Have you noticed lately that the more you pay for a pizza, the more likely it is to be burned? Your neighborhood pizzeria doesn’t do it. The dollar slice places would never dream of burning your pie. But if you pay $20 or more for a boutique smaller pie, there will probably be charred spots the size of a quarter along the circumference of the crust and, quite often, big, ugly, burned bubbles like unsightly blisters.
This feature has actually become a predominant flavor element, and when you bite into your expensive pie, the entire pie often tastes burned. If you’d ordered anything else that arrived burned — mac and cheese, refried beans, a souffle — you’d probably send it back.
Yes, these pizzerias will tell you, the higher temperature of the wood-burning oven (around 800 degrees) as opposed to the conventional pizza oven (around 500 degrees) necessitates rapid baking and produces a char here and there, and that char is part of the Neapolitan mystique (and apparently other styles). Less dough + higher temp = charred pie. When I ate pizza in Naples, though it may have been stippled with points of char, the pie never arrived with large burned areas. If a pie gets burned, the cooks tossed it out and started again.
Maybe some like their pizza charred and revel in the acrid flavor. That is certainly true of hot dogs, a taste developed around the campfire in childhood. Marshmallows in s’mores should likewise be burned. And ditto chorizo cooked in a flaming vessel in a tapas bar. But burnt foods are thought to be unhealthy (or maybe not), and various studies have linked them to cancer — so burnt pizza might actually be bad for you.
I asked someone who lives with a pizza chef and she said that there are generally a handful of reasons for a pizza maker burning a pie: Wood-burning ovens, in general, are more likely to burn a pie; when it comes to a gas oven it shouldn’t be opened too often lest the temperature fall, and a particular pizza getting yanked at just the right moment might endanger the progress of the other pies; there is a certain buccaneer quality among pizza chefs, who want to be known for cooking brashly and boldly, and charred pizza is a sign that those chefs are producing an admirable volume of pies; and inattention (or, more charitably, multitasking).
And another thing. Why are toppings on expensive pies often strewn at random, as if the baker couldn’t be bothered spreading them out evenly? The customer has to pick up individual mushrooms or slices of pepperoni and reallocate them so that everyone gets a fair share.