Cost of Convenience: Homemade vs. Frozen Pizza

Inspired by both the book Cooked and my Live Below the Line experiment, I’m doing a series of posts investigating how much extra trouble it is to cook at home. How much time do you really save? How much more does it cost? Plus all the intangibles like taste, knowing what’s in your food, the lack of various food additives, and the feeling of self-sufficiency. I’ll try not to be too preachy, as I’ve eaten my share of prepared food and take-out. In fact, don’t be surprised if the food-in-a-box wins sometimes.

So what’s a good place to start? Pizza! It’s quite easy to make your own pizza, but yet the frozen food aisle is packed with shrink-wrapped dough discs. It’s time for a showdown.

Making Your Own Pizza

Pizza dough only has a few ingredients, most of which are probably already in your pantry. Here’s one sample recipe that we worked off originally, but have adapted over time to our preferences. As for toppings, let’s start with a simple mozzarella and basil pizza with tomato sauce. Here’s a table of the ingredients and their cost for two medium pizzas. Unlike my poverty challenge, in real life I can buy things in bulk like a Costco jug of olive oil.

Ingredient Cost
Active dry yeast, 1 packet (0.25 oz) $0.75
Flour, white all-purpose, 2 cups $0.20
Olive oil, extra virgin, 2 tbsp $0.06
Salt, 1 tsp Less than $0.01
Sugar (white granulated), 2 tsp $0.05
Whole peeled tomatoes, 1 can (28 oz) $1.99
Mozzarella cheese, fresh, 8 oz. $3.99
Basil, fresh, 2 oz. (free from yard, some crazy price at supermarket… dried basil would be cheap alternative)

Recipe
In a large mixing bowl, dissolve yeast packet in 1 cup of warm water and add sugar. Wait a minute. Now add the 2 cups flour, olive oil, and salt. Mix until dough is formed. Cover with a wet paper towel and let it sit there and rise for about 30 minutes. At the same time, preheat oven to 450 F.

After dough has risen, roll out dough into desired shape and thinness. We make two rectangular pizzas out of this much dough, each on their own sheet pan. Line a sheet plan with aluminum foil and place dough on top. Drain and slice tomatoes and cheese. Pick off basil leaves from stem. Add toppings, though I like to save some fresh basil for just before eating.

Bake the whole thing at 450 F until golden brown on edges (about 20 minutes). This higher temperature helps make a thin, crispy crust.

Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 15 minutes
Extra idle time: 30 minutes
Total time: 1 hour
Cost: $7.05 for two pizzas
Calories: ~1,000 calories each pizza

We just use all-purpose flour as it is cheap and always in our pantry, and it tastes fine. Bread flour has more protein and gluten than all-purpose, making the crust chewier and more elastic. You could try a whole-grain flour as well. Growing your own basil plant is easy in many climates, and can even be done inside by a window. You could also use fresh tomatoes on the pizza, add various meat, do a white pizza, and so on.

Supermarket Frozen Pizza

The cheapest margherita pizza that I could find in the supermarket aisle was a California Pizza Kitchen pizza for $6.99. Given the size, it would take two pizzas to equal the amount of pizza from above.

Prep time: 0 minutes
Cook time: 15 minutes
Total time: 15 minutes
Cost: $14 + sales tax for two pizzas
Calories: 1,300 calories each pizza

Looking at the ingredients, additives I noticed were the following “dough conditioners”: distilled monoglycerides, calcium sulfate, guar gum, wheat starch, sodium metabisulfite, ascorbic acid. I’m not really sure what in that list is good or bad for you. Also, the primary oil included is soybean oil as opposed to extra virgin olive oil. There is olive oil as a “topping”, but it’s the next-to-last ingredient with the dried basil flakes.

The Results

It shouldn’t surprise you that we both like the taste of our homemade pizza much more than the CPK pizza. The CPK pizza had cardboard-ish dough, a thin layer of cheese, and sad little bits of basil sawdust. The homemade pizza had chewy dough, fresh mozzarella, and the actual taste of basil leaves. I honestly don’t know where the extra calories come from as the homemade pizza was actually larger. (I used the calculator at MyFitnessPal to add up the calories.) My guess is more soybean oil and denser dough.

Making your own pizza ends up taking 15 additional minutes of work and 30 minutes of doing whatever while the dough rises (check e-mail, work, read MyMoneyBlog.com). You can even make the pizza dough ahead of time and store it in the fridge (or freezer). The extra 15 minutes saves you $7, working out to $28/hour of after-tax savings. Now, there are definitely cheaper frozen pizzas out there, but they would probably taste even worse.

Winner: Homemade pizza. Mrs. MMB and I deem better taste for 15 extra minutes a worthy trade-off. Being cheaper is just a side benefit. We make our own pizza much more often than we eat frozen, but we do buy some frozen pizzas occasionally as they are nice to have around when you’re really just feeling tired and hungry.

Comments

  1. Love your experiments in homemade food.

    Leave out the sugar to reduce cost and calories. It will taste better. I bet you could parbake some of the pizza bases and freeze them. You could top them with anything you have available. Then you wouldn’t have to resort to some packaged frozen mess with toxic ingredients.

  2. @Virginia, the sugar is there to feed the yeast; without it, you won’t get the same rise out of the dough.

    For our homemade pizzas, we use an America’s Test Kitchen technique of browning the pizza in an oven-safe skillet on the stove before moving the whole thing to the oven to finish.

  3. I really look forward to this series of posts, particularly the cost savings calculation.

    My wife and I have made homemade pizza every Friday for the last 6 years. I strongly recommend using a pizza stone; it will transform your crust.

  4. I’ve no doubt that the homemade is better for you and tastes better, and is probably a bit cheaper that most I could find. But it’s an extra 45 minutes to eating, not just the 15 of work.

    That’s a long time when you get home late and haven’t had dinner yet and bedtime isn’t far off but you still need time to digest.

  5. I’m totally with you on the homemade pizza front. But I feel like you left the 30 minutes or so it takes the dough to rise out of your 15 minute prep time calculation. (And I suppose there is more cleanup after.) Although, when you get home from work at 8 or 9 at night and still need to eat……

    • I’m confused why the amount of time to prepare dough as been excluded from prep time. I make homemade pizza every Friday and it is very time-consuming. Even when I’ve bought store bought dough ready to roll out, 15 minutes is at best half the prep time, but you have presented this as 15 minutes prep time from scratch. Here’s my breakdown of time … 10 min for the yeast to sit in warm water and sugar; 1 hour dough to rise; 10-15 min kneading or 5 min with a dough mixer; 10 min rolling out two crusts; 10 min par baking (5 min per crust); 10-15 min of toppings preparation; 10 min dress pizzas. My total is 2 hours give or take 10 or 15 min. And this doesn’t even account for the amount of time it takes to flash freeze the pizzas before they can be wrapped properly.

      And if you intend to add children to this project then you have to plan for 25-50% more time than that.

  6. Oh, I should add that sometimes I just buy the pre-made dough at my grocery store bakery to save time.

  7. One alternative that maintains quality and increases speed is purchasing a premade crust – Boboli is one brand, but I often buy store brand. It usually costs $2-$4 a crust. I do something similar for an Udi’s gluten-free crust for my girlfriend. I also like to make my own pesto pizza, which you can’t duplicate in the freezer aisle. Also works for a great, quick party food that you can prep quickly and customize to your group.

    Something that has recently captured my attention was how much sodium is in 1 serving of frozen pizza. 2 slices usually contains 90% of your daily recommended sodium intake! I usually eat 4 slices. How do they pack all that salt in? The frozen “artisan” pizzas are usually a bit lower, but still very high.

  8. Back when I made pizza I picked up 4 unglazed terracotta tile (“quarry tile”) at Home Despot for $0.75 each to use as a makeshift pizza stone. I placed them in the oven to preheat at whatever the highest temp was (500 or 550) while the dough was rising. I formed the pizza on a piece of parchment paper on the back of a sheet pan. I used the sheet pan as a pizza peel and slid the pizza onto the hot tiles. I used whole milk mozzarella if I could find it.

    It was fun to make pizza on a weekend, when I was more relaxed and had more time. For weeknights, an option was to make the dough in the morning, place in an oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate. Upon returning home from work, take the dough out, punch it down, let it rest while placing the pizza tiles in the oven and preheating, then proceed to roll out and top it before baking.

  9. I realize it takes much longer, but I got my pizza-dough recipe and technique from Alton Brown. The difference is you knead the dough pretty thoroughly and then allow it to rise a second time (after knocking it down after the first rise) in the refrigerator. That makes the dough develop much more of a fermented flavor which makes a huge difference. Only really suitable for a weekend though. We also use a pizza stone.

  10. Pro-tip, add the basil after it comes out of the oven. It won’t get destroyed by the baking process and you’ll have more fragrant herbs.

  11. When I make pizza I use boboli crust, a lot more cheese, and either ham our bacon, so it usually costs more than the frozen pizzas that I buy. I usually only buy frozen when they’re on sale for 5 bucks or less, and I actually kind of love those $1 tonitas, although I need two of them to be satisfied. Still, 2 bucks ain’t bad

  12. Sam’s club has 2 pound bulk yeast for under $5. I keep it in the freezer. Any kind of homemade bread products are always so much healthier and more delicious. And I feel like the more frequently I cook at home, the easier it becomes.

  13. Dee – you beat me to it … the Pizza Stone!

    A pizza stone makes a huge difference, especially if you like extra-thin, Neopitain style pizza (10 minutes at 500 degrees). They do require pre- heating the oven so additional planning is needed, and a paddle helps get the pie off the hot stone. Well worth it.

    An alternative to sugar is honey. The yeast need food. And the longer you mnead the dough, the better. Adding even ten minutes at knead makes a huge difference.

  14. Been making home made pizza for almost 10 yrs now. Even showed some co-workers how easy it is to make one at home. It just taste so much better. And most kids would love to make their own.

  15. The California Pizza Kitchen also uses suppliers that dehorn their dairy cows- which as you might be able to guess is an unnecessary, cruel, and painful thing to do to cows. I won’t be buying any pizza from them, and part of the benefit of cooking from home is you can choose humane ingredients.

    Here is a link to tell CPK to stop using suppliers that dehorn their cows:

    https://secure.peta.org/site/Advocacy?cmd=display&page=UserAction&id=4933

  16. Veronica says:

    My sister-in-law just gave me a great recipe for at home pizza.

    Equal parts Self-Rising Flour and Greek Yoghurt – To make the dough –
    You knead it for 8 min. – Done.
    It is very good and I think it must be more nutritional because of all the protein in the yoghurt.

    That would help with the time savings.

  17. I hope you guys make homemade dumplings next. I recently did this with much success and savings.

    Would love to see more from this series

  18. You can take the sugar out. Proofing instant yeast is not necessary. The yeast will happily feed on the flour. Proofing doesn’t hurt anything, but you can save yourself $0.05 and proofing time.

    Source: Years of pizza-making experience

    If you want to get even better results, knead the dough really well for 8 to 10 minutes (or more), let it rise for 1 hour or until it doubles in size (the rise time changes with temperature), divide it and form it into very tight dough balls (250g balls makes a nice size pizza for 1 person) then let those rise for another 30 minutes to 1 hour before making pizza with them.

    It adds time and effort, but it’s worth it (at least for me, others may feel differently). And like others have stated, get a pizza stone and crank the oven up to 550 degrees. The hotter the better.

    If you REALLY get into pizza making, you’ll want to make Neopolitan pizza dough. It only consists of Flour, Water, Salt and Yeast and NOTHING ELSE. If you see something that has any ingredients other than those, it’s not Neopolitan pizza. The rise time is more like 3 days in the fridge though.

  19. I would wholeheartedly agree that for the most part making food and eating at home is much better, but can’t really agree to that regarding pizza.

    I’m sure at home is healthier, but other than that I find that the taste, time, work and cost of store-bought pizza is much better. My favorite pizza right now is the four-meat pizza from Aldi for $1.99. We don’t eat pizza that often, but when I do, I try my best to get this one. They’ve also got the oversized 16-inch pizzas for $4.99 which are also good, just much more than we can eat in a session.

  20. I echo the point of buying your yeast in bulk, that .75 cost would plummet to about 2 cents. Also if your buying whole peeled tomatoes, get them at a warehouse store where you can buy a 6lb can for $3. And you definitely don’t need the sugar.

    Here are 2 tips I’m going to offer that will change your life if you are into baking pizza, bread, bagels, you name it. The first is for pizza, buy this grill, formerly known as Za-Grill. (
    http://www.amazon.com/Eastman-.....door+grill). You place it on your bbq grill and the deflector disk under the pan bakes your pizza by convection. I have been making the most amazing pizza on it for several years now. I also bake bread on it.. that’s right, bread baked on a gas grill. Its a great way to bake without heating up your oven/home in the hot summer months. 2nd tip is to buy or checkout from the library the book ‘The Best Bread Ever’ by Charles Van Over. The whole book is based on using your food processor to make your dough. The recipe I use for my pizza dough is in it, along with every other dough recipe I use. All dough is made in the food pro where its whipped around for 45 seconds and you’re done, no kneading, no punching down/2nd rise, that’s it, you just leave it in a bowl for a few hours and its ready. For pizza dough you can make it the night before and put it in the fridge overnight, or in the morning, its so simple and once you get the hang of it you should take no more then 2 or 3 mins (mostly spent cleaning up) to make your dough.

  21. My wife and I are inspired by this movement. We have challenged ourselves not to eat out for the month of August and strictly make foods at home. Even some of our favorites like sushi, subway sandwiches, and chicken wings. Eating out… I’m sure like most families, is the 2nd biggest expenditure in our budget behind housing costs. I know, crazy!!!! We average about $200 bucks a weekend! (in Los Angeles). We love to cook, so we plan on converting this months eating out budget to beefing up or kitchen with a deli slicer and a deep fryer. And if its a hit hopefully just keep doing it for the rest of the year… Oh boy, getting hungry just thinking about it!

  22. Jack Anderson says:

    While you were buying your olive oil at Costco, you could have also stopped by the frozen aisle to buy Kirkland frozen pizzas at 4 for $11.62 ($2.91 per pizza).

    Just sayin’!

  23. Personally I like the taste of the $1.25 frozen pizzas. Making your own from scratch *may* be healthier, but the suggestion that it comes at a lower cost I think would be comical to most.

  24. Nice…that is exactly what am i going to do this week..homemade pizzza

  25. rwsinflorida says:

    The REAL secrets (learned only after YEARS of experience)
    are:
    1. Use 3 parts high-gluten flour,1 part semolina flour,
    1/2 part whole wheat flour and make 3-5 dough balls at a time – they will keep for 3-5 days in fridge – and taste better with each day.
    2. Use fresh bulk yeast – less than a teaspoon.
    3. Use QUALITY honey instead of sugar – up to a tablespoon.
    4. Do NOT add salt or other herbs.
    Lastly, let your electric mixer slowing mix using dough hook and then your electric bread maker do the kneading – Then rise and rest dough TWICE
    You MUST have a pizza STONE. (not PAN)
    Preheat oven at least 30 minutes to 500 or more.

    Regarding the source: 30 years pizza-making experience –
    I charge $250 for each lesson session and have never had a complaint. In fact, years later, I get messages from clients who continue to report the thousands of dollars they’ve saved never buying another pizza – and how much healthier the pizzas are !

  26. Great comments, I am definitely the amateur baker around here! I thought about buying the bulk yeast that I saw at Costco, but it just seemed like so much for my needs. If I buy a pizza stone, I’ll buy the bag o’ yeast.

  27. Great post and discussion, thanks for taking the effort to give detailed instructions, it’s appreciated!

  28. rwsinflorida says:

    Forgot to mention in prior post:

    1. Bulk yeast just means fresh yeast – you do NOT have to buy a large quantity. Fresh yeast can usuaully be bought out of large “bulk” containers at health food stores and is very inexpensive. ALWAYS pre-mix the yeast using warm (110 degree or less) filtered water.
    2. The same is true for high-gluten flour.
    3. You can enhance your dough by adding up to a tablespoon of olive oil to each batch of dough. Will always improve texture
    and sometimes improve flavor – depending on oil.
    4. Home-made pizza, including ALL ingredients will cost less than 1/2 of all commercial pizzas – both store and restaurant

  29. rwsinflorida knows her/his stuff. I do some of that same technique and get fantastic crusts. I have stayed away from bread flour and typically mix 2/3s flour to 1/3 whole wheat, but have not tried adding the high-gluten flour and definitely will try it.

    Fresh yeast makes a hug difference – cannot stress rehydrating at 110 or lower enough, though. Above 110 will kill the yeast. I typically make a double batch of dough, knead it generously, let it raise/punch it down twice in the process. I have found that you can freeze single serving dough balls which work well a few weeks or months later. But fresh is fantastic for a thin crust.

    Pizza stone or Dee’s idea of ceramic tiles are a must have. And some method for getting it off the stone (we have a wooden pizza paddle).

  30. You made the crust, why can tomatoes instead of fresh?

  31. @Jennifer – We’ve tried fresh tomatoes before, but canned tomatoes tend to be more ripe rather than the green tomatoes sprayed to turn red in the grocery store. Also moisture is an issue so it’s good to dry out the canned tomatoes pressed on a paper towel to avoid soggy crust. Fresh tomatoes tend to keep in their moisture more until they cook, making the crust soggy. If you can get vine-ripe fresh tomatoes and can dry them out a bit, that would be best.

  32. This looks so good. I’m going to have to make this someday using that recipe.

    Thanks for sharing!

  33. Not that I’m disparaging the quality of homemade pizza, but while you were at Costco getting the jug of olive oil, you could have picked up any one of a variety of good inexpensive frozen pizzas. The kirkland 4 pack for ~$10 would have changed the economics a bit. Their manhole sized take-and-bake are also under $10, usually with at least one on sale for $7ish. Sams Club also routinely sells a cheese or pepperoni for <$8.

    Trader Joe's also sells nice homemade looking frozen pizza that are much tastier than CPK, and most local markets sell premade pizza dough for cheap, which takes most of the work out of home made.

  34. Home made doesn’t save money if you use good quality ingredients. To someone like me it is more about what we eat. I rather eat good food than have a $600 iPhone.

  35. My pizza’s are made starting with the $1.99 five pack of Naan from H Mart. They are the perfect size to make individual pizzas. I brush with olive oil, add toppings, and bake for 10 minutes. Takes 15 to 20 minutes, depending if I have to grate the cheese.

  36. Interesting topic as we switched to homemade pizza only a few years ago, and I’ve perfected the process. First pizza out of the oven in about 28 minutes from getting home for the hungry kids. If you’re in a hurry forget about letting the dough rise, it doesn’t make much difference for thin crispy crust.

    0:00
    First preheat oven to 450F
    Mix in a bowl 4 cups flour, 1 tablespoon bulk yeast, 1 tspn salt:
    0:02
    Then add in 3 tablespoons of oil. I’ve been using avocado oil from Costco.
    add in 1.5 cups of ~130F water. (1 cup from my on tap 180F and 0.5c tap)
    Stir for a few seconds then dump on the counter and knead for about 4 minutes.
    0:08

    Take half the dough and roll out and put on a pizza pan and right into the oven for 8 minutes.
    0:10

    During this 8 minutes, clean up your dough mixing bowl, get out the tomato sauce, cheese, and whatever else you want.
    0:18
    Pull out the pizza crust, add the tomato sauce, cheese, toppings,
    0:20
    and back into the oven for 8 minutes. And then serve.
    0:28

    I then make the 2nd pizza for lunch/dinner the next day.

  37. Haha, the frozen one looks disgusting compared to the homemade one you made :-)

    Homemade is definitely the way to go!

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