People have been making great homemade pizza using baking stones for decades (including me!). They have been the go-to solution for the home cook looking to duplicate the thin and crispy Neapolitan or slightly crunchy and chewy New York style crusts. That is, until very recently.
Enter the pizza steel….
Somewhere around 2015, there was a game changer in home pizza making. It received high reviews from professional bakers, pizza connoisseurs, and foodies from around the world in very short order. The pizza stone was out, the pizza steel was in.
But is it all just hype to sell a new generation of pie perfecting products? Keep reading to find out.
Pizza Stones: Pros and Cons
In the last decade or so, many of the commercially available stones within reach of the average consumer have gone to cordierite because:
- It has more capacity to store heat which translates to a faster reheat time between pies as well as extremely stable temperatures.
- It is thermal shock resistant which means it is less likely to crack when exposed to rapid temperature changes.
- It is more durable and less likely to break when used, moved, and stored.
Here’s how pizza stones work:
- After a generous period of preheating (usually about 45 minutes in your oven at full blast), they store a ton of heat which means they stay super-hot even after you throw cold dough on them—imperative for a crisp crust on zas and other baked goods.
- Because they have a low heat conductivity, they don’t develop cold and hot spots, thus offering a very balanced baking surface that provides the kind of stable heat you need for precision baking.
- They are porous surfaces which, at least in theory, absorb the moisture released as steam as your raw dough rapidly cooks. This has largely been reputed to be the reason why they make such crispy crust—more on that later.
- Relatively inexpensive, ranging from $25 to $70, depending on the thickness and surface area.
- They maintain a very stable temperature thanks to low conductivity and a lot of stored heat capacity.
- They are lighter weight than their steel counterparts—significantly!
- They take less work to properly season—Just use and brush or scrape clean when cool and over time it will season itself.
- Despite being more durable than ceramic, even cordierite stones need time to heat up and cool off or they will probably eventually break from thermal shock.
- They can develop an odor—either from improper cleaning (Don’t let soap touch your stone!) or from absorbing grease that later goes rancid.
- They take a long time to absorb the heat of your oven thanks to being relatively non-conductive.
Pizza Steel: Pros and Cons
Here’s how pizza steels work:
The thing is that both options are only going to get so hot in your oven. Neither is particularly hotter than the other when fully preheated.
If it’s not about being hotter, then what’s all the fuss about steel?
Unlike stones, steel conducts heat very well. In fact, about 16.7 times as well as a stone. (Cordierite has a thermal conductivity of 3.0 W/m-K while the thermal conductivity of Carbon A36 Steel, the common alloy used for baking steel, is 50 W/m-K.)
It turns out that high conductivity has the advantage of getting more of the stored heat into your crust faster, the whole point of fast baking methods. In addition, although you might think the steel will get colder faster, while this is true, it also replaces the heat faster because, again, it’s more conductive.
- They tend to preheat about 30% faster than stones.
- The get more heat to the dough in less time, leading to faster cooking times even at the same oven temp.
- Faster cooking means more closely replicating the conditions in commercial pizza ovens.
- They won’t absorb odors.
- They can be used without worry on gas, wood, or charcoal fires without wringing your hands over thermal shock breakage.
- They won’t break in storage.
- They cool for cleaning and storage in a fraction of the time that pizza stones take.
- About twice as expensive for comparable sizes and thicknesses—although you will never have to replace it. Expect to spend between $50 and $150 depending on the size and thickness you are looking for.
- They take a bit more patience to properly season. Too much oil and you will end up with a nasty, gummy scum on the surface, too little and it will cause your dough to stick.
- Heavy—No…Seriously heavy! This popular model by NerdChef is 16″ x 14.25″ x .375″ and comes in at a whopping 23 pounds!
Is it a myth that porous stones make better pizza?
I have to be honest. I never found the notion that the porous nature of the stone was making a huge difference. For one thing, have you ever noticed steam to go nowhere? Um no.
The whole thing that makes steam (a gas) different from water (a liquid) is that it is molecularly moving away from the water from whence it came, by definition. It’s not like excess steam is just sitting there making your crust soggy.
And, there is the simple matter of pressure. Have you ever known steam to seek out higher pressure? Um, again, no. It goes to the lowest pressure it can find because: physics.
Your pizza dough, the other surface steam can choose when dough meets stone, is WAY less dense than the stone. Your steam, stone or steel, is mostly going into your dough as well as escaping into the dead space in your oven.
Truth is, if a pizza stone was really “absorbing” steam at any significant rate, it would probably make for lifeless crust without the many air pockets and crisp finish we know is necessary for bomb zas.
Those little bubbles and that tell-tale crisp in the perfect pizza crust? They come from steam.
There’s more…pizzas made on baking steel have crusts that are just as enviable for both Neapolitan and New York Style crusts. The “porous” nature of the stone, if it even exists, is not significant enough to make up for the properties of quality baking steel.
Which One is Right for You: Pizza Stone or Pizza Steel?
The verdict is in….
As long as you don’t mind spending significantly more money, taking a little more time properly seasoning, and lifting the additional weight of a quality baking steel….Go for it!
The quality of the finished product will be as good or better as that of a stone and the rest is all advantage: Much better durability (it will last a lifetime), completely resistant to cracking, faster preheating, and oven to grill functionality.
Did you find this article helpful? Would you like to share your experiences using these different baking surfaces with our readers? Have a different theory about the “porous stone” controversy? Please feel free to share with us in the comments below!