Budget-Friendly Hacks To Elevate Frozen Pizzas

Sometimes when you get home from a long day, you can't fathom the idea of really cooking dinner, and popping a frozen pizza in the oven is all you can muster. We've all been there. Luckily, you stocked up your freezer for this exact occasion. But just because you're exhausted doesn't mean you can't add a little culinary flair to your grocery store standby.


Frozen pizzas have been around since the dawn of time (just kidding — the first frozen pizzas hit grocery store shelves in the 1950s) and often, it seems like they were made in the Stone Age, providing little flavor and having the texture of wet cardboard. But it doesn't have to be this way! There are plenty of easy and cheap ways to make your dinner feel like it came from the mom-and-pop shop down the street, not your freezer. And the best part is you don't need a fancy pizza oven to do it.

Turn up the heat

You probably already have the main tool needed for a delicious pizza: an oven! The key to a crispy crust is a blazing hot oven, and professional pizza ovens usually operate around 700-800 F. While your home oven won't be able to get quite that hot, there's no need to buy an elaborate home pizza oven or even a pizza stone. Just crank up the oven temp to the max, usually around 500 F (make sure it's on the bake setting, rather than broil), and leave a sheet pan in the oven while it's preheating. This preheated pan will remove any moisture in the crust, so your pizza will be crunchy, not soggy.


In addition to a super-hot oven, cook your pizza on the bottom rack, because the heat is strongest at the bottom of the oven, making your crust crispy without scorching the toppings. Bake for around 5 to 8 minutes, and keep an eye on your pizza to make sure it doesn't burn.

Incorporate more cheese into the mix

How much cheese is too much cheese? While you might not need as much as, say, Costco puts on their signature pie, adding an extra layer of cheese over the top of your pizza will make a world of difference. And it doesn't have to be the high-end stuff; any grated cheese on top (even a torn-up piece of string cheese) will make your pie more gooey and delicious. But be careful–if you drown your pie in cheese, it will weigh down the pizza and give you that dreaded soggy crust.


A pro tip is to add your extra cheese at the halfway mark so it's less likely to burn (fresh cheese cooks a lot faster than the frozen stuff because it's, well, not frozen). You can also sprinkle on some hard cheeses, like Pecorino or Parmesan, right when you take the pizza out of the oven. Or scatter some handfuls of softer non-melting cheeses like goat or feta to give your pizza some extra oomph.

Add fresh toppings after baking

Once your pizza is done cooking, top it off with some fresh goodies like basil, lemon zest, or arugula. (If you blast these delicate ingredients with heat, they'll lose their flavor and texture.) Think outside the pizza box and try other fresh produce you might have in your fridge, like a few slivers of scallions or a handful of cilantro. Grate some fresh garlic over the top for a pungent pop, or add some thin jalapeño slices for a bit of extra heat. What about some fennel shavings or slices of apple? These fresh ingredients will not only brighten up your dinner but will also add some much-needed texture to the once-frozen pie.


Chances are you already have something in your fridge that can do the trick and it's a great way to use up produce that might otherwise end up in the trash. But for a true budget-friendly hack, load up on toppings at the grocery store salad bar. This way, you can get a plethora of ingredients without wasting product or money.

Pick a quality pizza

For a delicious dinner, you need to start with a delicious product. The good news is that you don't have to spend a lot of money to get a high-quality frozen pizza. Fortunately, there have been many innovations in frozen food science since the mid-20th century, and these days, it's possible to find a quality pizza in the frozen aisle for anywhere between $5 and $10. Even if you want to splurge a little on one of the more gourmet options, think about it this way: Any frozen pizza is going to be less expensive than a delivery pizza, no matter which way you slice it.


With the plethora of choices now available in the grocery store, it might be difficult to choose your perfect pie. (In fact, pizza is only second to ice cream in terms of abundance of choice in the freezer section, according to the New York Times). If you want a pizza that you can just pop in the oven and enjoy as-is, go for one with some toppings that sound good to you, like Tombstone Roadhouse's Loaded Double Down Deluxe Pizza, which was rated No. 1 in Tasting Table's frozen pizza ranking. If you know you're going to want to customize your pie, choose a plain cheese pizza. Both Screamin' Sicilian and Red Baron came out on top in a Mashed ranking that focused solely on frozen cheese pizza.

Pile on the fresh veggies

Nothing makes a frozen meal feel fresh like ... fresh ingredients! Think thinly sliced onions and peppers, or how about some spinach and asparagus? You don't have to buy anything new — just raid that crisper drawer and use what you've got. Use more watery vegetables, like mushrooms and tomatoes, sparingly–as they cook, they'll release their water into the pie and make it squishy. (You can par-cook these water-logged veg in order to avoid this, but this step is optional.) It's important to slice your veggies thinly and evenly, so you get fresh veggie goodness in every bite.


A quick way to give your vegetables a simple flavor boost is to season them with a little olive oil, salt, and pepper before adding them to the pizza. Sprinkle on some Italian seasoning, if you really want to lean into pizza's home country. Seasoning your veggies will bring out their natural flavors and amp up their crispiness.

Reach for your fridge staples

Okay, so maybe you haven't gone to the farmer's market in a minute and don't have anything fresh lying around the house. Your pizza isn't doomed! You probably have some ingredients languishing in the back of the fridge that will make for delicious last-minute pizza toppings. Anything cured or pickled is your friend — think capers, pickled peppers like jalapeños, or olives. Go beyond the standard black olive and try other varieties, like kalamata or Castelvetrano — just make sure to get the pitted kind, or you'll be in for an unpleasant, tooth-breaking surprise when you bite in.)


Marinated vegetables make great pizza toppings as well, like sundried tomatoes, marinated artichokes, and confit garlic. Pickled and marinated veggies are swimming in yummy oils and seasonings, so they bring more to the party than just a plain vegetable.

One way to save your hard-earned dough while still having delicious toppings at the ready is to marinate or pickle veggies yourself. It's super easy and a lot cheaper than buying those small, expensive jars. Plus you can customize them to your exact tastes. Win-win!

Make it a meat-lovers' pie

If you're buying a pepperoni pizza, you want to actually taste the pepperoni, and some frozen pizzas are skimpy on the toppings. A quick upgrade is to just add more. Keep a bag of pepperoni in your fridge for when the time strikes.


Pepperoni is of course the obvious choice, but think about adding other cured meats to your pizza. Who says prosciutto has to stay on a charcuterie board? You could go for salami (pepperoni is technically a type of salami, but there are plenty of other varieties), soppressata, or Tony Soprano's favorite, gabagool (also known by its formal name, capicola). You can also throw on any leftover meat you have, like chicken, sausage, or bacon. Crumble on some chorizo or even leftover meatballs from that spaghetti dinner. Have some spare cold cuts? Top off your pizza with a few torn-up slices of ham or turkey. Any of these options will give your pizza an additional richness that you definitely won't get out of the box.


Dollop on additional sauces and condiments

Sometimes the sauce on a frozen pizza just doesn't cut it. Make it saucier by adding some extra marinara from that jar of pasta sauce in your fridge. Or take it up a notch and put a swirl of basil pesto on that pizza. If you've got other jarred sauces to work with, try Alfredo or vodka sauce. Go for ranch dressing or barbecue sauce, if that's your thing. If you're an overachiever, you can make any of these sauces from scratch (even just your basic tomato sauce) and freeze them, so you'll always have delicious, homemade sauce at the ready.


Even just a simple drizzle of some good olive oil will be a huge improvement. You can add extra sauce before or after cooking–just be careful not to go overboard with sauce or oil, lest you end up with a soggy pie.

Another easy way to make that once-frozen pizza crust even more delicious? Just dip it in your favorite sauce or condiment. You're welcome.

Baste the crust with olive oil or butter

The crust is usually the worst part of a frozen pizza. It can taste bland or stale, and sometimes it's mushy while other times it's hard as a rock. But you can help it out by seasoning your pizza crust and basting it with olive oil or melted butter. This additional touch will help bring some much-needed moisture to the crust.


If you want to amp the deliciousness up to eleven, use an infused olive oil, either store-bought or homemade. (Homemade will always be cheaper.) Herbs are perfect for infusing into olive oil, like parsley or basil, but you can get a little wacky and try a spice-infused oil. If you want your pizza to be reminiscent of another Italian red sauce joint staple, make a quick garlic butter. This way, you can have your pizza and garlic bread all in one! Make sure to brush on whatever crust seasoning you choose when your pizza is almost done, or right when it comes out of the oven, so it sinks into the crust without getting too charred.

Utilize the broiler

Arguably the best thing about a fresh slice from the corner store is that browned and bubbly cheese. You can mimic this sensation pretty easily by finishing your pizza under the broiler. Essentially, broiling is just directly cooking something under a super-high heat source, so the heat is coming from the top, rather than the bottom or the sides. You may have never used it before, but not only does it exist as a setting on your home oven, a broiler is an incredibly useful tool.


Using the broiler at the last stage of cooking your pizza is a great way for the toppings to get sizzling and the cheese to get extra gooey, without scorching the crust. A few minutes before the pizza is done, switch your oven setting to the broiler (or if your oven's broiler is in its own drawer at the bottom, move your pizza there). Keep a close eye on it, since it could burn quickly.

Get a little spicy with some hot sauce

According to The Food Institute, nearly three-quarters of Americans add hot sauce to their food. It makes sense, since hot sauce is such an easy way to pack a punch of flavor. There are so many different types of hot sauces. There's Louisiana style, which you might recognize as Tabasco or Frank's Red Hot; there's Mexican style, also known as picante, the most popular of which is Cholula; and of course, there are hot sauces coming from Asia, like sriracha from Thailand, gochujang from Korea and, the popular condiment du jour, chili crisp.


In all likelihood, you probably have at least one hot sauce or spicy condiment that you can drizzle on your pizza when you take it out of the oven. If you want to heat things up in the kitchen, you can of course find specialty artisanal hot sauces, but if you want to save a little dough, there are plenty of affordable options out there that are just as delicious.

If you're a fan of the sweet-spicy combo, there's no better choice than hot honey. A swirl of hot honey to finish off your pizza can be exactly what it needs, and it pairs especially well with funky cheeses like gorgonzola and cured meats like prosciutto.

Sprinkle on the dried herbs

Another sweet perk of the pizza shop down the street? All those dried seasonings at the counter for you to customize your slice. The good thing is, you might have a lot of these in your spice cabinet already. Go for classic pizza joint staples like crushed red pepper flakes, dried oregano, and garlic powder. Add some freshly cracked black pepper, or sprinkle some onion powder over the top.


Like a lot of people, you may have dried spices in your cabinet that date back to the last presidential election. While dried herbs and spices don't necessarily expire, they definitely lose potency over time, meaning that once delicious dried herb now tastes a little musty. While it may be tempting to hang on to the jar of dried basil you've had since college, throw it out, and pick up a new one the next time you're in the grocery store. You don't have to go for the expensive organic varieties–even the cheapest dried herbs and spices will be better than old, stale ones. Your tastebuds will thank you.

Avoid temptation and don't cut your pizza immediately

So you've done all this work to upgrade your pizza game and now that it's cooked and ready, you get to just dive in and eat it, right? Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but you have to wait a few minutes. (We know, it's a cruel world.) If you submit to temptation and cut into your pizza the second you take it out of the oven, you're gonna have a hot mess on your hands. Literally.


Both the cheese and toppings need a few minutes to cool so they stay in place — otherwise, they'll stick to the knife or shift around as you try to cut the pizza, meaning you'll end up with more crust on your slice than anything else. And who wants that?

A bonus reward for all that saintly patience is that you're way less likely to burn the roof of your mouth on scorching hot cheese. The you of tomorrow will be grateful.

Act like you're not eating a frozen pizza

You may not have made it from scratch, but you've certainly made your frozen pizza a whole lot tastier than it would've been otherwise. It might sound silly, but sometimes in order to feel like you're eating an elevated meal, all you need to do is elevate the experience of eating it. The power of positive thinking, right?


You and your pizza deserve better than eating over the sink or using the cardboard box it came in as a plate. Treat yourself! Put that gorgeous slice of your gourmet pie on a real plate. Use a cloth napkin, rather than a paper towel. Sit in an actual chair at an actual table. Turn off the TV or close out of Instagram. Dim the lights a little. If you enjoy an ice-cold beer with your pizza, crack one open. (If you need inspiration on what beer to pair with your pizza, we've got you covered.) You deserve to enjoy all your hard(ish) work in a fine dining fashion. Now that's amore!