A peel is a shovel-like tool used by bakers to slide loaves of bread, pizzas, pastries, and other baked goods into and out of an oven. It is usually made of wood, with a flat carrying surface (like a shovel's blade) for holding the baked good and a handle extending from one side of that surface. Alternatively, the carrying surface may be made of sheet metal, which is attached to a wooden handle. Wood has the advantage that it does not become hot enough to burn the user's hands the way metal can, even if it is frequently in the oven. The word presumably derives from the Frenchpelle, which describes both a peel and a shovel.
A peel's intended functions are to:
Transfer delicate breads, pastries, et cetera into an oven where transferring them directly by hand could deform their delicate structure.
Allow food to be placed further back in an oven than could normally be reached by the baker.
Keep the baker's hands out of the hottest part of an oven, or prevent the baker from burning their hands on the hot baked goods.
There are peels of many sizes, with the length of the handle suited to the depth of the oven, and the size of the carrying surface suited to the size of the food it is meant to carry (for instance, slightly larger than the diameter of a pizza). Household peels commonly have handles around 15 cm long and carrying surfaces around 35 cm square, though handles range in length from vestigial (~6 centimeters) to extensive (~1.5 meters or more), and carrying surfaces range in size from miniature (~12 centimeters square) to considerably wide (1 meter square or more).
An alternative, and related, meaning of the word "peel" is a wooden pole with a smooth cross-piece at one end, which was used in printing houses of the hand-press period (before around 1850) to raise printed sheets onto a line to dry, and to take them down again once dried. The term is also sometimes used for the blade of an oar. All three meanings derive ultimately from the Latinpala, a spade.