Normally, I’m the first person to suggest using some parchment paper during a cook. It comes from years of my vegetarian sister screaming at me when we were growing up for not doing so and getting meat juices and general mess all over the baking trays.
Now a sheet of the slippery good stuff is my first thought before anything goes into my oven; It’s been drilled into me, and my sister was right, not just because of the meat juices.
Parchment paper almost completely eliminates long and arduous cleanups after a meal, it stops your food from sticking to surfaces, definitely another foody boon, and finally, it can be folded and used for cooking things like the French fish recipe, fish en papillote.
You’d think a nice sheet of parchment and a pizza stone would be a match made in heaven, right? Nope!
For the sake of your kitchen, your home, yours and your cohabitant’s lives, and most importantly of all, your pizza, never ever use baking parchment on a pizza stone, and here’s why...
Why You Shouldn’t Use It
You should never use baking parchment on a pizza stone for one simple reason...It will burn.
Working as a chef for nearly a decade, I saw my fair share of fiery ovens, and at the best of times, it’s an assault on all the senses.
The acrid burning smell filling the building, the fire alarms blaring, you may burn yourself, and definitely your food.
At the worst of times, it can damage your environment or people’s health.
Parchment Paper Never Failed Us in the Past. Why Betray Us Now?
To answer this, let’s briefly discuss pizza ovens and the way stones imitate their perfect pizza cooking abilities.
Pizza stones are an affordable way to put some of that professional pizza oven power in your home oven.
Sounds great! But did you know that a proper pizza oven used by the best of the best often reaches sustained temperatures of 800°F (425°C)? In fact, authentic Neapolitan pizza is often cooked in wood-fired pizza ovens that can hit around the 900°F (485°C) mark.
To replicate anything close to this Vesuvian heat, you have to leave the pizza stone on the lowest rack of your oven on full power for at least 30 minutes. Your typical home oven can push out temperatures between 450 and 500°F (230 - 260°C), which the pizza stone matches.
Parchment paper is heat-treated with what is often silicon.
That’s how it deals with our normal culinary escapades, but it’s only heat-resistant, not entirely heatproof. Once it reaches temperatures in the zone of 430°F (220°C), it will burn and possibly ignite, filling your oven with smoke and destroying that sweet, sweet pizza.
Thankfully, silicone parchment doesn’t give off toxic fumes when burning, but a face full of smoke when you finally open it isn’t exactly healthy either.
It’s important to note that the pizza stone doesn’t get any hotter than your oven’s output, which means it’s not just pizza stones you should avoid using parchment paper on. You should avoid using parchment paper on any occasion that requires a maxed out oven.
Why Do People Make the Mistake of Using Parchment Paper on Pizza Stones
The main reason people reach for the parchment when they first get their pizza stone is that it’s incredibly difficult to transport your freshly prepared raw pizza to the oven from your prep counter, especially if you’ve made your pizza with a divinely thin crust.
Your stone has to pre-heat in the oven, and if you remove it, it will lose vital temperature, so you can’t just plonk your pizza on and put them in together.
The obvious answer to someone who doesn’t know any better is to use a sheet of parchment paper as a sort of sling support to help place your pizza into the oven and onto the stone, and we know what happens next.
Another reason a little bit of parchment seems like a capital idea at first is that pizza often sticks to the stone during the cooking process, making it hard to serve up once it’s ready to come out. There are other ways around these problems, but more on those later.
Why Are Pizza Ovens So Hot?
If you want your pizza stone to in any way replicate the effects of a professional pizza oven, unfortunately, no, turning down the temperature is not an option.
Pizza ovens and stones need to be as hot as they are to produce perfect pizzas every time. We’ve all had to suffer through soggy slices before. You still eat it because you’re hungry as a horse, but with every bite, a little bit of your culinary soul dissipates.
At optimal temperature, a pizza oven gives you that perfect crispy base throughout the entire diameter of the pizza. It turns your crust into a golden delight that snaps pleasantly as you bite it, before revealing its soft, warm center, and it melts the cheese to gooey perfection without calcifying a single shred.
Using a normal oven and baking parchment, by the time you attain a full-scale crispy base, your crust looks like charred leather. If you prioritize your crust, your base reaches flop-factor five, and more often than not, there are vast inconsistencies in the level of cook the toppings and sauce have received.
Pizza ovens and pizza stones need to be hot because, until scientists roll out some kind of laser-based oven of the future, it’s the only way to cook pizza to perfection.
What if Parchment Paper Had a Much Higher Capacity?
Let’s throw out a hypothetical. If the industry pumped out a super-powered, heatproof parchment paper tomorrow, could you then use it on your pizza stone?
The answer is still no, I’m afraid. The truth is that parchment paper is always going to be a problem if you want super crisp, expertly cooked pizza. The reason a pizza stone works so well in replicating a full-blown pizza oven is the direct surface to pizza contact.
When you use a sheet of our entirely made up, invincible parchment paper, you’re placing a barrier between the stone and the pizza that affects heat transfer and distribution.
The sheet may warm fairly quickly, but it’s cold at first, and when you’re cooking at extreme temperatures for short periods of time, every second is vital and affects the final outcome.
Can You Use Aluminum Foil Instead of Parchment Paper?
The obvious replacement for parchment paper is a sheet of handy aluminum foil. It’s cheap, does pretty much the same thing, and you probably already have it to hand in your kitchen, but unfortunately, aluminum foil isn’t the answer you’re looking for.
With a melting point of 1220°F (660°C), aluminum foil can survive the stone, but you’re still left with a barrier.
Aluminum is a fantastic conductor of heat, but it has poor heat retention. It’s also likely to be much colder than parchment paper when you first place it on the stone, and what’s more, aluminum foil is often stickier than the stone itself.
A chef I once worked with found out the hard way that foil doesn’t have the same non-stick qualities as parchment when he managed to get fifty pigs in blankets, meant for the spread of a wake, stuck fast to an aluminum sheet.
That’s not all, though. While aluminum isn’t going to melt to the base of your pride and joy, it has a service temperature of 400°F (204.4°C), so it’s not technically a viable alternative on that front either.
One last reason to leave the foil where it lies is that aluminum is by no means inert. It’s actually a very reactive metal, so it should be kept far away from acidic foods such as tomatoes.
Does Parchment Paper Always Ignite When It Reaches Thermal Capacity?
Parchment paper doesn’t always burst into flames even if it starts to smoke violently. What’s more likely to happen is it will turn to black ashes, some of it inevitably sticking to your pizza.
If you’ve ever reused parchment paper a few times at safe temperatures, you’ll start to notice it happening. It crips and blackens at the edges that crumble at the slightest touch.
Other Reasons to Give up Parchment Paper
Parchment paper isn’t just bad for your pizza masterpieces, it’s also a pretty severe environmental hazard. You’re probably thinking exactly what I thought when I learned about this...Isn’t paper recyclable?
Well, yes, paper is recyclable, but parchment paper designed for cooking isn’t just plain and simple paper. As I mentioned earlier, parchment paper is given a silicone coating to increase its non-stick and heat-resistant qualities, but before the silicone even comes into play, it’s treated with certain acids to increase its stability.
All these additives render parchment paper completely non-recyclable and non-compostable. It simply contributes towards our horrendously overflowing dumps.
Don’t worry, though! There’s an alternative. You can treat yourself to a silicone baking or roasting mat. They can be used time after time the same way you use parchment paper. They’re just as non-stick and heat-resistant. The only difference is, when you’re using them, you’re not contributing nearly as much towards the apocalyptic towers of waste that are destroying our planet.
Solving Your Pizza Problems Without Parchment Paper
It’s all well and good me prattling on about the dangers of using parchment paper with your pizza stone, but that doesn’t solve any of your pizza problems.
That’s why we’re now going to discuss a few ways you can solve the problems at their root rather than throwing parchment at them and hoping they’ll go away.
Why Does Pizza Stick to the Stone?
Like everything, cooking perfect pizza has a learning curve. You need to know how to do it.
A lot of the problems people encounter with their stones are caused by not fully understanding pizza-making techniques.
Not Hot Enough
The number one reason that your pizza is sticking to the stone is that you haven’t brought the stone to a high enough temperature yet.
Heat offers natural non-stick qualities to usually sticky surfaces.
Thickness of Base
Another common sticky situation occurs when your dough is too thin.
Proper Naples-style pizza is supposed to be pretty thin, no bigger than 3mm, but go too thin and your dough will absorb moisture from your sauce, and consequently, the moisture will reach the stone, fusing your pizza in place.
It’s also important to note if you don’t stretch the dough out enough, it won’t cook through properly, leading to a mostly soggy pizza, and placing it in there in the first place will be a real challenge.
Having Greedy Guts - Too Many Toppings
The more you stack onto your pizza the harder it is for the heat to reach all the places it needs to. If you like a lot of moist toppings on your pizza such as veggies and extra mozzarella, your crust won’t begin to crisp until a certain proportion of their liquids have evaporated.
Cooking a pizza in a legit pizza oven, and to a certain extent, on a pizza stone, is a lightning-fast process.
We’re talking a minute to 90 seconds. If you’ve loaded it up like pack mule, it’s simply not going to cook through, yet the more exposed sections will burn if you extend the cooking time.
Getting Your Pizza into Your Oven and On to the Stone
For tips on how to handle your new pizza powers, why not think about how the professionals do it.
In any half-decent pizza joint, you’ll have seen the chef use one of those large spatula looking things with the long handles to get the pizza from A (the counter) to B (the oven) to C (Your plate and shortly thereafter your belly).
These tools are called pizza peels and they’re indispensable in the upscale pizza game. If you’ve invested in a stone, I highly recommend buying a pizza peel immediately, and if you’re thinking about buying a stone, it’s a good idea to buy a peel alongside it.
Wooden pizza peels are the best in my opinion for two reasons. Firstly, they provide the slipperiest surface, and secondly, they have the nicest aesthetic which may matter to you if you plan on hanging one up in your kitchen.
How to Make the Most of a Pizza Peel
The first thought that passes through any logical person’s mind is to assemble the pizza on the peel so when it’s time to sling that pie in the oven, you’re all loaded and ready to go. You can indeed do this, but the longer your pizza is on the peel, the greater the chance it has of sticking to it.
If you do want to give this a go, make sure the base of your pizza and the surface of the pizza peel are sufficiently floured. Coarse flours such as semolina and whole wheat are best as they facilitate more movement between the surface and the dough.
There’ll always be a stick risk when preparing on the pizza peel, but the real danger is that you may not notice until you try to shove it onto the stone, and your pizza slops like a Dali clock half from the peel.
In my opinion, standard preparation on a floured counter is the safest course of action, but you should still absolutely flour your pizza peel before scooping it up, just to be sure it doesn’t stick.
Bear in mind that a pizza peel doesn’t automatically solve your pizza woes. If you’re still making the same mistakes with the dough or toppings, a sticky pizza is an inevitability.
Pulling the Pizza from the Stone
When your pizza is good and ready, it’s as simple as sliding your peel beneath it and retrieving it from the oven, plating up, and tucking in, hurray!
What’s the Deal With Steel?
Pizza steels are the exact same thing as pizza stones, but they tend to be even better conductors of heat and produce pizzas with even crispier crusts and bases.
If you haven’t yet bought a stone, it’s definitely worth checking out some steels first.
Well, I’m sufficiently hungry for pizza after writing all of that. Hopefully, you’re still inspired to take your home pizza cooking to the next level, even without the help of your old friend, parchment paper.
Cooking professional-grade pizzas is not as easy as most people think it’s going to be, but as long as you refine your craft, pizza by pizza, and invest in a good pizza peel, you should be slinging pro doughs in no time, no parchment, no foil, no worries!