It’s pizza dough week here on The Practical Kitchen and in today’s post I’m going to show you how to hand stretch pizza dough with confidence. Don’t worry if you’re a beginner or if you’ve never handled pizza dough before — I’ve got lots of visuals and step-by-step videos below to guide you through the process.
And before I get ahead of myself let me just say that this is the method that works best for me and that I think works well for beginners. It’s not the only method to hand stretch pizza dough, and you’ll probably find ways to tailor this method to suit your needs as you go.
Many years ago I followed a basic pizza dough recipe that instructed me to stretch the dough out on parchment paper, pressing with my lightly oiled fingertips (???) to form it into a circle. All I remember is I ended up frustrated, sweaty, and near tears because I could not get the dough to listen to me. It tore, it was lopsided, I ended up using a rolling pin which pressed all the bubbles out. It was not my finest moment in the kitchen.
I swore off making pizza for a while after that. But now I know better! And I’m here to help you know better too.
Stretching pizza dough by hand takes a little bit of practice, but when you get the hang of it, it’ll take you just a few minutes. And it’s a nice, soothing, almost zen-like process.
When you learn how to hand stretch pizza dough, you learn to let gravity do the work for you.
Instead of sweating and swearing and trying to force an oddly shaped blob dough into some semblance of a thin, evenly round dough circle, you work with the dough. It’s a dance, not a fight, or something poetic like that.
I’m going to dive into quite a bit of detail below as I explain how to hand stretch pizza dough, but the whole process probably only takes about 5, maybe 10 minutes.
Pizza has quickly become one of my favorite easy weeknight dinners because, with the dough prepped in advance, it takes just a few minutes to stretch the dough, add my toppings, and bake it.
the pizza dough
In this post I’m using my go-to basic overnight pizza dough recipe, which makes 3-4 medium-to-large (12-16″) pizzas. After the dough rises, I divide and shape it into rounds and then place them inside lightly oiled 16 or 32 ounce round deli containers to rest for several hours in the fridge.
Shaping and storing your dough in these deli containers is a crucial first step for hand-stretched dough. The containers tell the dough what shape you want it to be in (a circle) and give it space to rise without letting it spread out too much (which can make the dough prone to tearing).
You can use store-bought refrigerated pizza dough too, but you’ll need to divide and shape it in the containers before you try to stretch it. It usually comes in 1 lb portions, which will make really big pizzas if you stretch them this way.
Store-bought dough has also had lots and lots of time to relax before you get your hands on it. Taking a few minutes to divide and shape the dough into rounds will make it much easier to stretch and give it some structure so that it doesn’t tear.
use a generous amount of flour
I dust about a quarter cup of flour on the counter and sprinkle even more over the top of the dough to absorb any residual oil from the deli container.
In one of the many, many, many videos I watched to practice my hand stretching skills, I saw one pizza place actually drop the whole dough ball in a container of flour and toss it to thoroughly coat all the sides before stretching it. So don’t be shy about flour here.
As the surface area of the dough increases, the flour spreads out. If you don’t have enough flour down, the dough will become sticky and hard to handle. If you feel a sticky spot as you stretch, simply plop the dough back on the floured counter and make sure it’s nice and evenly coated again.
always protect your crust
Once your dough is well floured, it’s time to define the crust. You don’t have to be super precise here, just press your fingers into the dough about half an inch from the edges.
Then spin the dough against the counter and repeat all the way around. I find this helps protect the crust from getting too thin as you stretch the dough. By the time the dough is all stretched your crust might look fairly thin, but because you’ve protected it, it’ll still bubble up nicely in the oven.
it’s time to stretch
With the crust protected, it’s time to start stretching. Gently pick the dough up and hold it upright, letting it stretch down toward the counter.
Once again, let gravity do most of the work. Rotate the dough through your hands, letting it continue stretching down until it’s about eight or nine inches across or until it doesn’t seem to want to stretch on its own anymore.
The dough will be toughest at this point and might resist being stretched. That’s okay. Don’t rush it here. The more it stretches the easier it will become to stretch. So be patient at this stage. You’re just warming up.
Then, slide a hand under the dough, with your palm and fingertips against the counter. Stretching the dough on the backs of your hands creates a softer, sloped surface that’s less likely to tear the dough than if you held your hands with your palms and fingertips facing up.
With the dough resting on the back of one hand (and even up your wrist if the dough needs more support) use your other hand to stretch and rotate the dough. The first hand remains stationary while the other hand moves the dough (don’t worry, there’s a video below if this is confusing).
In the photo above, my left hand is stationary and my right hand is sliding under the right edge of the dough. I lift the dough up on the back of my right hand, using my knuckles to stretch the dough as I lift my hand up and cross it over my left hand. Then, I slip the dough off my right hand and repeat the process. You may find it easier to kind of bounce the dough on your stationary hand as you do this so that it doesn’t stick.
I know this sounds complicated, but I promise if you watch the video it will make sense. And sense is a key word here. Because this should feel like a fairly sensical (as in: the opposite of non-sensical) process.
When you’re doing it right it will feel right. If it doesn’t feel right, keep adjusting your hands and the dough until it does. You’ll know when you’ve got it.
If you were to speed it up and raise your arms upright it would almost, almost be like you were tossing the pizza dough in the air like the gosh darn professional you will be someday. (Okay, maybe it would look more like spinning a basketball on your knuckles. But you get the idea.)
At this point, the center of the dough should be pretty thin, which means it’s time to work on stretching the thicker part of the dough closer to the crust. Again, slide your hands under the dough so that it rests on the backs of your hands, and spread your fingers apart to give the dough more support.
Start with your hands side-by-side, then move them away from each other, using your knuckles to stretch the dough. Just like in the previous step, you’ll cross one hand over the other and slip the dough off to rotate it.
Gravity will still be a huge help here as it stretches the dough down toward the counter. If you need to, let the bottom of the dough it rest on the counter so that it doesn’t tear.
It’s up to you how thick or thin you want your dough to be. I like a crispy, thin crust pizza so my goal is always to get the dough almost translucent in the center. (Don’t worry, it’ll still be bubbly!) If you prefer a slightly thicker crust, you can stop stretching earlier in the process.
If your dough is particularly fragile, you can do this final stretching step with the dough lying flat on the counter. Just pick up the edges and stretch gently, letting the dough slip through your fingertips so you don’t squish or tear it.
From there you transfer the dough to a pizza peel (more on this in the notes below), arrange it back into a circle, add your toppings, and bake it.
I know at this stage it’s going to look quite flat and not at all bubbly. That’s okay! See all the tiny bubbles across the surface of the dough? Those will expand and inflate when the dough hits the hot baking steel. Bubbly pizza crust dreams, fulfilled.
Still feeling confused? This should make it a little easier to follow:
how to hand stretch pizza dough
a few quick tips for stretching pizza dough
- When you hand stretch pizza dough you can make things easier on yourself by dipping a half-cup scoop into your flour container and leaving it on the counter while you’re working. That way if you need to dust more flour down, you can pinch it from the scoop instead of sticking your hands back in the flour container.
- The dough balls I work with usually weigh about 150-280g each, depending on if I’m dividing my dough in thirds or into quarters.
- If your dough fights you or is resistant to stretching, lay it flat on the counter and let it rest for 5-10 minutes. Then resume stretching. This is also a helpful tip if you want your pizza to just be bigger in general. Once you get it about 10″ across, let it rest 5 minutes then resume stretching.
- The best way to cook pizza at home, imo, is on a scorching hot baking steel. A baking stone will also work, but the steels retain heat much better and are far easier to clean. Preheat your baking steel at 500F for an hour prior to baking and your pizza will cook to crispy, bubbly perfection in 4-7 minutes.
- Transferring the dough onto the peel is easiest if you have a friend who can quickly slip the peel under the dough for you. If you’re flying solo, just flip the dough over one arm to give it as much support as possible, and then slip it off your arm onto the peel. Don’t worry if it lands as a wrinkled pile. If your peel and dough are generously floured, it’ll be fine. Just arrange it back into a circle shape.
- Before you launch the pizza off the peel and into the oven give it a few shakes on the peel to make sure it’s not stuck. If it sticks in any spots, just dust some extra flour under that spot and give it another shake to make sure it’s able to slide back and forth on the peel without a problem.
a quick FAQ
I like to dust my pizza peel with a 50/50 blend of semolina flour and all purpose flour. This is a tip I picked up from Andris over at the Baking Steel company. The all purpose helps prevent the dough from sticking and the semolina flour is slightly coarser and helps the pizza slide off the peel and on to the baking steel. If you don’t have semolina, you can use 100% all-purpose flour. And if you don’t have a pizza peel you can transfer your shaped pizza dough to a sheet of parchment paper on the back of a sheet pan to slide the pizza into the oven.
If you don’t have a baking stone or a steel, The Kitchn has some suggestions for alternatives including using an inverted baking sheet, though I can’t personally vouch for how well they work! You may want to divide your dough into even smaller portions or make personal pan sized pizzas if you use these methods.
Pizza dough requires a strong gluten network to stretch without tearing. If your pizza dough is tearing, it might be over proofed. This is normal and can happen if your pizza dough has been sitting in the fridge for a few days before you stretch it. You just have to be a little more gentle with your stretching or stretch a smaller pizza. Another reason your dough might tear is if you added a little too much water or didn’t knead or stretch it enough in the shaping process to build that strong, stretchy gluten network.
If the dough tears at all, place it back on the counter and pinch it back together. The flour might make it hard for the dough to stick to itself, so you can use a damp fingertip as glue if needed and then dust with flour so it doesn’t stick to the counter. Just be careful of the thin spot as you continue stretching. If it tears again, pinch it back and give it a few mins to rest before you resume stretching.
There are a couple ways to hand stretch a super thin crust pizza using this method. One is to start with a smaller ball of dough. The other is to give the dough plenty of time to rest as you stretch it. I would recommend covering the dough with a clean towel between each step and giving it at least 3 minutes to rest before you pick it up and continue stretching. Each time you let it relax, you’ll be able to stretch it a little further on the next stretch.
the practical kitchen’s pizza recipes
- arugula and prosciutto pizza
- basic overnight pizza dough (with baking steel instructions)
- breakfast pizza with béchamel sauce and a fried egg on top
- chicken marsala crispy cheesy pan pizza
- ask the practical kitchen: when should i put fresh basil on pizza?
- pulled pork barbecue pizza
how to hand stretch pizza dough
- 1 ball pizza dough (proofed in a round deli container)
- lots of flour (for dusting)
- Generously flour a clean countertop. Flip the dough out of the plastic deli container. Generously flour the top of the dough, too.You want enough flour to coat the surface of the dough as it stretches so it doesn't stick to the counter or your hands.
- Use your fingers to create an indent around the edge to create a “crust,” rotating the dough as you go. Press firmly and deeply but your fingertips shouldn't touch the counter.
- Gently pick the dough up by the crust. Rotate it through your hands, letting gravity pull it down toward the counter.
- Place the dough on the back of one hand, with your fingertips curved pointing down to support the dough. Keep that hand stationary. Use the back of your other hand to slide under the dough, lifting and rotating it across your stationary hand. Alternately: Place the dough across the backs of both hands with fingertips curved down toward the counter. Hold your hands close together, then stretch gently away from each other. Rotate the dough and repeat.
- Keep rotating and stretching on the backs of your hands until it's the size you want.(If it feels fragile at any point, if you need to readjust your hands, or if you think it needs more flour, you can place it down on the counter and then resume stretching, or stretch the edges while it's on the counter by picking them up and letting gravity do its thing.)
- When the dough is the size you want, transfer it onto a well floured pizza peel and gently arrange it back into a circle shape.
- Add your cheese and toppings. Give the pizza a shake on the peel to make sure it isn't stuck, then bake on a pre-heated baking steel at 500F for 4-5 mins.