Saturday, June 18, 2011

Pizza Stones: the Roundup Finale

The path to pizza enlightenment
Whenever the subject of pizza baking stones comes up, people chime in with their favorites. But how many people have owned more than two - or maybe three - pizza stones?

And how many have tested them with exactly the same recipe in the same oven baked for precisely the same amount of time? Now I can say that I have.

Over the course of 12 weeks, I tested a variety of baking surfaces with the same pizza recipe, photographed the results, judged the textures, and ate the pizzas. After making and eating the same pizza every week for 12 weeks, I'm ready to wrap up this series on pizza baking surfaces and eat some different pizzas.

Thanks to Serious Eats for letting me tackle this madness and to the SE readers who suggested even more stones and baking surfaces as the tests went on. I've got to say that it was enlightening. Some of the results were different than what I expected.

And of course, I expect your results would be different in different ovens making different pizzas. But this should give you a good idea of which stones would give you the results you're hoping for.

Cheap, Generic Pizza Stone
Pros - It's cheap and does a decent job. Sold under a huge number of brand names (and non-brands) a cheap stone is better than no stone.
Cons - This wasn't the crispest crust, if that's what you're after, and many cheap stones are more prone to breaking than their more expensive counterparts.
Comments - For the occasional pizza-baker, a cheap stone could be a good buy.

Pizza Pan
Pros - It's a surface to lay your pizza on, and most people probably have some sort of cookie sheet or other similar surface to use.
Cons - This gave me the worst pizza of the entire series. To get close to a brown crust, I cooked the pizza a total of 12 minutes compared to 8 minutes for the rest, but it was still doughy. At 8 minutes, it was unpleasantly pale. With some tweaking of the recipe, method, and cooking time, it might result in a decent pizza. But for this test, it was a clear loser.
Comments - Save this one for serving pizza.

Unglazed Quarry Tiles
Pros - Results were similar to the cheap pizza stone, for even less money.
Cons - No matter how careful you are, the stones shift around and need to be readjusted occasionally. Also, drips and spills can get through between the tiles and land on the oven floor. If you need to move you oven racks around, it's more annoying to deal with multiple small stones than one large one.
Comments - These are a decent option for temporary use while you're shopping for a permanent stone.

Unglazed Quarry Tiles, Double-Stacked
Pros - Nearly identical results to the single layer of tiles despite the increase in mass. However, having extra tiles gives you the option of putting them on the rack above the pizza.
Cons - The same shifting issues as the single tiles, and even more annoying when you need to move oven racks around.
Comments - I don't see any benefit to the double layer. Buying extra might not be a bad idea for use as replacements. These tiles aren't always available at home improvement centers, so you might not be able to find one when break a tile

Pizza Stone (King Arthur Flour)
Pros - A crisper crust than with the quarry tiles, and more browning. The rectangular stone gives a little more landing space than a round stone, but it's not so large that it would impede airflow in most home ovens.
Cons - Like any porous surface, it's not going to stay pretty for long when you start spilling things on it.
Comments - One of the better options of the series. No razzle-dazzle, but this is a workhorse of a stone.

Emile Henry Glazed Stone
Pros - Esthetically pleasing, and you can remove it from the oven and cut the pizza and serve on it. The glazed surface can be cleaned with soap and water. This produced the crispest crust of any of the stones. Serving the pizza on the stone kept the pizza hot and kept the crust crisp.
Cons - While this was the crispest crust, some people might find it a little too crisp.
Comments - this stone has a lot going for it, but before you buy consider whether you prefer the round stone or the rectangular.

Pizza Screen
Pros - using a screen makes transporting the pizza easy. Very inexpensive.
Cons - The crust wasn't crisp at all. Some people have reported issues with the crust adhering to the screen during baking.
Comments - This falls under the category of "better than nothing." Since there was no stone distributing the heat evenly to the crust, there were very light and very dark areas under the pizza. Screens are popular for reheating pizzas.

Pizza Screen on Stone
Pros - Easy transport to the oven. A nicely cooked crust.
Cons - If you're looking for a seriously crisp crust, this isn't the way to go.
Comments - If you're skittish about getting a pizza off a peel and into the oven, this is an option. You could also move the pizza onto the stone after the crust stiffens up, for direct baking on the stone.

Parchment on Stone
Pros - Parchment paper is cheap, and this makes transport to the oven a little easier. Cleanup is easy. If the parchment is larger than the pizza, drips and spills won't end up on your stone or your oven floor.
Cons - The pizza doesn't get quite as crisp as when cooked directly on a stone, but it's close.
Comments - The might be the perfect "training wheels" for learning how to move a pizza around. If it's a little clumsy, the pizza will still be fine. I still prefer pizza baked directly on a stone, but some people might prefer this slightly less crisp version.

Fibrament Stone
Pros - An almost endless selection of sizes, you can custom-order a stone to fit your oven and your particular needs. The crust was crisp - not as crisp as the Emile Henry, but similar to the King Arthur Flour stone.
Cons - There are dire warnings about getting the stone wet. That means cleaning is limited to scraping.
Comments - As a bread baker, sometimes I spritz my loaves with water at the beginning of baking. Since this stone has so many warnings about water, I don't think I'd want to use it for those types of breads. If you don't bake bread and this is devoted to pizza, it would be less of a concern.

Lodge Cast Iron
Pros - This can be use on the grill or stovetop, in the oven, and under the broiler. Side handles make it easy to move the stone. The crust was well-browned with spots of char, and crisp. It comes seasoned, but you can opt to season it more. Virtually unbreakable.
Cons - Just like any cast iron piece, it has its own cleaning/seasoning rules. However, it's easier to clean than a porous stone.
Comments - The versatility of this one earns some bonus points. There's a certain romance to using a stone rather than metal, but this does the job. I thought the slight lip might be a hindrance, but it didn't cause any problems at all.

All Clad Soapstone
Pros - Esthetically pleasing, and soapstone is a natural material rather than being man made, which some people consider a plus. The metal ring that comes with the stone makes it easier to transport. This stone gave the most char. While soapstone is soft and could be damaged by sharp knives, you can sand it smooth again if you don't like the rough texture from knife cuts. Comes with a pizza cutter
Cons - The metal ring isn't intended for oven use, so it will discolor if you put it in the oven with the stone. This was also the most expensive stone I tested.
Comments - While this stone gave the most char, it wasn't the most crisp, which is something to keep in mind. While I'm torn about the usefulness of the metal ring with a hot stone, if you wanted to serve on the stone - hot or cold, it would make it much more useful. And although I haven't tried it, a chilled soapstone would be handy for serving cold items.

Conclusion:

My ideal pizza may not be the same as yours. In fact, after eating the same pizza recipe (with decidedly different results) every week for twelve weeks, I've come to realize that my ideal pizza is not exactly the same as my husband's. I preferred a crisper crust, while his favorite was slightly less crisp.

Most of the surfaces performed well, and after testing surfaces that ranged in price from about $10 to one that was over ten times that amount, there were few pizzas that we were truly disappointed in.

Since I tested one recipe on all the stones, it should be said that with recipe and technique tweaks, a baker should be able to get decent performance out of just about any of the surfaces tested. When buying one, though, there are other things to consider, including cleaning instructions, durability and size.

There is no single stone that will be perfect for everyone. But everyone should be able to find a stone that is uniquely suited to them.

9 comments:

John M said...

Pizza is very important to me -- thanks for the comprehensive tests! What I do is cook on a cookie sheet for several minutes, then slide it directly on the oven rack. Except for a gravity surge taking away toppings on occasion, it works well. Very cheap, flexible, and it doesn't require preheating.

Brian Meagher said...

Really nice (if expensive) roundup of so many options.
We love our Pampered Chef round stone, although it is a bit thin. But that thing rolled off the top of our fridge and upon landing on the tiled floor, cracked a corner of the floor tile. The pizza stone survived fine!
I just received a Lodge cast iron pizza pan (based on your SE posts), and am looking forward to grilling pizza on that sucker.

I'd like to know which of all the stones/methods did you personally prefer?

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the extensive testing, your work is greatly appreciated by me.
Like you I enjoy a crispy crust, the glazed stone you mentioned has me intrigued.
My husband suggested using cast iron skillets that we already own. He also mentioned glazed porcelain floor tile as an option. What is our opinion on such an idea?

Donna Currie said...

I'd be a little concerned about glazed tiles, because a lot of glazes contain lead. Floor tiles don't need to be food-safe, so it might be hard to find out the specifications. You could have them tested, I suppose. Cast iron skillets would be fine. The only problem I have with that is that I like to make larger pizzas. But you could have two skillets in the oven and bake two smaller pizzas at once.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your speedy response. You clarified my hunch about the glaze, which confirms it is a no go for me.

I did not mean to post anonymously, I just did not understand how to select a profile as asked.

Your fellow Se'r,hotnpopin,AKA Cool crowd Kaarisa

Single ovens said...

I just couldn’t leave your website before telling you that we really enjoyed the quality information you offer to your visitors… Will be back often to check up on new posts.

Donna Currie said...

Aw, that's nice! I'm glad you enjoyed the visit!

plumbing supplies said...

Its porous properties mean that basic care is necessary for the maintenance of a pizza stone. Make sure you don't use a glazed tile, they contain lead, what is very hazardous for your health.

Anonymous said...

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