Everyone always talks about pizza stones. Honestly, it's’ ‘pizza stone this’ and ‘pizza stone that.’ Yeah, we get it, they’re cool, hip, useful.
They’re not the only way of cooking pizza though!
Pizza steels are the lesser-known relative of pizza stones. They are amazing bits of kit that can replicate a traditional pizza oven in your own home.
So, for once, let’s put pizza steels in the spotlight!
What is Pizza Steel?
Pizza steels are, as their name suggests, made of steel. They are solid slabs of steel that are placed in your oven. The pizza, once made, is placed on the steel to cook.
Steel is a dense metal that retains heat really well. When it’s heated in an oven, it gets scorching hot and it stays hot. This is ideal for pizzas.
Traditionally, pizzas are cooked in ridiculously hot pizza ovens. They can reach temperatures of 700 - 800°F. In comparison, your home oven usually has a limit of around 450°F.
Pizzas are supposed to be cooked at those blisteringly hot temperatures. They only need to be in a pizza oven for a matter of minutes.
Replicating a pizza oven at home is a difficult task. Home ovens just aren’t built to create or withstand such temperatures. However, a pizza steel can go some way to replicating the cooking process of a pizza oven.
How Do Pizza Steels Work?
Steel is an excellent heat conductor. What that means is that heat is taken in and passed out of steel quickly and efficiently.
This quality makes it ideal for cooking implements like pans and pizza steels. It means that heat isn’t wasted in the metal. Instead, it’s transferred through to the food.
For pizza making, this is excellent. Pizzas are supposed to cook for a short amount of time at high heat. The pizza steel radiates a lot of heat directly into the pizza.
Ok, fine, it can’t replicate the heat of a pizza oven. It is, however, the next best thing. With a pizza steel, you’ll get perfectly crisp bases every time.
Pizza Steel vs Pizza Stone
Pizza stones are generally more common in households because they tend to be cheaper. They are, ultimately, designed to do the same thing as pizza steels. That is, they are designed to transfer heat directly into the pizza base.
The thing that distinguishes pizza stones from steels is the material they are made from.
Pizza stones tend to be made from ceramic, clay, or cordierite. These materials are great conductors but they don’t transfer heat as quickly as steel. This means your pizzas will take longer to cook and you won’t get quite the same light, crispy base as with a pizza steel.
Another drawback to pizza stones is their fragility. Clay and ceramic are prone to cracking or shattering if they are dropped or banged.
You don’t need to drop them from the countertop to shatter a pizza stone. Sometimes knocking it too hard with the pizza peel as you transfer the pizza is enough to damage it.
Pizza stones can also crumble in the face of thermal shock. This is when the stone is heated or cooled too quickly.
For example, if you try to wash the stone with cold water as it comes out of the oven, you’ll cause thermal shock. This can cause the stone to crack or break. The same applies if you heat the stone too quickly.
One thing that pizza stones have in their favor, is that they are much more affordable than pizza steels.
You can save upwards of $50 by choosing a pizza stone over a pizza steel.
If you are only an occasional pizza maker then you’ll be happy enough with a pizza stone. If you’re a more frequent or professional pizza maker, you’re better off with a pizza steel.
How to Use a Pizza Steel
Pizza steels might cook a pizza in minutes but they need time to heat up. In fact, they need upward of 45 minutes to preheat.
You should turn your oven to the highest heat setting before placing your steel on a shelf. You’ll need to let the steel preheat for 45 minutes to an hour. You still won’t be able to replicate the temperature of a pizza oven but this will be as close as you can get.
If you want to further increase the heat of the oven, you could put the broiler on as well.
Pre-heating the steel is an important step. The steel is only able to radiate heat if it has obtained these temperatures. Cold steel won’t give off heat even if the oven is hot.
Once the steel is hot, transfer the pizza using a pizza peel. You do not want to try to bring the steel out of the oven. If you haven’t got a pizza peel, get one!
Your pizza should bake in 3-8 minutes depending on how hot your oven is.
You’ll know your pizza is done when the cheese has melted and begun to bubble. The crust should be beginning to brown.
When you come to remove the pizza you should again use your pizza peel. You’ll want a flexible metal peel rather than a wooden peel.
If you’re going to cook multiple pizzas you’ll need to let the steel reheat between pizzas. This is because the steel naturally loses some of its heat when it transfers it to the pizza.
If you’re struggling to get your bases nice and crispy, you could try double baking the crust.
To double bake, the crust, place the pizza in the oven with only the sauce on the base. Cook for five minutes and then remove and cool on a cooling rack. Once the pizza base is cool, top with cheese and toppings.
You can return the pizza to the oven once the steel and oven have reheated.
Cleaning a Pizza Steel
It should go without saying, but don’t touch your pizza steel until it’s cooled down! Pizza steels don’t tend to suffer from thermal shock but they will burn the skin from your hands if you try to clean them hot.
Once your pizza steel has cooled, you’ll want to take a bench scraper or spatula to it. This will help clear large chunks of burned cheese, sauce, or dough.
With the big bits removed, you can now wipe your steel down with a damp cloth or sponge. This should take care of lingering stains or burnt on flour.
If you’re really struggling to lift marks or stains, try using a cleaning block. You might have one laying around for cleaning the bbq. If not you can pick them up from most stores and online.
One thing to avoid is dish soap or detergents of any kind. When cleaning your steel, just use warm water and elbow grease.
Never put your steel in the dishwasher. The detergent used in dishwashers is sure to damage the steel.
Once your steel is clean, wipe it off and store it in a dry area. Avoid keeping it in humid locations because it can begin to rust.
Seasoning a Pizza Steel
Pizza steels, just like cast iron cookware, needs to be seasoned. This kind of seasoning has nothing to do with salt, pepper or spices.
No, the seasoning your pizza steel needs is all about creating an oil based coating that can prevent rust and sticking.
You’ll want to use an oil that has a fairly high smoking point. This is because you’re going to be using your pizza steel at high temperatures.
Flaxseed oil is a great choice for seasoning your pizza steel. It has a very high smoking point.
To season your steel, pour a little bit of oil on the pizza steel and buff with a paper towel. You want to coat the steel in oil but you want it to be a very thin layer.
With the oil applied, place the steel in a cold oven and turn it on. You want to set the temperature to 400°F.
Leave the steel to heat up and cook in the oven for an hour. The high heat should polymerise the oil leaving a dark coat on the outside of the steel. This should prevent the steel from rusting.
It will also help create a non-stick surface for your pizzas. If you find that the pizzas are sticking, repeat the seasoning process. You may need more than one layer of oil.
Most pizza steels come pre seasoned. Check when you buy whether the steel will require seasoning.
If your pre seasoned steel isn’t living up to expectations, perhaps because pizzas are sticking to it, give it another seasoning coat.
Things to Consider
When purchasing a baking steel, we advise you to get a rectangular steel. This will give you more room around the pizza and will make removing the pizza easier.
Another thing to remember is that pizza steels are also sometimes called baking steels. You don’t need to buy a steel that is ‘specifically for pizza.’ Any baking steel will do.
If they’re selling you a steel that they claim is only for pizzas, they’re probably upping the price too!
You’ll find pizza steels in a variety of sizes. Make sure you purchase one that fits your oven. You do not want to drop nearly 100 dollars on a steel that doesn’t fit in your oven!
Speaking of dollars, be prepared to pay a fair amount for a pizza steel. They are not cheap bits of kit.
Steels tend to start at around $60 but can cost upwards of $150 depending on the size and quality. It’s a serious investment. Ultimately, a pizza steel tends to work out cheaper in the long run when compared to pizza stones.
Pizza stones crack, break and need replacing. Pizza steels are near enough bomb proof and will be with you for years.
Pizza steels are the closest you’ll come to replicating a pizza oven in your own oven. It can’t reach the scorching heat of an authentic pizza oven but it does help cook pizzas quickly and at as high a temperature as possible.
If you’re just starting out and looking to up your pizza game, maybe try a stone first. They’re cheaper and not quite as effective but they’ll give you an idea of what to expect and how to use pizza steels.
When you’re ready to splash out on a pizza steel, remember to season it first before cooking on it.
We can promise that you will not regret using a pizza steel. They are most definitely worth the cost. They help you create crisp, light crusts and go some way towards replicating the glory of a pizza oven.