By Amanda C. Lee
What constitutes the perfect pizza? To some, it’s the absence of pineapples, to others, it’s the depth of the crust. What if I told you that according to physics, it comes down to the oven? As a pizza-lover myself, when I saw an article explaining the science behind what makes the perfect one, I knew that that was what I was going to write about this week.
When in Rome
Andrey Varlamov, Andreas Glatz, and Sergio Grasso –two physicists and a filmmaker– were working in Rome when they came up with the idea. They struck up conversation with some local pizzaiolos (“pizza-makers”) about the temperatures inside the traditional brick ovens. They watched as the simple skeleton of a Margherita pizza transformed into bubbling, cheesy goodness in merely 2 minutes. Amazed, the trio began to wonder about the heat transfer between the brick base of the oven and the base of the pizza, and why pizzas made at home just don’t taste as good. While I’ve never been to Italy and tried an authentic Margherita pizza, the physicists were evidently consumed by their interest. They immediately started working on an equation (as physicists do) that would allow electric ovens to recreate the same masterpiece.
After a few more conversations, the pizzaiolos revealed that the perfect pizza is baked at precisely 330ºC for 2 minutes. Using this information, the physicists calculated that the temperature under the dough would be a steamy 210ºC. Varlamov recalculated the temperature at which the dough would be cooked, this time, with a normal electrical oven in mind.
Due to the steel rack and a higher thermal conductivity, the heat under the pizza would be at 300ºC. In two minutes, “[t]he pizza will just turn into coal!” To combat this problem, the temperature of the electric oven must be reduced to 230ºC for 170 seconds. However, this means that there is less heat to cook the toppings of the pizza. Adding toppings to your pizza in an electric oven would require double the cooking time in comparison to that required by the traditional brick oven. Even then, it wouldn’t have the same authentic taste, which is what the physicists were seeking.
After lots of more complicated work, the physicists finally came to a thermodynamic equation that would allow normal electrical ovens to recreate the Italian masterpieces. I must warn you, what follows is not for the faint of heart.
There it is; the perfect pizza. Isn’t it glorious? The equation focuses on balancing how the heat at the base flows through the bottom of the pizza in order to obtain that perfect crisp crust. While a lot more work went into the creation of this equation, they admit that there is still nothing quite like the authentic Italian brick oven pizza. So if you don’t want to spend an afternoon (or maybe even a full day) solving the equation, the physicists offered an arguably easier solution: fly to Rome and try an authentic Margherita pizza yourself!
If you want to read more, check out their paper, The Physics of Baking Good Pizza!