The 4 Rules of Perfect Pizza

Take a tour of Chef Michael Psilakis' 3 favorite pizza shops in Brooklyn. Then start making better pies at home.

By Paul Kita

The Quest For The Perfect Slice of Pizza

Think back to the best slice of pizza you've ever tasted. When you took your first bite, you were transported. Any combination of sauce, cheese, and dough you had eaten before was instantly demoted, newly classified as a substandard slice. This was the only pizza you ever wanted to eat again. You were forever a changed man. Call it the "transcendental slice effect."


Chef Michael Psilakis has experienced the transcendental slice effect (TSE). Although Psilakis has claimed his fame in the culinary world through Greek-inspired New York City restaurants such as MP Taverna and Kefi, he's spent significant time in pursuit of great pizza. So we asked Psilakis to take us to his favorite TSE-inducing pizza shops in Brooklyn and as we stopped at Di Fara, Roberta's, and Lucali, he dropped his pizza knowledge along the way.

If you can't venture to these temples of perfect pizza, you can still use the principles they use to make better-tasting pies at home, says Psilakis.

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Rule #1: Crisp your crust
Too many pizza chain pies rely on dough that bakes up soft and fluffy instead of crisp and crunchy. Why's that matter? A crispy crust not only adds a satisfying textural element, but it also gives the pie a sturdy foundation. At Di Fara, longtime pizza chef Dom DeMarco, coats his pans in oil and then tosses them into a searing-hot oven. Because of the high heat, the oil actually fries the underside of the dough, resulting in an almost cracker-like crunch. To replicate this effect somewhat at home, you'll need a pizza stone, and a screaming-hot oven. Need step-by-step guidance? Here's How to Bake Great Game Day Pizza.


Rule #2: Easy on the cheese

Poor man's pizza parlors pile on the cheese to cover up for lackluster sauce. But, look, you don't have to simmer your own sauce for hours just to prepare a pie at home. Here's the simple secret many great pizzaolos deploy: All it takes to make great sauce is San Marzano tomatoes. Canned tomatoes will work fine. Just hand-crush them, spread them onto your dough using the back of a spoon, and add your cheese-rounds buffalo mozzarella, pecorino, Parmesan, etc-sparingly. Use the creaminess of the cheese to complement the sweetness and acidity of the sauce. (Love cheese? Check out the 10 Best Cheeses Ever.)


Rule #3: Rethink your toppings

Toppings should work together to produce the flavors of a composed dish. At Roberta's, pizza boss Lauren Calhoun combines thinly sliced squash, red onions, salt-preserved hot peppers, mozzarella, fiore sardo, and sage to produce their "The Sound and the Fiore" pie. The ingredients would work well without the pizza. Think of that when you're constructing your next pie. Love the combination of kale and paprika? Try them on a homemade pizza. And, when in doubt, default to the holy duo of mozzarella and fresh basil.


Rule #4: When in doubt, always add a little more olive oil
At Di Fara, DeMarco finishes each pizza with a swirl of golden olive oil. Does it add a few calories? Sure. But it's worth it. The oil has a superpower of drawing together the sauce, the dough, and the cheese in a way that heightens the aroma of the pie.

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