What the Hell Does Tossing Pizza Dough in the Air Actually Do, Though?

Those pizza chefs are just showing off, aren’t they?

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You won’t see your chain pizza makers tossing dough in the air, but when you go to an authentic, old-school-Italian pizza joint, nothing makes you feel like you’re getting some good pizza quite like seeing dough tossed in the air. It’s a spectacle, and if you’ve ever tried to do this yourself, it hardly comes easily.

But what does tossing the pizza really do? Sure it looks cool, but does it taste any different, or is it just for show?

As it turns out, there actually are a couple of good reasons to toss the dough. The first is simply in order to get the pizza to its proper size and shape. “Tossing the dough stretches the dough perfectly round, if you toss it right,” explains Chopped winner Giuseppe Fanelli, owner of Tredici North in Purchase, New York. You’re also building the crust, he continues, making the pizza a bit thinner in the middle and thicker on the ends.

It also affects the texture of the dough. Chef, Pizza Bible author and 13-time World Pizza Champion Tony Gemignani explains, “Depending on how you toss the pizza dough — including how fast and how long — you can change the texture of your dough. If you toss the dough fast, it can create light skin that allows your pizza to be crunchy on the outside and light and airy in the middle.” Getting things just right is a tough skill to master, taking a ton of practice, but Gemignani has a pretty handy how-to video on YouTube — just expect to have a lot of ruined pizzas before you get things right.

To get into that dough even deeper, Italian chef Amanda Vasquez tells me that by tossing the dough, “You’re trying to activate the gluten, which is what gives the dough its elasticity.” This is why you knead dough in the first place, to activate said gluten. By doing so, Vasquez explains that it gives the dough “that desirable light, airy, crunchy consistency.”

Still, Vasquez adds that simply stretching the dough isn’t much different, as that activates the gluten, too. “Some people toss it, some don’t, that’s a matter of preference,” she says. So while tossing the dough is useful, it’s simply one of the ways to get pizza to its proper size, shape and texture — not the only way. “It’s a chance to show off a little bit,” Vasquez admits. Fanelli confirms this, adding, “For those who have an open kitchen, it’s more for show.”

But what a show it is.