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Apr 30, 2012 08:55 AM

Pizza Stone (or Tiles) Oven Position

When using a pizza stone (or unglazed tiles) is it placed directly on the bottom of the oven or on an oven rack at the lowest position? It's high time I started making pizzas at home.

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  1. Oven rack lowest position--I put mine all the way to one side so I still have some open rack for other uses.

    12 Replies
    1. re: escondido123

      If you cook your pizza on the bottom, you're doing your toppings a disservice.

      Consider what a commercial pizza oven-- the deck is super hot, and they're *narrow*.

      Why are they narrow? To concentrate the heat so that the top of the pizza properly cooks.

      The best way to emulate this environment at home is to preheat a stone for an hour at 500+ on the TOP rack.

      Mr Taster

      1. re: Mr Taster

        Thanks for the suggestion but we've been doing it this way for decades and it works just fine for us. We do not put a lot of toppings on our pizza and the top cooks properly. Also, if we put it on the top rack we would have to be moving it frequently and that's not something we want to be doing.

        1. re: escondido123

          For the record- a properly cooked pizza :)

          Mr Taster

          1. re: Mr Taster

            It is not a properly cooked pizza until you use Emile Henry Pizza Stone.

            1. re: Chemicalkinetics

              That post deserves a hearty LOL.

              Mr Taster

            2. re: Mr Taster

              Looks like mine, though I tend to leave a little space between the cheese--oh and a drizzle of olive oil on the crust after it comes out of the oven for a nice fresh flavor, it makes the crust glisten.

            3. re: escondido123

              Plus, if you heat to 500 and use the top rack, you're going to create a lot of spatter and smoke.

              In 20 years of working with baking tiles / stones, this is the only time anybody's ever suggested the top rack in my experience.

            4. re: Mr Taster

              I messed round with a pizza stone for a couple years. And eventually did away with it for pizza.

              IME, the best way to emulate the environment in a professional high temperature oven at home is to use a cast iron griddle rather than a pizza stone (much quicker conduction of heat into the crust), preheated in a very hot oven, but using the broiler to actually cook the pizza. Much better charring and texture to the crust, much quicker cooking times, much more like professional results.

              Incidentally, seriouseats recommends starting the pizza on the stovetop in a skillet and then quickly putting the skillet under the broiler, perhaps finishing on the stovetop if more charring is needed for the bottom of the pizza. I haven't tried this method yet, but it makes sense, and also sidesteps some of the problems with transferring pizzas around if you don't have a big professional metal peel.

              1. re: Mr Taster

                Just saw this exact method used on ATK. I plan on using it for my next pizza foray. Which could very well be this weekend.


                1. re: Davwud

                  Remember, it's a long slow cold rise (up to 72 hours) so mix the dough tonight so you can bake it for lunch or dinner on Saturday.

                  Mr Taster

                  1. re: Mr Taster

                    That is almost my plan. ATK said at least 24 hrs. I was planning on 48. We'll see how busy I am tonight.

                    Thanks. Got a good dough recipe??


                    1. re: Davwud

                      The ATK dough recipe is truly excellent.

                      Mr Taster

            5. I think it would depend on the dough recipe and your oven.

              Is it electric? I've seen electric ovens where you'll benefit more by having the stone closer to the upper heating element for top browning.

              Gas? Gas ovens have the heating element (burners) on the bottom of the oven, so a stone closer to the bottom may work better, but may require some time in the broiler to get top browning.

              Sorry, I'm too much of a geek when it comes to ovens and pizza making.

              1 Reply
              1. re: Novelli

                I have a gas oven. As for dough, I live near a bread bakery that sells dough and I plan on starting out with that before I consider making my own.

              2. All deference to esdondido123...... but I caught a TV piece with an American guy who won the World's Best Pizza title in Italy and he said TOP of the oven. Personal taste is personal taste, though, so try it both ways and see.

                3 Replies
                1. re: Midlife

                  My answer was based upon the assumption the stone would be in place at all times--when I had one I moved around it got cracked pretty quickly.....and I see no difference in the final product so I choose not to take the risk.

                  1. re: escondido123

                    Trader Joe's used to sell inexpensive round pizza stones, and they kept cracking. I must have gone through three of them in two years (although with TJ's generous exchange policy, I only had to pay for one.) I came to realize firsthand how those cheap, thin stones are particularly susceptible to thermal shock.

                    The thick, heavy square clay stone from King Arthur has already lasted me several years and is still going strong. I leave mine in the bottom of the oven (using it as a heat sink) until I need it for pizza, when I move it to the top rack in order to simulate a professional pizza oven, as described above.

                    Mr Taster

                2. Position depends on your oven, and what style of pizza you are trying to make. There are no absolutes and no right or wrong, regardless of what might be suggested.

                  6 Replies
                  1. re: tommy

                    > Position depends on your oven and what style of pizza you are trying to make

                    Well, yes and no. For clarity, I'm referring only to baking a New York style pizza, so a thin, flavorful yeast crust with a crispy bottom and a soft top, lightly sauced with toppings applied sparingly.

                    Heat rises, no matter what oven you have. Baking uses indirect heat, no matter what oven you have (so your heat source should not be radiating directly down onto the pizza, but rather should come from the bottom and rise). So if you place the stone on the top rack, the pizza will bake in the hottest zone of *any* oven (unless you've got convention fans to even out the heat). The hallmark of a well made NY pizza is the crispy bottom and well-cooked top, which you can only get from a pizza cooked quickly on a stone over high heat.

                    To cowboyardee, I don't see any reason why a flat cast iron griddle wouldn't work the same way as a heavy stone as they function on the same principal... super hot heat sink, wicking away moisture, to quickly cook the pizza.

                    Mr Taster

                    1. re: Mr Taster

                      "I don't see any reason why a flat cast iron griddle wouldn't work the same way as a heavy stone as they function on the same principal... super hot heat sink, wicking away moisture, to quickly cook the pizza."
                      They both act as huge heat sinks and hold onto a lot of heat. But cast iron has one major difference - it conducts heat much faster than stone, which in effect means that it delivers more heat to the pizza crust more quickly, even if it is no hotter than a stone. This can mimic the effect of a wood-fired pizza oven, effectively simulating a hotter environment, at least on the bottom of the pizza.

                      BUT, if you simply use preheated cast iron in a 500 degree oven, the bottom of the pizza will char before the rest of the pizza is fully cooked. Cooking under a broiler solves this problem, delivering a lot of heat to the pizza much quicker than any other home oven-based method I know of, shy of tampering with a self-cleaning cycle. It's the only way I've found to get a nice, crispy, moderately charred exterior to the crust with a light, chewy interior that's more pizza-y than bread-y.

                      That's not to say that cooking on a stone high in the oven is bad - it's much better than just cooking on a sheet pan and the other ways most people cook pizza at home. My biggest problem with it wasn't so much lack of char but a bread-y texture to the crust. I'd assumed my problem was that I was making the dough badly, but the quicker cooking of this method proved me wrong. If you ever get a chance, try out the griddle/broiler combo.

                      I might try out the stovetop/broiler combo from seriouseats soon - perhaps even tonight since I have some dough ready. If/when I do, I'll update with results.

                      1. re: cowboyardee

                        cowboyardee, you should watch the America's Test Kitchen episode that Davwud refers to above. They explain the process of how critical a cold yeast fermentation is to getting a non-bready rise from your dough.

                        Essentially they describe yeast acting in 2 stages-- the first stage is where they consume the carbohydrates and excrete flavorful acids and alcohols, which gives the pizza dough a complex flavor. The second phase of yeast metabolism is- how can I put it delicately-- the flatulence phase. This pumps your pizza dough full of CO2 and gives the pizza a risen, doughy, bready texture.

                        So the technique is to maximize the flavorful acids and alcohols of phase 1, and minimize the rising gases of phase 2. The way they do this is to slow down the yeast action by doing a cold fermentation for 24-72 hours. (They actually make the dough with ice water, and then leave it in the fridge to rise).

                        I've made pizza several times with this method, and it works like a dream- no need to broil. The dough remains crispy all the way through, to the center.

                        Mr Taster

                        1. re: Mr Taster

                          I've mainly been doing variations on the no-knead dough (moderately paced rise over about 18 hours, warm temperature, not a lot of yeast), though I've also made many quick rising kneaded doughs whenever I've failed to plan in advance. I haven't tried a refrigerated slow rise. Will have to give that a go.

                          In general, I lean toward the neopolitan style of pizza - I'm aiming for a thin, crisp, cracker style crust in the center of the pizza but want some rise and a good chewiness in the outside crust. I think the heat/quick cooking is probably very important to getting that result, but then again my dough making and baking has never really been up to snuff. I'm definitely a big fan of some flavors from fermentation in the dough.

                          If you haven't already, take a look over at seriouseats. The main guy at that website is Kenji Lopez-Alt, who worked for Cooks Illustrated, and I've come to suspect he was the creator of their best ideas (I know for a fact that the famous CI vodka pie crust was his work). His own site is a little more geared toward serious hobbyists than CI/ATK, and there's the added bonus that you don't have to put up with Kimball hamming it up. Kenji's pizza recipe (the stovetop method) also uses a slow rise like the one you describe, and I wouldn't be surprised if he was the one behind that advice as well. The navigation at seriouseats isn't great, but aside from that it's a fantastic site.

                          1. re: cowboyardee

                            Interesting re: Kenji. I'll give Serious Eats a more, ahem, serious look. But do watch that pizzamaking episode of ATK while it's still free. Kimball's gee-whiz schtick is the price you will pay for what is a truly excellent, well written pizza recipe with puffy, risen edges and a very crispy crust bottom to the core.

                            Mr Taster

                            1. re: cowboyardee

                              As promised last night's pizza review. I tried a few things different this time:

                              - I used the stovetop method. Cast iron skillet preheated. Pizza assembled quickly in the skillet itself, then put under the broiler. Finished back on the stove for a few minutes to fully crisp and char the bottom.
                              - I started with standard no-knead dough, using AP flour (which is a very wet dough) - along with a teaspoon of sugar (to help browning) and maybe an extra 1/8 tsp of yeast (total of about 3/8 tsp for 3 cups flour). After 18 hours of rise, I added another sprinkle of salt and around a cup of whole wheat flour, kneading the dough until incorporated, and bringing the moisture level down to normal pizza dough levels. I divided the dough and let it rise for another 90 minutes.
                              - Sauce, same as usual. Topped with fresh mozzarella, basil, drizzle of olive oil.

                              The good news:
                              - The bottom of the crust was thin, crispy and slightly charred. Not waterlogged at all either. Just about perfect.
                              - The outside of the crust had just about the perfect level of chewiness. Not bread-y but nice and chewy and substantial.
                              - The crust had a sourness that was pretty close to ideal. The warm 18 hour rise did just fine in terms of fermentation, as usual.
                              - The pizza was significantly easier to form and pass around than it normally is moving a thin crust pizza on a peel.

                              The bad news:
                              - I didn't get quite the charring to the top of the outside crust that I usually do under the broiler before the cheese started to bubble and brown. Discussion below.
                              - I didn't get quite the rise out of the outside crust or the large coarse crumb I was hoping for. This isn't ideal, but it's hard to complain too much since the chewiness was just about perfect.
                              - Checking under the crust during the final browning on the stovetop caused the toppings to slide around on top. Not a huge deal, but it hurt the presentation a bit, since I didn't get those nice white lumps of cheese against the red sauce that you normally see on Neapolitan pizza.

                              I'm mainly left wondering why I didn't get as much browning to the outside crust as usual. It might have been an issue of overfermenting the dough (lowering the pH makes a crust slower to brown and char). Also possible that the whole wheat flour was a factor, since that hasn't been how I normally make a dough. But I'm suspecting that the comparably straight sides of the skillet somehow shielded the crust from a lot of the radiation from the broiler. Preheating the whole pan in the oven rather than on the stovetop might help, so the sides of the pan are hot. Or a skillet that's more flared. I suspect I didn't get quite as much rise in the outside crust as usual for the same reason - a little less heat to that part of the crust than usual.

                              Here are some pics. It was still a perfectly enjoyable dinner. And I think the stovetop method is promising.

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