Tips for a Successful Make Your Own Pizza Party

Months ago we had a party and we did a “Make Your Own Damn Pizza” theme for food.  I think the idea was good but I learned some things I’d do differently if I were to do it again.  I thought I had taken pictures while preparing for the party but can’t seem to find any of them.  Here’s the scoop:

We had about 20 people coming over, including six kids (all but one were toddlers).  Since we had a bunch of kids, we were planning on starting and ending relatively early – started at around 5:00 and ended at around 10:00.  I decided I wanted to do individual pizzas rather than larger pizzas and since I was 8+ months pregnant, I didn’t want to mess around with trying out new doughs.  So off to Trader Joe’s I went.  I estimated that I could make three pizzas with each packet of premade dough so I bought eight bags (a little extra for good measure), which allowed for 24 pizzas.  I bought the plain, wheat and herbed crusts and planned on par-baking the crusts ahead of time so that when it was time to make the pizzas, they would cook up quickly and no one would have to wait long.  So I took the dough out of the bags and set them on the counter to bring them to room temperature and started prepping.

I cut pieces of parchment paper to sit under each crust so that it would be easy to slip the crusts in and out of the oven.  I also took out a few markers so that we could write people’s names on the parchment paper so we’d know whose pizza was whose.  Ultimately since we only had three pizzas in the oven at a time, it wasn’t hard to keep them straight.

Once the crusts were warmed up, I started separating them into thirds and spreading them out into pizzas.  Ideally I think they’d be about 8 inches in diameter and thin.  The goal with baking them before the guests arrived was to make it so that the cooking time  was as short as possible when the guests were there.  I used a fork to poke holes in the crusts to prevent them from puffing up too much.  My oven and pizza pans were large enough for three pizzas in each batch.  I preheated the oven per the package instructions and figured half the cooking time should suffice.  Basically you want the crust to be cooked but too crispy or burned.

A few batches in, I realized that the crusts were WAY too thick and uneven.  And even though I had poked holes in the crust, they were puffing up because they were just too thick.  So I started separating them into fourths instead.  Definitely use flour or cornmeal when spreading out your crusts.  It’ll help keep their shape and make it easy to work with.  I found myself tired and frustrated during this process because I couldn’t quite get the crusts right.  Lesson learned: definitely do a trial run with your family first!  I ended up throwing out a bunch of the crusts because they were too thick and doughy and we actually had waaaay too many crusts for the party.

While the crusts were par-baking, I started prepping the toppings.  I had emailed our guests and asked if there were any specific requests.  We had kids, meat-eaters, vegetarians, vegans, spicy eaters…I wanted to make sure everyone had an option that would be satisfying and yummy.  So I offered three types of sauce – typical red pizza sauce, pesto, and barbeque sauce.  I also offered a few different cheeses – mozzarella, parmesan, and vegan shreds by Daiya.  Then I tried thinking up combos that would be good and offered a bunch of toppings – red onions, pepperoni, mushrooms, jalapenos, pineapple, olives, chicken, basil, tomatoes, garlic, and canadian bacon.  I luckily had a small tastings bowl set that allowed me to put out a little bit of each topping with spoons in each bowl.  I had larger bowls and spoons for the sauces and cheeses.

We made the rest of the party a potluck so our guests helped out by bringing salad, appetizers, and desserts.  We picked up some wings and called it a meal!  When it was time to start making the pizzas, my husband manned the oven and took the pizzas in and out of the oven.  Our guests just topped their pizzas as they liked and in eight minutes, voila!  Dinner!  It was fun.  While one set of pizzas were cooking, the next set of people were topping theirs.  I still think the idea is a good one but I would definitely do the crusts differently.  I’d make less crusts, I’d make them thinner, and I’d practice first.  And if there was a smaller group, I’d limit the toppings to prevent waste.  So in summary:

Tips for a successful Make Your Own Pizza party:
*Pre-bake the crusts before your guests arrive
*Keep the oven on so it’s always ready
*Have appetizers in case there’s a wait
*Give plenty of sauce and topping options – it’s more work but it’s more fun too!
*Have a designated helper to grab a few people at a time to make their pizzas, explain what to do and give people ideas on what to put on their pizzas
*Have a designated person to man the oven
*Use pre-cut parchment paper underneath each crust for ease of transport in and out of the oven
*Keep the crusts thin and use a fork to poke holes in the crust so it doesn’t puff up too much.
*Conduct a trial run to see how large of a dough ball you’ll need to create the most appropriate crust thickness as well as how long you’ll need to par-bake.
*Come up with a few killer combos as suggestions for people
*Put post-baked toppings (Such as parmesan, hot sauce, red chili flakes, basil) in a separate place than the pre-baked toppings.  It just helps with the flow of traffic.
*Keep the kids out of the kitchen when the pizzas are cooking.

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