The Ultimate Pizza Guide: How to Assemble and Cook Pizza Like a Pro

Let us show you how to make the best homemade pizza recipes with our easy steps and handy infographic pizza guide!

  • By Brittany Yamamoto-Taylor
  • July 24, 2018

Making a homemade pizza can sound intimidating or like too much work. But, it doesn’t have to be! The key to a great pizza is the right combinations of sauces and toppings. To help you learn the basics, we created an infographic guide and a free PDF download with everything you need to know to start making pizza like a pro.


The Ultimate Pizza Making Guide

With the help of this infographic, you can make endless pizza combinations at home! It's healthier and way more fun, too!

Now let us walk you through a full pizza toolbox of simple instructions, video tutorials, and an additional free download with 30 tried-and-true pizza combo recipes. Say goodbye to pizza delivery and hello to fresh pizza with pizzazz!

Components of a Great Pizza

The success of any pizza is found in its 3 core parts – the dough, the sauce, and the toppings. To help you learn how to tackle every part with ease, let’s dive into each component:

#1: The Dough

Making homemade pizza can be intimidating, but we know one of the main reasons is not wanting to deal with the dough. Luckily, there are a lot of ready-made doughs available in stores nowadays (we like Trader Joe’s brand!). These are are just as good as making dough from scratch, but take hardly any time at all.

To completely take the edge off of preparing your premade dough, we created this video to show you how quick and simple it can be to work with pizza dough:


How to Work Your Pizza Dough

Get our tips for making pizza dough pliable and ready to be to stretched out for all your good toppings!

Easy Dough Instructions:

  1. Put pizza dough in a bowl and cover with a light dusting of flour.
  2. Cover bowl and let dough rest for at least 30 minutes before rolling out. (Resting dough gives gluten time to chill out, which makes the dough much more pliable and easy to work with.)
  3. On a clean surface, sprinkle flour and roll out dough to the size of a sheet pan. Or stretch dough by forming a fist and turning and stretching dough over fist. Start from the center and move out to the edges.
  4. Brush or spray sheet pan with some oil and transfer rolled dough to sheet pan.

#2: The Sauce

Now that we’ve tackled the dough, let’s move onto the sauce. We often don’t give much thought to pizza sauce because plain red sauce is so often a given. Yet, don’t let your sauce be an afterthought! It actually sets the stage for your entire pizza, dictating just which toppings should be the key performers.

Here are our 4 favorite pizza sauces, each with their own flavor and flare:

Tomato Sauce (Marinara)

Marinara is the most well-known Italian tomato sauce. Its simple ingredients of tomatoes, aromatics, and herbs let the pure flavors shine and compliment your pizza toppings.

White Sauce (Béchamel)

White sauce, also called béchamel, is one of the “mother sauces” of France. This sauce is made from a white roux and milk and brings creamy perfection to any pizza.

Pesto Sauce

Pesto sauce is most commonly made from crushed garlic, pine nuts, basil, Parmesan cheese, and olive oil, but is easy to make without dairy or nuts. It’s flexible and adds a deliciously herbal and fresh green taste to pizza.

BBQ Sauce

BBQ sauce rolls sweet, sour, and spice into one balanced yet bold flavor that adds something unexpected to a pizza. Common versions (like this one) have a tomato base with vinegar, spices, and a sweetener.

These 4 sauce recipes are included on our infographic, but here are some additional ideas for fun and creative sauces to dress up your pizza!

  • Romesco is a nut and red pepper sauce from Catalonia that coastal communities enjoy with fish. Try it with a shrimp topping or keep it simple with squash, asparagus, or caramelized onions. (We have a fantastic, easy-to-make romesco recipe here.)
  • Mediterranean Za’atar is a simple dusting of Middle Eastern spices with red wine vinegar and olive oil for a great “naked” pizza. These distinct flavors pair well with tomatoes, goat cheese, and soft flatbread while the lightness of the oil compliments deep flavors like smoked salmon or olives.
  • Chimichurri is an uncooked parsley and garlic-based sauce that is paired with grilled meat in Argentina and Uruguay. There are green and red versions that both work great with a meat-topped pizza. (Try our favorite chimichurri recipe here.)
  • Creative spreads like hummus, refried beans, or sweet potato puree can take your taste buds for a trip around the world with Middle Eastern, Mexican, or Southern fusion pizzas.

#3: The Toppings

Now onto the fun part! Homemade pizza toppings are where you can really customize to your personal taste and bring your pizza to the next level of greatness. You can easily use leftover ingredients in your fridge and pantry or you can go seasonal with fresh produce from a local farmers market.


When we think of pizza, cheese inevitably comes to mind. Here are some great cheese options:

  • Blue cheese (gorgonzola)
  • Brie
  • Feta
  • Fontina
  • Goat cheese
  • Manchego
  • Mexican cheese
  • Monterey jack
  • Mozzarella (fresh, low-moisture)
  • Parmesan
  • Queso fresco
  • Ricotta
  • Vegan cheese (cashew, almond, soy, coconut)

Prep Smarts:

If you’re not using pre-shredded cheese, use a box grater to grate firm cheeses. For soft cheeses, like brie and fresh mozzarella, you can thinly slice them with a knife.

Whether you use traditional cheeses or a vegan cheese, pairing the right cheese flavor with your sauce choice is an art. To help you out, we have a free infographic guide to more than 30 combos you can download here:


For the staunch carnivores out there, a pizza isn’t quite complete without meat. If you want to up your game from basic pepperoni and sausage, consider using one of the following meat toppings:

  • Deli meats (turkey, ham, roast beef)
  • Prosciutto
  • Salami
  • Smoked salmon
  • Bacon
  • Chicken (thighs, breast)
  • Chorizo
  • Ground meat (beef, lamb, pork)
  • Steak
  • Ham
  • Pulled pork
  • Rotisserie chicken

Prep Smarts:

Raw meats, such as chicken, ground meat, and sausage, need to be cooked before topping the pizza so that they are fully cooked when the pizza is done. All you need to do is chop the meat to the desired size, then saute them in a skillet until they’re cooked through.

Other meats, like rotisserie chicken and deli meats, can be added directly on the pizza before popping it in the oven.

Veggies & Fruits

While we are all familiar with vegetables on our pizza, any fruit besides pineapple is an unexpected topping. But, if you pair them right, fruits add a positively delicious finish to a pizza. Both veggies and fruits will give extra nutrients to your dinner, so challenge yourself to try ingredients from our list below at least once! We know you won’t regret it.

  • Aromatics (shallots, green onions, garlic)
  • Artichoke hearts
  • Asparagus
  • Bell peppers (green, red, yellow, orange)
  • Black beans
  • Chili peppers (jalapeno, serrano)
  • Corn
  • Dried figs
  • Fennel
  • Olives (kalamata, black, green)
  • Peaches (grilled or caramelized)
  • Pineapple
  • Tomatoes (roma, sun-dried)
  • Zucchini
  • Baby spinach
  • Eggplant
  • Leeks
  • Mushrooms (button, cremini, portobello)
  • Swiss chard
  • Caramelized onions
  • Roasted veggies (butternut squash, potatoes, sweet potatoes)

Prep Smarts:

Most veggies can be placed directly on the pizza for cooking, but hardier veggies – like eggplant and leeks – take longer to soften and will need to be sauteed to ensure they are cooked to perfection when the pizza is done.

Spinach, mushrooms, chard, zucchini, and any other veggies that release a lot of liquid when cooked should also be sauteed and drained first, or else the pizza will be soggy (and no one wants that!).

If you want to have grilled ingredients (like peaches or pineapple), simply do the grilling first.


Adding one last step at the end of your pizza adventure will elevate your pizza with additional flavor and texture. Choose one or more garnishes from the list for the perfect finishing touch:

  • Fresh herbs (basil, chives, cilantro, dill, oregano, parsley)
  • Spices (black pepper, paprika, red pepper flakes)
  • Seasonings (balsamic vinegar, hot sauce)
  • Citrus zest (lemon, lime)
  • Pine nuts
  • Raw veggies (arugula, avocado, frisee, romaine lettuce, iceberg lettuce)
  • Avocado

How to Cook Pizza

Now that you know how to assemble a fantastic pizza, it’s time to cook it! You may have basic questions like, “What temperature do I cook a homemade pizza?” or “How long do I bake pizza?”. Below we will walk you through two methods for cooking pizza:


  1. Heat oven to 425F / 218C degrees and position top rack so it’s at the very top.
  2. Brush dough with some oil.
  3. Bake dough on the top rack for 3 minutes without toppings to let it crisp up.
  4. Spread sauce over dough, then cover with toppings.
  5. Bake pizza on the top rack for 8 to 11 minutes until golden.
  6. Remove from oven and sprinkle garnishes, if using.


Since grilling pizza is not as common, we have a handy How to Make Pizza on the Grill video tutorial and the following instructions to help you make pizza with a deliciously smokey crust.

  1. Preheat grill to 500F / 260C degrees.
  2. Brush dough with some oil and place dough on grill (oiled side down).
  3. Close and cook for 3 minutes.
  4. Remove pizza from grill and flip over. Top grilled side of dough with sauce and toppings.
  5. Return pizza to indirect heat and continue cooking, with lid closed, until golden, 8 to 10 minutes.
  6. Remove from grill and add garnishes, if using.

Pizza Inspiration

Get inspired for the perfect pizza sauce and topping combos with this free infographic guide! From Portobello Pesto to Prosciutto Fig, we have 30 creative combos for you to try. Perfect for any time of the year, these delicious, gourmet pizza ideas can easily be made in your own home kitchen. They’re healthier and cheaper than any restaurant’s and we barely even need to say that they are utterly superior to any pizza delivery.

Try some exciting new pizza ideas with our guide:


Homemade Gourmet Pizza Combos

Get pizza inspiration with this infographic! Perfect for any time of the year, these delicious, gourmet pizza combos can be easily made at home.

You now have all of the tools you need to make a superb pizza at home. With all of the steps laid out, it isn’t so scary anymore, is it? Good. We’re excited to see you try your hand at a homemade pizza and knock every ordinary pizza out of the park!

Do you have a favorite pizza topping we didn’t add to our list? Let us know in the comments below!

A little note: Some of the above links are Amazon affiliate links, which means we earn a small percentage from those sales. We use this affiliate revenue to support the continued growth of Cook Smarts. Thank you!

The Ultimate Pizza Making Guide [Infographic] | Cook SmartsHomemade Gourmet Pizza Combos [Infographic] | Cook Smarts


Our Podcast: Strategies to become a smarter cook


Try our award winning meal plan service for free

Share the love!

Join our community

Enjoy free tips in your inbox

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.
How can we help you in the kitchen?

Join our community

Enjoy free tips in your inbox

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Sign up for the Cook Smarts Newsletter

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.


Privacy Policy: We hate SPAM & promise to keep your email address safe.

Skip to content