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pizza stone vs. steel

In this review, http://yhoo.it/dJ7z5Y, of _Modernist Cuisine_, they include a blurb from one of the volumes about using a 1/4 inch thick sheet of steel instead of a pizza stone in your oven (for home cooks). The idea is that steel can compensate for the reality of a home oven's limit of 500 degrees versus a commercial pizza oven that can reach 800+ degrees. Does this make sense? I kind of assume they tested it out and it does work. Assuming that's true, do you really need 1/4 inch steel? That's pretty thick and I'd imagine pretty heavy. I'd also guess it would be expensive to get a metal fabricator to custom cut a steel sheet to fit your oven. I saw one web site that offered a 2x2 foot 1/4 inch stainless steel plate for about $245 (not including shipping, tax, or other possible charges). I'm also wondering if there are any food safety issues - I'm guessing not as there are plenty of stainless cookware sets but those were made for cooking/food.

Any comments or knowledge out there?

Thanks.

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  1. Never heard of it, thanks for sharing. I do know that many use a pizza skillet type of a thing. Mario Batali sells one, that might be worth a try.

    I am a home pizza cook that likes thin and crispy pizza. I used to use a stone, but realistically it has to be in for an hour before cooking. I also don't have an external vented fan, so the cornmeal I used to get it on the stone would burn and smoke up my kitchen.

    For the aforementioned reasons, I now use parchment paper. It is the easiest thing in the world and yields really crisp crust.

    Luigi

    2 Replies
    1. re: Uncle Luigi

      I currently use a stone and I usually preheat for at least 45 minutes. I use parchment paper because it's less messy; I have a great outdoor vented fan so smoke is never an issue. This concept intrigued me because I'd like to follow Jeff Varasano's (http://www.varasanos.com/PizzaRecipe.htm) instructions as closely as I can. He takes the step of disabling his oven lock so he can use the "clean" feature to get to 800+ degrees with his home oven. I don't want to do that and this sounds like a potential alternative.

      1. re: dacfood

        Do you use the parchment paper alone or on the stone? what temp is your oven?

    2. The average pizza place is running their ovens at 500-550 degrees.

      1. They are a lot smarter than me, but it doesn't make sense to me. I cook on my pizza stone, under the broiler and get my pies to cook in about 2 minutes. The temp of my stone before use is about 700 degrees (preheats for an hour at 550 and then another few minutes under the broiler before i use it) and I just dont know what the additional benefit would be to using steel.

        To test something similar, you can use a cast iron skillet upside down instead of a pizza stone and would see how that would work. Preheat it on the stove for at least 5 minutes over high, then flip it over, put in the oven under the broiler and put your pizza on it.

        1. As long as you properly clean and cure your steel sheet (it'll have some residue from the manufacturing process and, of course, handling) it should be fine to cook with. Your state and national park rangers make those BBQ pits out of the same stuff.
          IMO, there isn't enough benefit (if any) to using a steel plate over a baking stone. If the temperature of your oven is 500 degrees and if it's properly preheated the steel won't get any hotter than the stone - the environment is, after all, 500 degrees.

          33 Replies
          1. re: todao

            "If the temperature of your oven is 500 degrees and if it's properly preheated the steel won't get any hotter than the stone - the environment is, after all, 500 degrees."

            That's not exactly true. A pizza stone can get much hotter than the maximum temperature setting of an oven. I suspect the same goes for steel.

            1. re: tommy

              very true. as i mention above, I've measured my stone at almost 700 degrees using an infrared thermometer in my oven which tops out at 550 degrees. Thats using the broiler, but even using it set at 550 degrees, the stone still tops out over 600.

              1. re: ESNY

                I believe the actual value of metal vs stone/ceramic is not the temperature but the ability to transfer heat rapidly, ie, conduction. The stone will be as hot but will not transfer heat into the crust (which is of course colder) as fast as a metal plate. Furthermore, the metal will conduct heat from below to its top (cooking) surface rapidly, while the stone will not.

                On the other hand, the stone has a higher specific heat (energy per volume) than metal, so has more heat to transfer. On the other other hand, because of a higher specific heat, the stone will take longer to preheat than the metal.

                Not having a metal plate, and no thermocouple either, I cannot verify which would do better as to cooking pizza crust.

                1. re: therealdoctorlew

                  Hello, Doctor: "I believe the actual value of metal vs stone/ceramic is not the temperature but the ability to transfer heat rapidly, ie, conduction."

                  Correctamundo. However, there is also the secondary benefit of a higher specific heat than terra cotta. A thick steel sheet is going to have more heat to conduct, i.e., not only will it conduct faster, but there's more stored heat to give your pie. An equivalent sheet of copper would, on balance, be even better. This is why the very best Genoise sheets are copper.

                  Aloha,
                  Kaleo

              2. re: tommy

                No way something can be hotter than the surrounding environment, unless it's generating its own heat.

                Basic law of thermodynamics.

                1. re: dave_c

                  Which law in particular? I'm not sure you understand the laws of thermodynamics or at least how they would be applied in this situation.

                  1. re: tommy

                    What I'm saying is the pizza stone can't generate heat so the stone can never be warmer than the oven.

                    Now, if the pizza stone where on top (very close to the) heating element, I can see the stone being warmer than the oven itself.

                    1. re: dave_c

                      The stone can get hotter than the highest setting on the oven. It's really that simple.

                      1. re: tommy

                        Impossible. Unless the pizza stone creates energy (definitely publishable and perhaps worthy of a Nobel prize) there is no way that it can become hotter than the ambient temperature of the oven in which it sits. Basic science! (That is unless you are talking microwave, induction or another source of energy)1

                        1. re: josephnl

                          I just don't know why people say this. It's 85 degrees outside right now, and the pavement is about 100 according to my IR thermometer. It's because the radiant heat from the sun is getting absorbed by the pavement. The exact same thing applies to a pizza stone or steel under a broiler. The "air" in the oven can be 500, but the coils (or gas) elements are way hotter (get an IR thermometer, you'll see), and the coils are radiating that heat onto the stone, which does raise it higher than the surrounding "air". You are right that if all heat sources are then removed or turned off, the entire oven (walls, air in the oven, pizza stone, racks) will all equalize over time to the same tempurature ( just like the air and pavement at night in the street). But the goal of having the stone get as hot as possible is not limited to the temp of the surrounding ambient tempurature, just like the pavement on a direct sunlight day.

                          1. re: dpwright44

                            The sun as you have properly said is a radiant source of heat. Baking in a normal oven is not the same thing. The heat is transferred not by radiant energy, but by heating the air in the oven to a preselected temperature. Because of this, it is impossible for anything sitting in the oven to become hotter than the ambient air temperature in the oven.

                            1. re: josephnl

                              At the top of my oven are a series of coils. They glow red when on, especially when on broil. The ambient temp in my oven is usually 540-550 when I preheat for 45 to 50 minutes with the oven set to the highest temp (550). I hope this is understandable, I then turn on the broiler. Even though my oven's ambient temp is at 540-550, when on broil, the coils are on, glowing red (like the sun) and providing direct radiant heat to my steel pizza thinger. I don't know how else to describe it. The coils are providing direct radiant heat that is a higher temp than the ambient oven temp. Just like the sun on the pavement. What am I missing?

                                1. re: josephnl

                                  I don't understand why you revert to dropping jargon. I simply don't understand why you don't directly address this simple point. When the coils are on, they are hotter than the surrounding air. It is exactly like the sun and the pavement. Why don't you directly address this point? I have a simple question, if the oven is at say 500 degrees for an hour. And then you put on the broiler, what is it you don't see about the level of radiant heat coming off the coils or flame in the case of gas?

                              1. re: josephnl

                                "Baking in a normal oven is not the same thing. The heat is transferred not by radiant energy, but by heating the air in the oven to a preselected temperature."
                                _____
                                Nope. A hypothetical oven in which air is heated in a completely separate area and blown in would be heated entirely by convection. Your oven and mine generates a great deal of radiated heat.

                                Another example:
                                This is why your cakes and cookies burn on the bottom before cooking through if your oven isn't preheated when you start baking them. If an oven was heated entirely by convection, the bottoms of cookies would be the last part to burn, since they are insulated by a pan, while the tops are exposed to air.

                            2. re: josephnl

                              Explanations of why you're incorrect as well as examples of the same phenomenon were already posted to this thread years ago.

                              'Basic science' would demand that you test your hypothesis, which would in turn lead you to reject it (all of us with pizza stones, broilers and IR thermometers have been conducting this test repeatedly for a long time).

                              1. re: cowboyardee

                                Funny, I've been drawing up a response to coboyardee June 8 response for about 5 minutes thinking he just responded to my post saying I was off, and finally realized, looking at his old posts, that he agrees.

                                His sept 12 2012 post is exactly correct.

                          2. re: dave_c

                            You are absolutely correct dave _ c.

                          3. re: tommy

                            The second law, Tommy, which in nonscientific words says heat always flows from hot to cold and never from cold to hot (so you can never make something hotter than the source of the heat). It's the equivalent of of saying fluids always flow from a point of high pressure to one of lower pressure. But a lot of this argument is based on three things: 1) an oven's temperature setting is not the same as the temperature at the thermostat, 2) if the thermostat is accurate, the actual temperature will fluctuate above and below the target as the oven cycles on and off, and 3) if there is a very hot radiant heat source such as a broiler, you can indeed make the stone hotter than the air near the thermostat, especially if your oven does not shut down at 500F when you use the broiler.

                            I really like the idea of using the broiler after heating the stone to 500F and will try it next time I make pizza, but Esny, if you set the oven at 550 and the stone goes up to 600, it's because of one or more of the 3 items I mentioned above (plus the accuracy of your oven's thermostat). Can we all be friends now?

                            1. re: Zeldog

                              There's no argument. ESNY and I are right, demonstrably. Everyone who doesn't agree is wrong. It doesn't take any vague knowledge of the laws of thermodynamics (with which I am very familiar) to prove or disprove this. I'm not sure what the argument is.

                              It seems that people are forgetting that the heat source in an oven (fire, for example), is really hot. I tire of the persistence fueled with ignorance. Although like a Charlie Sheen I can't take my eyes off.

                              1. re: Zeldog

                                You do agree that in order to heat the oven up to 550 degrees, the heating element would have to be hotter than 550, right?

                                Thus, since the stone retains heat a lot better than the surrounding air, it goes to reason that one of the benefits of preheating your oven and stone for over an hour is that all that extra heat from the element to heat up the air to 550 degrees is retained by the stone. Ergo, the stone will be hotter than the designated oven temp.

                                I'm not even talking about using the broiler to heat the stone as I realize that is a completely different animal. One I do recommend trying though.

                            2. re: dave_c

                              The laws of physics must cease to exist in my oven being my stone gets much hotter than my highest oven temp.

                              1. re: ESNY

                                ESNY, in fairness to the two scientists here, we should probably note that you and I live on Ceti Alpha V.

                                1. re: ESNY

                                  Your oven temperature is not measuring the temperature of the heat source; it's measuring the temperature of the air at some point inside the oven. The temperature varies inside the oven depending upon how close something is to the heating element(s). A convection oven creates a more uniform temperature throughout the oven. That's why you can, for example, cook several cookie sheets at the same time.

                                  A pizza stone is able to retain heat more efficiently than the air so it can be hotter than the air but not hotter than the heat source. I asked Jeff Verasano, who has an excellent site on pizza making (http://bit.ly/d3OBcX), the question about using a steel sheet. He said that the problem isn't so much the bottom heat but creating a higher heat above the pizza. His thought is that using steel would make the problem worse because it increases the bottom heat and doesn't address the problem of lower temp above.

                                  So no laws of physics or thermodynamics are being broken but steel is not the answer.

                                  1. re: dacfood

                                    Hi! I reread the yahoo link.

                                    1) The suggestion was to place the stainless sheet closest to the broiler (I'm assuming he's referring to an electric oven) which would be the top shelf.
                                    - At this height, the sheet will only get as hot as the oven since the sheet is probably 14" to 18" from the lower oven elements..

                                    2) Before sliding in the pizza, turn on the broiler to cook the pizza.
                                    - That broiler heat will take care of the issue of lower temps from above.

                                    It sounds like an interesting (fun and new) way to cook pizza that's worth a shot.

                                    Since I only have a pizza stone, I might try heating the stone on the bottom, which is closest to the heating element, at max oven temps and do some last minute shuffling to the top shelf for the broiler heat. Also, I received a large (14" or 15") cast iron skillet which may be worth a try at pizza making.

                                    1. re: dave_c

                                      Why are you assuming its electric? My oven is gas and the broiler is on the top of the main oven compartment.

                                      As i've said before, just the bake feature of my oven, set at 550 degrees, my stone will top out at about 600 degrees when measured with an infrared thermometer. I just don't understand why people refuse to accept this fact. I promise you that the temp of a stone in an oven set to 550 degrees, will exceed 550 degrees. Theoretical discussions of thermodynamics aside

                                      I also cook pizzas using the broiler. If I put the stone about 5 inches from the broiler element, on the top of my main oven compartment, and preheat at 550 for an hour and then turn the broiler on, the stone will get close to 700 degrees.

                                      I still don't quite understand the benefit of steel, as opposed to a stone, but I also haven't tried it, so maybe it does work better but I have pretty damn good results using a stone and the broiler.

                                      1. re: ESNY

                                        For an electric oven, the oven heating coil is on the bottom of the oven with the broiler element at the top of the oven.

                                        Typically, a gas oven is on the bottom of the oven and the broiler is a separate drawer below the main compartment.

                                        Gas oven with the oven burner and broiler at the top of the oven compartment is not as common. The only time I've seen that configuration was for compact ranges, 24" or less.

                                        Basically, the description the author used closely matches an electric oven.

                                        Your oven automatically overcomes the problem of lower temps on top of the pizza so I bet your pizzas are very good.

                                        1. re: ESNY

                                          @ESNY. I understand your confusion. The best way to describe this is to simply walk into your kitchen, take your infrared thermometer, and check the temperature of a few items. If you have a tile or granite countertop, check that temperature. It will read, say 72 degrees (assuming that is the temp in the room). Now measure the temperature of the kitchen cabinets doors, assuming there wood. They will also read 72 degrees (again, assuming that is the temp in the room). Now, put your hand on the countertop, and put your hand on the cabinet door. Notice how the countertop 'feels' colder than the cabinet door, and yet they are the exact same temperature. That is because the countertop is a much better heat conductor.

                                          Same exact thing happens with a pizza stone versus a metal sheet. The metal is simply a better conductor of heat. This results in better transfer of heat to the pizza, it is that simple.

                                          I was using pizza stones and tiles from home depot for a long time. I switched to the metal sheet (1/4 inch aluminum cut to fit my oven from a local metal shop, about $35 bucks). Best thing I ever did. I was getting really good results from my stones, but get better results from this sheet of metal.

                                          1. re: dpwright44

                                            Sorry to bump an old thread, but I just want to add my 2 cents, since this was never cleared up.

                                            It is indeed possible to get a pizza stone or pan significantly hotter than an oven's max temp setting. This can be easily confirmed with an infrared thermometer. How exactly you heat your oven and place your stone are very important, however.

                                            The mistake people are making when thinking about this is assuming that the stone/pan is heated by the surrounding air (that is, by convection). Most of the time, this is actually a smaller factor in how the stone is heated. Radiation is often a bigger factor. This effect is exaggerated when you heat the stone/pan directly under the broiler. Though the oven is set to turn the broiler off when the air temperature reaches, say, 500, a large pan or stone effectively absorbs much of the broiler's radiated heat, becoming quite hot itself while simultaneously slowing the time to heat the rest of the air to 500. In effect, by the time the air reaches 500 (and the element turns off), the stone is well above 500 because it effectively insulated the broiler from the rest of the oven. If you were to turn off the oven, the temperature of the stone would eventually equalize to that of its surroundings.

                                            It's not that the stone is generating its own heat. It's just absorbing a disproportionate amount of the oven or broiler's radiated heat because of its size and placement.

                                  2. re: dave_c

                                    I'll tell my driveway she's breaking basic law, next time I burn my feet getting the mail barefoot. My truck, parked in a sunny spot, is the next scofflaw to be informed

                                    1. re: BiscuitBoy

                                      Have you ever stepped on the plastic/wood composite decking on a sunny day? It channels the sun's energy with no noticeable loss despite the 93 million mile journey. Defies the laws of ASTROphysics.

                              2. I use a Mario Batali flat pan that is cast iron on top and enameled on the bottom. I used to use a stone but the flat pan is easier to manage for me -- easier to take in and out of the oven. It has handles on the side that make handling it easy. It heats up really fast. Faster than the stone I think. I use parchment on it as others have suggested.
                                \
                                I don't know how it would compare to steel But it cooks quickly and give a crisp bottom to things like pizza and flatbreads.

                                5 Replies
                                1. re: karykat

                                  Karykat, I was going to do a thread for some recommendations on a pizza stone (lost mine a few years ago and haven't replaced it.) After reading your post I'm seriously reconsidering. Is there a huge difference? I would much rather have the pan you mentioned, and the stone is more difficult to manage indeed. Pampered Chef puts out a stone that is much lighter and seems more manageable, but I don't know if there's any difference in quality, or if it even matters.

                                  1. re: lilgi

                                    How does one need to manage a stone? Mine sits in the oven and doesn't move. Ever. It could weight 1000 lbs and it wouldn't matter, if you'll pardon the hyperbole.

                                    1. re: tommy

                                      Isn't there a smoking issue with leaving it in? I would consider it if I could place it at the base and not on the rack. At the very least if I had to move it just for cleaning the oven it wouldn't be too much trouble.

                                      1. re: tommy

                                        I've used stones. I've used this cast iron thing with handles from
                                        Batali. i've left both in the oven most of the time. My Batali thing is in the oven right now.

                                        I really prefer the Batali thing. I don't need to take it out that often, but often enough that I don't want it to be a pain. (Maybe I'm just a wimp!)
                                        Like sometimes I want to do a stew with a big dutch oven.

                                        Or sometimes you want to back cookies on multiple shelves.

                                        Since they both perform very well, I'll use the one that's easy for me to handle.