Lately, there’s been much debate in the pizza-making community about whether to use a pizza stone or baking steel to make homemade pies in your oven.
As someone who’s obsessed with pizza and who regularly uses a stone and steel to develop recipes and answer reader’s questions, I’m going to give you my honest take on the topic.
Why Use a Pizza Stone or Steel?
Everyone knows the best way to bake pizza is in a wood-fired oven, whether that’s the Stefano Ferrara oven in your favorite pizzeria or the one that you built with your own two hands in your backyard.
A wood-fired oven gets heated to temperatures as high as 800°F, baking a pie in as little as 60 to 90 seconds. The heat of the bricks browns the pie on the bottom, puffs up the crust, and gives it leopard charring.
When it’s raining, you don’t have an oven in your backyard, or you have no backyard at all to begin with, you have to revert to baking pizza in your range.
The gas or electric ranges that you and I have in our homes have come a long way since the cooker as we know it proliferated the American kitchen in the early 1900s.
Compared to brick and cast iron ovens, early ranges were made of thin metal that didn’t retain and radiate heat as much. They had hot and cold spots, cooking food unevenly, and temperature controls were notoriously unreliable.
Though that’s no longer the case, modern-day ranges still need a little help to mimic the merits of brick or cast iron cookery. Hence the need for a slab made of stone or steel that retains and radiates heat in a way similar to the floor of an old-school oven.
What Is a Pizza Stone?
A pizza stone is a portable slab made of stone or ceramic that acts as a baking surface for pizza pies, rustic loaves of bread, and baked goods as a whole. Some stones are round; others are square. Most are 2/3 to 3/4 inches thick and have a diameter of 13 to 16 inches.
Contrary to popular belief, a pizza stone won’t make your oven hotter. Instead, it will hold on to heat and radiate it, rather intensely, to anything you bake on its flat, porous surface. This not only reduces the time that it takes to bake a pie but yields an airier pizza with a crispier crust.
To use a pizza stone, preheat it for 1 to 1 1/2 hours in your oven (preferably, with the convection setting switched on to promote hot air circulation). Place your pie on the stone with the help of a pizza peel and bake for a few minutes.
The exact time will depend on your oven and the stone. Generally, hotter ovens and more radiant stones bake a pie in 5-6 minutes, whereas older ranges and less conductive baking stones can take 7-8 minutes.
All pizza stones take time to recover the heat lost between bakes as you open your oven to take out the pie. Stones 3/4 inches thick take roughly 5 minutes since they don’t let go of heat as easily. Stones with a thickness of 2/3 inches or less, on the other hand, can take 10-15 minutes.
Pizza stones are prone to cracking when subjected to sudden and sharp differences in temperature, the term for which is “thermal shocks.” Since manufacturers think of this as misuse, I have yet to see a warranty covering that kind of breakage.
Cracking your pizza stone sounds easy to avoid, I know. But it can be tricky to do in practice, especially if you’re a first-time owner or you plan to use yours on the outside grill.
What Is a Baking Steel?
A baking steel, also known as a “pizza steel,” is a thick, heavy, and conductive metal slab that’s used as a hot baking surface for pizza pies and loaves of bread. Most baking steels are square- or rectangular- shaped, 3/8 inches thick, and have a diameter of 13 to 16 inches.
You use a baking steel the same way you’d use a pizza stone, by preheating it for 1 to 1 1/2 hours in a 500-550°F oven (or whatever temperature the recipe calls for).
Baking steels are much thicker than baking sheets, so they retain and radiate more heat, resulting in faster bakes and crispier goods in general. Since steel is better at conducting heat than stone, baking steels also emit heat more intensely than pizza stones.
Depending on your baking needs, this can be a good or a bad thing.
On the one hand, the intense heat of a baking steel yields restaurant-grade, Neapolitan-style pizzas with the charred posts in leopard patterns that you get in a brick oven.
On the other, it burns delicate desserts, such as biscuits, cookies, and croissants, turning the baking steel into less versatile of an accessory than the pizza stone.
To give you an analogy, this is the same reason why the bottom and sides of lasagna are easier to scorch when baked in a metal pan than in a ceramic casserole dish.
Pizza Stone vs. Baking Steel
A pizza stone or baking steel is a must-have accessory for Home Cook World readers who want to make airy and crispy pizza pies in the confines of their kitchens.
Both are bulky to carry around, can’t go in the dishwasher, and should only be cleaned by hand, without water or soap, so convenience is not necessarily a key factor to consider.
To decide which one is right for you, consider your use cases. Generally, pizza stones are more versatile than baking steels. They heat up about as much, but the key difference is that they emit that heat more gently.
Whichever you go for, size, so that it fits your oven, and thickness, since thicker slabs perform better and take less time to recover between bakes, should be two major factors that affect your purchase decision.
Those who are looking for a versatile baking surface to help them prepare a wide variety of goods, be it pizza, bread, or pastry, will benefit from the moderate heat of a pizza stone.
Those who want to bake mostly pizza pies and the occasional loaf of rustic, homemade bread are better off going for the intense heat emitted by a baking steel. Steel is also an appropriate choice for usage on the outside grill—gas or charcoal—because, unlike stone, it won’t crack.
It’s important to note that a steel slab 3/16 to 3/8 of an inch thick and 14 to 16 inches wide is heavier than most of you probably think: we’re talking twenty to twenty-ish pounds here. So if you have a hard time lifting heavy items or have a condition that restricts you from doing so, you may want to go for a (somewhat lighter) ceramic or stone slab instead.