Homemade pizza nerds are a passionate bunch; for a timid novice, the sheer amount of conflicting information available on various pizza-enthusiast boards is anything but encouraging. I'm here to tell you that you don't need to build a backyard brick oven or even buy a stone to make great pizza - in fact, you probably already have everything you need.
After a rogue pickled jalapeño split my pizza stone clean in half last year, I started using a preheated cast iron pan for all of my high-heat baking. I haven't looked back: cast iron makes phenomenally good pizza, and it's hardier and more versatile than ceramic stones. If you haven't tried pan-baked pizza, you're in for a treat. Here's how to do it.
Preheat a cast iron pan in a 260-degree oven for about an hour (if the handle isn't metal, make sure it's oven-proof first). Gently stretch a ball of pizza dough into a circle using the back of your wrists. Avoid hanging it on your knuckles, which encourages tearing. The finished circle should be slightly smaller than the diameter of the pan you're using.
Move the hot pan to the stovetop, carefully slide the dough in, top as desired, and return to the oven for 15 minutes or so; if you like, finish it off under the grill. Repeat until you're out of dough, toppings, and/or room in your stomach. Getting the dough into a hot pan takes practice - but once you've got the sizing dialed in, it's easy. Plus, it's not like misshapen pizza tastes bad.
This method works for a couple reasons. First, cast iron obviously retains heat like nobody's business, which means it achieves and holds the screaming-hot temperatures required for great crust structure. Second, the sides of the pan wrap that screaming-hot environment around the sides of the pizza, so the edges get charred, too.
The downsides are minimal - limited space and a slight learning curve being the two main ones - and the results, frankly, speak for themselves. Happy pizza-ing, y'all.
This story has been updated since its original publication.