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Jun 3, 2012 01:05 PM

Is a Pizza Stone necessary?

I do love pizza. But, I have never made it! I am a pretty swift home cook and fairly decent baker, but I have recently taken an interest in learning and trying more bread baking. I got some mushrooms, great Jersey tomatoes and some very tasty 'zucchini and turkey sausage' meat at the greenmarket today. Along with those topping and some sweet basil from my first ever home garden (okay, garden box, but I live in the city and I am proud of my first-born herbs!), and good fresh mozzarella, I intend to make some pizza tomorrow.

The thing is...I don't have a stone or anything else one might use other than the back of a baking sheet. A food blogger whom I enjoy and respect, said that she uses a stone but has used parchment/cornmeal/back of baking sheet and was thrilled with the results.

Part of me had no problem running out and buying a pizza stone tomorrow. But, I probably won't want to spend a lot on one. And...of course, there is always the possibility that the idea of making pizza sounds great to me, but I will actually not like it. That happens to me a lot. ;) So, should I get a stone (or an alternative)? Or should I hold off until after my first shot at pizza and still get good results? If you think I should hold off, please let me know any tips to making a great pizza without a stone. THANKS!

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  1. Oh! And of you think a pizza stone is a must, I will appreciate any suggestions for one that does the job without breaking the bank. And if I can make an easy run to Bed, Bath & Beyond or Target, specifically, for it that would be a huge plus.

    5 Replies
    1. re: Justpaula

      A pizza stone is an absolute must.
      I've got the one offered by the King Arthur site, and I'm going to get
      a second stone for above the pizza. That one will be the pizza piece by Emile Henri at Sur la Table.
      Both were and are $50, with the Emile Henri winning the contest. It is a fine stone and can be used for many things. You will need to spend that, but not more! And keep in mind the formula if you are going for a Napoli style thin pizza. As much over 500 degrees as you can get (probably on CONVECTION ROAST, and it should be done in 5 minutes. Six minutes at most. That formula will keep you on track as you experiment. I conquered pizza just this year after over 20 years of trying. My secret was skipping the dough making and buying Wolfgang Puck's pizza dough at Gelson's. Good idea for a first step; later you can do your own. The flour used in pizza dough will vary depending upon HOW HOT you can get your oven. Under 500 calls for a different flour than a hotter oven, and 400 degrees would call for a still different flour. HOT HOT HOT! Some people even cook pizza on the oven cleaning designaation which is super high, but I don't recommend that. All this temperature advice pertains to thin crust pizza. Also keep the toppings light; that keeps the crust from being soggy. There are some GREAT sites online for pizza info, and some really obsessed pizziolas!
      Good luck.

      1. re: VenusCafe

        D'accordo (I agree)! Not only do I use my rectangular one for baking pizza, but also for baking bread. I was a gift from our daughter and son-in-law.

        Also, THIN CRUST RULES!!

        1. re: ChiliDude

          The main reason a pizza stone is necessary has to do with temperature. When I do my
          oven on Convection Roast, I can dial in a temp of 550. When I preheat for 30 min, I am at temp 550. After an hour preheat my oven still says 550. BUT MY STONE MEASURES
          670 degrees! That higher stone temp represents the stone's accurmulative heat, and is called 'inert' something. It is a huge advantage.

        2. re: VenusCafe

          pizza places here in Brooklyn will sell you a ball of dough. (About $2 per.)

        3. re: Justpaula

          My husband and I are pizza snobs, so I am really a pizza stone fan. When properly preheated, it gives you that crisp and chewy crust I love. The inexpensive ones are fine. Just make sure your pizza peal is the same size or smaller if the stone comes with a wire rack that makes lifting the stone easier.
          Here is an alternative

          Have a great pizza experience. I love my basil and envy you your tomatoes.

        4. A pizza stone is not "necessary", but it's a plus. A good quality baking sheet will produce a good pizza so, IMO, you might find some benefit in using something like that until you've had time to get some experience with pizza making.
          "A food blogger whom I enjoy and respect, said that she uses a stone but has used parchment/cornmeal/back of baking sheet and was thrilled with the results."
          Can't really argue with the practicality of that statement.
          However, a good pizza stone does wonders for crust development because, unlike a baking sheet, it's thoroughly heated before the pizza is placed upon it. Not that you can't preheat a baking sheet; you certainly can. But it's more difficult to manage and tends to take some of the fun out of the process.
          In selecting a pizza stone, avoid those with "accessory" attachments like handles, raised platforms, etc. Select one that's a suitable size (usually around $30)

          and whether it's round or square isn't really an issue. They'll both work fine.
          Follow the instruction that come with the stone VERY carefully. Proper pre-heating, avoiding exposure to cold items (e.g. cold water spritz, etc.) can ruin a good stone in an instant. Been there; done that.
          Storage is also an important consideration and your instructions will guide you in that respect also.
          Just as important as the stone is the peel. When you purchase one, purchase the other at the same time. Season the peel and store it either hanging vertically or resting vertically on its side (I cover mine with heavy brown paper bag material to absorb any excess oils and prevent them from infiltrating the shelving surfaces.
          When you're first starting out, make your pizza small. Avoid trying to create some extraordinarily large pizza. You can prepare several small size if you need to ... and it'll give you the opportunity to try a wider variety of toppings to see how they work for you.

          1. I will let others debate the pizza stone question and instead give you some thoughts on how to keep your pizza from being soggy because of the ingredients--specifically the fresh tomatoes and mozzarella. They both contain a lot of water which will show up on the pizza and sog it out so here's how I deal with them. Slice tomatoes in half and remove obvious seeds/jelly/liquid. Slice both tomato and cheese medium to thin,spread on paper towels and sprinkle with a bit of salt. Cover with more paper towels and press until towels become soaked. Repeat as necessary. Once they are pretty dry just leave on towel or paper plate until ready to assemble the pizza. The other secret with ingredients is not to use too much--though lots of fresh herbs and olive oil do make a big difference.

            22 Replies
            1. re: escondido123

              Great advice. Only thing I'd add to the "avoid soggy pizza" ingredients list is fresh mushrooms. If you're going to use them either precook and add late in the baking process (so they're on the pizza just long enough to heat through) or use them very sparingly.

              1. re: todao

                I just saw this after I responded to escondido. Reading about the possible sog-factor, I realized that, yes, the mushrooms need to be considered carefully. After reading all of these great responses, I think I am going to go with a reasonably priced stone from BBB, and stick with just tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, basil, and some dots of the sausage (it is not encased). which I will pre-cook. I think I am going to use the New York Thin Crust Recipe from Cooks Illustrated Cookbook. I prefer a chewy but crispy crust and that looks like the better option from that cookbook. Thinking about it, my preference for crispy sort of answers my OP, huh??

                I am sure you have all made my pizza making potential a lot stronger.

                1. re: todao

                  I'm confused...I always use sliced, fresh Crimini mushrooms on my pizza and have never, ever had them result in soggy crust!

                  But to answer the original posted question, I think a pizza stone is an _absolute_ must if you're looking to do the classic New York/New Jersey style pizza.
                  Two other things absolutely vital are to make sure you use dough that was made at least the day before...fresh dough makes really crappy pizza, and to preheat the oven with the stone(s) in place for at least an hour or more. 575°F is as hot as I can get my home oven and it works fine, but. the pizzeria I worked in many years ago, we ran the ovens at around 750°F. An insanely hot oven is very important for great pizza.

                  1. re: The Professor

                    We make our pizza dough the same day and cook our pizza at 500. We had it Friday night and it was chewy and crunchy with great flavor...not crappy at all.

                    1. re: escondido123

                      Justpaula - referring to "fresh dough makes really crappy pizza"

                      While I agree that a fermented dough makes a better pizza (or bread for that matter) a freshly made dough that's had time to run through at least one rise will provide a satisfying pizza crust. I sometimes even prepare a dough two or three days ahead of time, but not everyone has the opportunity to do that. Don't shy away from making pizza because you haven't time to allow for fermentation. Just work with what you have and enjoy.

                      1. re: escondido123

                        Justpaula - referring to "fresh dough makes really crappy pizza"
                        While I agree that a dough that's been allowed to ferment for a day or two offers more flavor in the crust, I disagree that a freshly made dough makes a "crappy" pizza. I sometimes ferment a dough for two or three days but I understand that not everyone has the opportunity to do that. As long as your dough has had a chance to experience at least one rise cycle you can still make a very nice pizza with good flavor and texture. Don't shy away from making pizza because you don't have time to ferment the dough. Just go for it and enjoy.

                        1. re: escondido123

                          LOL. Just an opinion, that's all.
                          I guess "crappy" was the wrong word to use.
                          Occasionally on extremely busy days in the pizzeria we sometimes miscalculated and started running out of properly made dough and wound up having to use dough made the same day.
                          You're right, it wasn't bad, just not as good as with fermented dough.
                          I considered it crappy only in comparison to the superior texture and flavor of the "day before" dough.

                          1. re: The Professor

                            For me, the "day before" dough can begin to veer into sourdough territory and I hate sour dough.

                            1. re: escondido123

                              Interesting. I have never had it develop into "sourdough" since
                              1) I use regular bread yeast and
                              2) the dough lives in the refrigerator after a short initial rise.

                              I think what I've always liked about the 'day before' dough has more to do with the resulting texture of both the outer crust and the thin crust underneath all of the toppings. Probably a result of giving the gluten a chance to further develop slowly.

                              1. re: The Professor

                                Fresh dough does NOT make crappy pizza, by any means. Aged dough makes very nice pizza, but does indeed take on a sour smell if aged for more than 24 hours or so.

                                1. re: The Professor

                                  "I think what I've always liked about the 'day before' dough has more to do with the resulting texture of both the outer crust and the thin crust underneath all of the toppings. Probably a result of giving the gluten a chance to further develop slowly."
                                  In my experience, you can achieve the same texture with a fresh dough (rise of a couple hours) by making sure to knead it enough, using flour with enough gluten, getting the moisture balance right, and cooking it hot and fast enough. The main thing aging dough seems to accomplish is a difference in flavor - it's only necessary for gluten development when the gluten is underdeveloped prior to aging.

                                  Locally, I know of a decent wood-fired oven Neapolitan pizza place that gets excellent texture to their crust (lightly charred cracker under-crust, crispy and slightly charred top crust, chewy interior texture with a large uneven crumb) - and I know for a fact that they make their dough daily for the same day's service.

                                    1. re: cowboyardee

                                      My bread is made from a fairly wet dough that rests for 20 minutes after mixing in the Kitchenaid, gets a 60 stroke knead with damp hands on granite and no additional flour except on the board where dough rests, rest 1 hr, stretch and fold, rest 1 hour, quick 8 fold knead, rest 1 hr, then final shaping and rest while the oven heats to 500 along with round Le Cruset with lid. Dough gets set into pan, top cut and lid on for 25 minutes, then lid off for another 30. Crunchy, chew, lovely every time.

                                      1. re: escondido123

                                        How do you adapt that for pizza? (I'd assumed you were talking about using this dough for pizza upthread) Bake the bread into a vaguely pizza-y shape, cool, apply toppings, bake again until melty?

                                        1. re: cowboyardee

                                          Sorry, cowboy, I forgot we were talking only about pizza dough so obviously you would not put it into the LC and bake. You'd just use it like any pizza dough. We put it on parchment paper on the peel, press it out, let it rest, press again and let sit for a bit, add toppings and slide onto stone in 500 oven.

                              2. re: escondido123

                                How does your dough develop great flavor the same day? Are you adding sugar and olive oil or something?

                                1. re: tommy

                                  I make all my dough in one day and find it has great flavor--no sugar, no olive oil, just a little salt. 5 hours from Kitchenaid to oven. When we go to dinner at someone else's house, they always ask if I'll bring that "great" bread.

                                    1. re: tommy

                                      Fleischmann's Yeast. They label it "Bread Machine" yeast but we don't use a bread machine.

                          2. re: escondido123

                            Thank you so much for this important info! Originally, I was just going to go with the fresh tomatoes, basil, and mozzarella (even when we order pizza in, I always have to have the "I don't like that many toppings" discussion with my husband.) But, the turkey farm vendor offered samples of the sausage and while I initially thought it would figure into a nice dish with farm eggs, I had forgotten that eating poultry with eggs gives my hubs the creeps. My point is, I understand that it is not a great idea to bog down the pizza with too much. Maybe I will use the mushrooms in a salad on the side.

                            You instructions on dealing with the moisture from the tomatoes and cheese sounds very valuable. I will most definitely take these steps.

                            1. re: Justpaula

                              Good to cook the sausage ahead. We also do the mushrooms ahead, slicing and browning them well in olive oil. Adds wonderful flavor--and it's kind of a vegetable!

                          3. I bought one of these about 6 years ago and it's still going strong. Highly recommended.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: grampart

                              +1 on the FibraMent. I used quarry tiles when I first started making pizza, but they kept breaking on me. Bought a FibraMent stone about 10 years ago. It lives permanently on the floor of my oven. Love that stone. And although quarry tiles may be cheaper initially, the FibraMent has paid for itself in longevity.

                            2. I made pizzas for many years without a stone. Baked them on cookie sheets that weren't preheated. They were tasty.

                              But then we moved out in the country where pizza isn't very good from our local store.

                              So I started reading up, bought Reinhart's book "American Pie" after borrowing it from the library and enjoying the read about his quest.

                              With his book and recipes, a good stone, and patience, I now make pizzas that slide off the piel, onto the stone, and cook quickly and become awesome eating experiences.

                              Unless you really have great instincts from other baking learning, the perfect pizza isn't going to happen overnight. Learning is half the fun.

                              And read and reread the advice on here of how to avoid soggy pizza. ( I lightly spray thin sliced mushrooms with seasoned olive oil to keep the moisture in as they cook.)