Ron Varela is a consultant with Lloyd Industries, Inc.
For years, pizza has been America's fun food - a quick, informal, yet complete meal served in easy-to-eat slices that is affordable and available almost anywhere. It's on the short list of meal options when you don't have time to cook or just don't feel like it. It's a party on a platter.
But behind the party is a large and intensely competitive industry with sale topping $37 billion a year. It's a complex industry, where national share through the most sophisticated research methods and marketing tactics. Meanwhile, independent stores and smaller chains try to distinguish themselves in the shadow of the larger players and grow their own customer base. In other words, on the cash register side on the counter, the party's over.
For large, high-volume pizza chains, success has required maintaining a consistent quality standard in every single store in the chain while reducing overhead, production, and labor costs. To lower these costs, franchisees hire less costly, less skilled workers. They bake pizzas mass-production style, in high-volume conveyor ovens. In this largely automated environment, characteristics of the surface on which the pizza is baked - the pan - are critical in maintaining consistent quality while allowing maximum flexibility in a store's offerings.
What kind of pizza do you prefer? Thick Crust or Thin? Crisp or Chewy? Deep dish perhaps? A hedonist's heap of toppings or an ascetic's mere veneer? America's vast pizza offerings indicate that any combination is possible. However, there are certain factors that must be considered if one is to create a good pizza, regardless of is contents or dimensions:
* The internal temperature of the pizza should range between 200 and 206°F (93 and 97°C) at the end of the bake.
* While crispness of the crust may range from snappy to soft and chewy, most America pizza consumers prefer something between crisp and chewy, depending on crust thickness.
* The doneness of the toppings depends on the nature of the toppings. Under the same rigors of the heat, the freshest of vegetables might remain defiantly crisp even as some softer prepared meats quickly shrink and ooze. In such cases, the placement of toppings is all-important.
THE CONVEYOR OVEN
From the early days until fairly recently, pizza making was a very hands-on process. The pizza maker shaped the crust by whirling it aloft in a display of aerial culinary showmanship. Toppings were deftly arranged according to each individual order. Then, the pizza was baked to perfection under the constant surveillance of the pizza maker's practiced eye.
In smaller independent shops and smaller chains, this process may still be in place. However, in most chain stores, the conveyor belt and the constant temperature of the conveyor oven (Figure1) have made if possible for less skilled workers to produce more pizza faster, yet with consistent quality. The worker arranges the unbaked pizza on a pan or disk and places it on the durable wire-mesh conveyor at the front end of the oven. Inside the oven, the pizza is carried along at a continuous speed while a
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