust. Simply slide it onto your preheated cooking surface and bake for about 5–8 minutes, or until beginning to brown. Remove from the oven, cool slightly, and add the toppings to the browned side.

Bonus tip: You can par-bake several pizza crusts in advance, cool, and freeze. Then you can have them on hand when the pizza craving strikes!

9 – Avoid the urge to over-top your pizza

Again, if you like a crispy crust, try your best not to over-top your pizza! I know, I know. It’s easy to get carried away. After all, you want to make the most epic pizza known to man. But if you mound on the toppings, it makes it hard for the crust to get fully cooked. Rein it in a bit and your pizza will love you for it.

10 – For a cracker-like crust, use tortillas!

For an extremely thin and crispy crust, you can use flour tortillas for your base! It’s super easy and convenient, and the results are wonderful. I like to par-bake the tortilla first, top, and cook until the cheese is melty.