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Derek Gaughan was in the market for a pizza oven, and he quickly discovered there was a large learning curve when buying a pizza oven and various accessories such as pans. In order to share the knowledge he’s gained from digging deep, he started Pala Pizza, a site that tests and reviews outdoor pizza ovens and pizza pans. Throughout the journey, Gaughan and his team started recommending how to make the “best” pizzas tailored to the products he’s reviewing. And, LloydPans’ Detroit-Style Pizza Pan made the list! We spoke to Gaughan about the LloydPans difference and the ovens each pan slides into. 

Pala Pizza reviews aren’t necessarily aimed toward a home cook. Instead, you’re doing the legwork for a more serious group. Even commercial pizzerias or foodservice operators can gain knowledge from testers working beforehand.

Exactly. Just like many commercial pizza makers today, I’m self-taught. It started when I was in the market years ago looking for a pizza oven. Historically, pizza ovens used to be $3,000 and up, and if you were going to build something in your backyard, you needed a big budget. Then, Ooni and Gozney came into the market, and that’s when I jumped on it. I was researching which one to buy, and the process sparked the creation of the website. 

I was in a commercial kitchen operator’s shoes: What’s the difference between the ovens on the market? Plus, there’s a big learning curve in pizza ovens versus a home oven. Getting over hurdles as to what heat should a given oven be on when you’re cooking? Sometimes the Ooni flame should be lower, while the Gozney should be higher, for example.

What is your review process and how long does it take?

The biggest thing is I have to actually use the oven before I write about it. There’s so many review websites, and that’s where I try to differentiate when I’m writing about it. I can’t afford to buy every oven, and there are some that are too big and bulky, so I find a lot of people within a reasonable local distance who will let me use them. In those cases, I like to get at least one full cook of each pizza type. Neapolitan is popular with these ovens, but I try to do New York and Detroit-style as well. If I have the oven in my house, I use it longer, up to a month before I write about it. If I’m traveling farther and use someone else’s, I try to get at least those three cooks in.

Let’s talk about the ovens first. In your opinion, what’s the criteria for making an oven the “best?”

Most of the companies like to market the preheat time, and 90% of the time whatever they’re saying is not true. You can’t throw a cold pizza dough onto a stone in 15 minutes and expect a nicely cooked bottom crust; I like to throw their preheat time out the window and almost double that. The best thing I look for in bigger ovens is how long the oven retains heat. That shows how well-insulated the oven is and how many cooks you can do one after another. For the little ones, it comes down to size. The 16-inch ovens are way better than the 12-inch ones because there is more room to fine-tune the placement of the pizza without being too close to the flame. 

How many different pan manufacturers have you tested thus far? And what’s the criteria there?

I tested the Detroit-style steel pans, and for those you need to use them for a bit before they work. There’s a seasoning process that you have to go through before you get a solid Detroit pizza out of it. I like to parbake the dough and then put the cheese in for the final bake to achieve a golden crust. The LloydPans Detroit-Style Pizza Pan works best, especially because of the non-stick finish. The cheese never burns to the pan. With the steel pans, I absolutely have that problem, and to get that golden frico crust is a little more difficult. As I say in my review, LloydPans’ hard anodized 14-gauge aluminum pans with the PRE SEASONED Tuff-Kote finish does a great job at preventing stuck-on-crust — a very common problem first timers encounter when baking this pizza. It also eliminates the need to pre-season a regular steel pan, which can take multiple ruined pizzas before it becomes non-stick.

If you could make the perfect pizza, what would it look like? 

I have to give you two. I recently started doing some sauce on top of New York-style that I really love. I cook the sauce down to a little bit thicker kind of Detroit sauce and scatter on top of a New York-style pizza that’s fantastic. My favorite Detroit that I make is Shakshuka — a dish with eggs and a spicy sauce. As weird as that sounds, it’s great on pizza.   

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