AIB’s Zeak details the ‘must have’ pizza-making gear

It’s possible to produce good pizza in a restaurant kitchen with a few well-chosen pieces of equipment, said Jeffrey Zeak, manager of the pilot plant of AIB International, which has a School of Baking in Manhattan, Kan. The 21-year veteran of the baking and food industries divides pizza gear into “must have,” “nice to have” and “really nice to have” categories and suggests buying multifunctional equipment for the greatest cost efficiency.

“If I was a restaurateur, I would want my investment to apply to as many things as possible,” said Zeak, who is one of the instructors of AIB International’s Practical Pizza Production Technology seminar.

What is the “must have” equipment for pizza?

A mixer, an oven, a workbench and a scale for weighing dough and toppings. Cheese, for instance, is too expensive to “free throw” on a pizza. You also need refrigeration for perishable ingredients, such as a refrigerated make-up table.

What are the “nice to have” and “really nice to have” pieces?

To take it to the next level, you could add a dough press or sheeter. And if you can spend more, it would be really nice to have a dough divider and rounder, a proof box, and a freezer.

What sort of mixers should operators consider?

To make sizeable dough, say enough for 25-30 pizzas, you’ll need a little bit of space and quite a bit of power. So I suggest at minimum a 30-quart mixer. But I advise people to plan ahead for growth. You may wish you bought a 60- or 80-quart mixer.

As for types, the kitchen may already have a planetary or vertical mixer. The spindle has a planetary motion to cover the whole bowl and move through the dough at different points for a kneading action. In addition to a dough hook, it can use other useful attachments such as a flat paddle for mixing sauces or a meat grinder.

What ovens should operators consider?

A lot of restaurant kitchens have convection ovens, which have a fan inside. Generally, you have to stop baking and rotate your product during cooking. If you leave it on the shelf in the same position all the time, it will have a darker side. The next level of oven, the rack oven, has a carriage that spins the rack of products, eliminating the need to rotate. The traditional pizza oven is the hearth or deck oven that has a heated rock or concrete surface and does a nice job of making a crispy crust.