How to Make Pizza in a Cast-Iron Skillet, Just Like Your Mother Never Did

Justin Smillie of NYC's Il Buco Alimentari has a home pizza recipe that will yield a crust like no other

September 22, 2020 6:34 am
Justin Smillie's cast-iron zucchini pizza.
Justin Smillie's cast-iron zucchini pizza.

For decades, the cast-iron skillet has been synonymous with well-seared steak, perfectly fried eggs and the most enticing bacon served this side of Flavortown.

Here’s the rub: just like Flavortown mayor Guy Fieri, the cast-iron skillet has been unfairly typecast. So while it probably is the best (or at least the most failsafe) way to prepare a steak, the cast-iron skillet actually has a far more versatile skill set than it is usually given credit for.

Justin Smillie, the chef of Il Buco Alimentari e Vineria in NYC, knows this, which is why he regularly uses his skillet to help him make a dish that’s traditionally produced in an oven: pizza.

A Southern California native, Smillie grew up eating pizza from Round Table, a chain many East Coasters are probably unfamiliar with. “I always loved the crust soft and crispy on the bottom,” Smillie tells InsideHook. “It’s kind of a combination of New York and Chicago-style.”

One of Justin Smillie’s tasty cast-iron pizzas.
Justin Smillie

The crispiness Smillie enjoyed on the bottom of the pizzas of his youth can be replicated with a trusty cast-iron skillet, a meal he says he makes at home at least twice a month for his kids.

“Cast-iron pizza is super crusty on the bottom, but chewy on the inside. It’s the perfect balance,” he says. “I love the way the cast iron holds the heat in … I think people take that for granted. Heat retention is key, because it keeps the pizza hot, without overcooking it. And also, it’s just a taste of my childhood.”

According to Smillie, making a great cast iron-pizza starts with good dough.

“The dough is the foundation, so figure out what you want it to be,” he says. “The right crust — bite and elasticity —  determines everything else, and that ‘everything else’ starts with good canned tomatoes and cheese that gets super gooey. I like Jersey Fresh canned tomatoes and Lioni low-moisture mozzarella. The most important is texture and acid. Every bite needs to be balanced.” 

Think you can keep your pie on the beam? Here’s Justin Smillie’s recipe for making pizza in a cast-iron skillet.

Justin Smilie’s Cast-Iron Pizza

Ingredients (dough):

  • 1,200g tepid water (65-68F)
  • 15g yeast (Red Star)
  • 1,120g bread flour (King Arthur)
  • 600g Mother (or old) pizza dough
  • 125g whole wheat flour (King Arthur)
  • 35g wheat germ
  • 25g agave nectar, dark (or 15g light brown sugar)
  • 68g cup sea salt (Trapanese) 


1. In a large bowl, add the water and yeast to bloom. (15-29 minutes) By hand, mix in all the dry ingredients, kneading until it sticks and pulls away from the side of the bowl. No need to over-knead. Allow it to stand for 45-60 minutes. 

2. In a bigger bowl, mix the remaining ingredients until incorporated. Do not over-mix. Will fully incorporate during the overnight and swell together. Transfer the dough to a clean plastic container with a lid, lightly oiled (make sure the oil is not too strong, bitter or overly grassy). Allow the dough to ferment overnight. Minimum 12 hours. (This should make several dough portions, so you can freeze whatever you don’t make right away.)

3. Portion into 10-oz balls. Gently roll ball into rough circle, pushing through your hand (similar to mozzarella technique) and allowing air bubbles to form in the dough (these are important!). Leave the dough covered in the refrigerator for a few hours.

4. Proof outside to room temp for 20-30 minutes 

5. Push dough ball into a floured bowl (bread or semolina flour), forming the shape of the crust. Allow gravity to allow the dough to drape over your hands until stretched. Do not over pull. Gentle hands equal more air bubbles.

6. On a lightly floured surface, gently work the dough into a wider circle, starting from the center.  Drape the dough over your hands, rotate evenly, and let gravity do its thing.

7. Turn onto a lightly floured pizza board and dress your pizza (toppings of your choice).

8. Preheat oven to at least 500 degrees.  Move racks to top, and heat cast-iron skillet for 10-15 minutes.

9. Open the oven, add three tablespoons of olive oil to cast iron pan, and gently slide pizza into the pan. Close oven, cook for five minutes.  At 5-minute mark, lightly brush pizza crust with olive oil and rotate it 180 degrees, then cook an additional 3-4 minutes, until golden brown.

10. Remove from oven. Slide onto roasting rack, and let it rest for 2 minutes. Serve.


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