Frozen pizza - Understanding time and temperature equivalency

by Jeremy Hajek   Last Updated October 17, 2016 09:07 AM

When cooking a frozen pizza in a conventional oven, I have two similar personal pizzas: one box's instructions say to cook at 425°F for 19 minutes, and the instructions on the other pizza box says to cook at 33 minutes at 350°F.

  • Can I cook both pizzas at 350°F for ~33 minutes?
  • Does 350°F at 33 minutes equate to 425°F at 19 minutes with frozen pizzas in a conventional oven?
  • If not, why not?

Answers 1

You can try to bake both at the lower temperature, and it might turn out OK, but there are a lot of variables that could cause it not to.

I went into some of the effects of time and temperature in this answer. In a nutshell, you have two major processes happening when you bake dough; the first is the Maillard reaction (browning) and the second is water evaporation (drying/hardening). Just to make things even more fun, the second has a strong effect on the first; the more water evaporates, the quicker the browning will occur.

There's also the gluten development (chewiness) of the crust, but that is less of an issue with pizza because you're usually aiming for a crispy crust.

What this means to you is that if the two different pizzas have crusts with different amounts of water, then the one with lower water content may end up rock-hard and even burnt by the time the second one is properly cooked.

350° F is only a little bit higher than Maillard temperature, so the browning will happen pretty slowly; the fact that the box suggests this temperature likely means a relatively high water content, so that the crust can firm up before starting to brown. On the other hand, 425° F and 20-minute cooking time probably indicates a higher water content; you want to brown the crust more quickly before the crust gets too hard and/or starts to burn.

So there's a non-trivial likelihood that after 33 minutes at 350° F, the second pizza (which gives a higher temperature) will be undercooked and doughy. Undercooked is easy to fix in theory, but the problem is that you've thrown off the water ratio, which was specifically formulated for a higher temperature, so it's going to be hard for you to get it exactly right, even if you raise the temperature to finish it off. It'll still be edible, of course; it's really just a matter of how picky you are (the answer to which is probably "not very" if you're eating frozen pizza...).

On the other hand, there's also a not-too-distant possibility that the two pizza crusts are practically the same, and the different brands just have different ideas of how crisp/brown the crust ought to be when cooked. It's really hard to know until you try.

One other thing to mention is that if you plan to bake both pizzas at the same time then you will probably need to raise the temperature/time slightly to compensate. Also, I really wouldn't recommend putting one on a lower rack, because it blocks the heat from the element and tends to mess up what little circulation there is in a conventional oven, and you'll end up with a very flat and probably undercooked pizza.

Bakeries and pizzerias will usually have pizza stones and special ovens with fans and possibly turntables to mitigate this issue; home ovens don't. So I'd recommend either baking them on the same rack (if you have room) or baking them separately.

May 06, 2011 17:32 PM

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