When I bought my first pizza stone, let’s just say I had a hard time restraining myself from making pizza for breakfast, lunch, and dinner seven days a week. When I cracked a pizza stone for the first time, I wondered what had gone wrong and where my cooking technique had misfired.
Years have gone by since. After much research and experimentation, I’ve come to the conclusion that a pizza stone is not necessarily the best accessory for making baked goods—especially if you’re using an outside grill.
Will a pizza stone crack on a grill?
Most pizza stones will crack if you use them on the grill (charcoal or gas). For making grilled pizza, consider buying a pizza steel. A slab made of steel can handle thermal shock better than one made of stone or ceramic.
Pizza stones are rectangular, square, or circular slabs, usually made of ceramic or stone, that you can use to bake better-tasting pizza, loaves of bread, cookies, and other baked goods at home.
The best surface for baking is a hot stone. Instead of relying on the indirect heat of the air in an electric or gas-fired oven, the stone quickly bakes your food using direct heat.
Before electric ovens became an essential appliance for professional and home kitchens, ovens were made from rock, clay, or brick. Though they took hours to warm up, were hard to control, and polluted the air, they produced baked goods with an amazing flavor and crust.
Pattern applications for the first electric stoves started appearing in the U.S. and Canada in the early 1890s. The first electric stove intended for home use was revealed at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893 as part of an exhibition for the electrified home kitchen of the future.
By the 1930s, the technology for making electric stoves had matured enough to produce generally affordable and widely available stoves to replaces the gas stove and wood-fired brick oven.
The introduction of gas and electric ovens created a new challenge for bakers: soggy baked goods. In fact, this is a challenge that bakers continue to face today. The heat produced by an electric oven can in no way rival that of a wood-fired brick oven from the past.
A pizza stone simulates the effects of using a brick oven. It holds on to heat really well and draws out the moisture from the dough, puffing up your baked goods and causing them to come out crispy and browned on the bottom.
By using a pizza stone, you no longer get the sogginess that happens when you bake food on a baking sheet. There’s one thing about pizza stones every seasoned home cook will tell you: they crack easily and quickly when exposed to thermal shock.
Thermal shock happens when the internal temperature of your pizza stone rapidly changes when it’s suddenly exposed to a significantly hotter or colder environment. This causes different parts of the stone to expand as they heat up or contract as they cool down—causing cracks on the stone’s surface or fracturing it into multiple pieces.
This is the reason why your pizza stone will crack if you put it inside a preheated oven. Or if you take out a hot stone from the oven and suddenly expose it to room temperature without letting it cool down first. The stone just won’t be able to cope with the sudden change of temperature.
Though this is a nuisance for some, it isn’t really a problem as long as you use your pizza stone in the oven by following the correct technique.
The correct technique for using a pizza stone in the oven is:
- Put the pizza stone in the cold oven and preheat the oven with it, bringing the stone up to heat gradually;
- Once you’re done baking on your pizza stone, keep it in the oven, letting it cool down naturally for 50-60 minutes.
Getting this right on the grill, gas or charcoal, is much tricker. Here’s what happened to the pizza stone of one Redditor after they tried to use it on the grill:
Don’t get me wrong; it isn’t impossible. If you have a sturdy pizza stone, bring your grill up to heat slowly and patiently, and avoid putting the stone in direct contact with the flame from the burners of the hot charcoal, you can most probably use your stone in the grill without cracking it.
Why You Should Use a Pizza Steel on the Grill
More often than not, it’s surprisingly hard to not crack a pizza stone on an outside grill. Especially if you’re using a charcoal grill, where gradual preheating and fine-grained temperature controls are practically impossible.
Pizza steels are metal slabs that you can bake pizza, bread, cookies, and other goods on. Because metal is a better conductor of heat than stone, pizza steels yield a hotter baking surface than pizza stones. They’re also more suitable for use on an outside grill.
Steel has a higher thermal mass compared to ceramic and natural stone. Simply said, thermal mass is the ability of an object to absorb and store heat, giving it “inertia” against temperature fluctuations.
In 2012, Serious Eats made New York and Neapolitan pizza on a pizza steel and a pizza stone, and observed the differences.
They cranked up their test kitchen’s oven to 550°F and measured at what temperature the steel and stone stabilized at. Here’s what they found:
- In an oven heated to 550°F, a pizza stone will stabilize at 500-525°F
- In an oven heated to 550°F, a pizza steel will stabilize at 450°F-475°F
The difference? Steel gives off more heat than stone. What’s counterintuitive here is that steel is better at baking goods because it gives off more heat. Since the steel transferred more heat to the test pizza, it also produced a better-browned crust and a noticeably more airy dough.
Objects with a higher thermal mass will “even out” temperature fluctuations by absorbing thermal energy when exposed to heat and giving back thermal energy when exposed to cold, which makes them better-capable of handling sudden temperature changes than objects with a lower thermal mass.
A pizza steel will heat up faster and produce more delicious baked goods than a same-sized pizza stone. Unlike a pizza stone, the pizza steel won’t warp, crack, or fracture when used on the outside grill thanks to its resistance to sudden temperature changes in its surroundings.
The Best Pizza Steel for Outside Grilling
Here’s my pick for the best pizza steel to use on an outside grill. It’s the Conductive Cooking’s Deluxe 3/8″ Pizza Steel.
This heavy and thick pizza steel is laser-cut from a single sheet of steel that’s 3/8″ thick using a CNC machine. This means it has a cooking surface about as flat and smooth as steel allows. I know because I used to write software for CNC machines back in an old job.
It’s made from low-carbon steel, which makes it highly conductive of heat. And it comes in three sizes: a standard 14″x14″ square, a big 16″x16″ square, and 14″x20″ rectangle, which Conductive Cooking rightfully call their XL size.
The Deluxe Version pizza steel is thicker (3/8″ compared to 3/16″) and more expensive compared to the Standard Version. From personal experience in all kinds of kitchenware and kitchen appliances, I’ve come to believe in the saying “buy it once or buy it twice.”
Last but not least, it’s made in the USA by Cooking Steels, a small American company that makes pizza steels, griddles, and grates for artisan pizzaiolos and home cooks.
Yes, you can use a pizza stone on an outside grill. However, you’re going to have to try really hard not to crack it. The thermal shock when using gas and charcoal grills can be too much for baking slabs made of ceramic and natural stone.
For peace of mind—and pizza that frankly comes out with a more airy dough and slightly crispier crust—think about buying a pizza steel. You saw my pick but, as usual, do your own due diligence and find the product you like the most from the manufacturer you trust the most.