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Heavy perforated pizza pans?

I'm looking at the various thick steel plates, a few aluminum ones, and similar things on the various "start up" websites and got to wondering about users experiences in this forum. Who cooks on 1/4 inch steel or really thick aluminum? What is your experience? FWIW, the common pizza stones aren't crisping the way I want so, one of those 1/2" baker specialty stones is an option too.

What I am considering is taking a Lodge cast iron pizza pan and drilling holes in it to vent steam to get a nice thin crust pizza that isn't soggy from trapped steam. Using just the rack and thick dough crusts, they sag and droop between the wire runners but, freezing it lets the dough crisp on the bottom first. This will not work with a thin crust dough and I want more heat to crisp the crust when the dough first goes in then I get from the slower warm up on an open grate.

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  1. drilling through cast iron? sounds pretty labourous.

    have you tried:
    1) turning up the oven temp;
    2) reducing liquid ratio if you make your own crusts;
    3) dusting the bottom of the crust with flour; or
    4) dusting your current surface with corn meal?

    1 Reply
    1. re: filtered

      <drilling through cast iron? sounds pretty laborious.>

      I have access to a drill press so, it's not that hard or time consuming.

      <have you tried:>
      1) not really an option on a weak apartment stove, I'm trying to make due with what I currently have
      2) I'm new to bread making so, my crusts could probably use some tweaking
      3&4) I'm more inclined to use corn meal with my pizza peel

    2. Sprinkling a bit of corn meal on your pizza pan helps... I haven't really had an issue with soggy crust on my Lodge pan. Ideally, the pizza is slid from a peel onto a pre-heated pan, but I have gotten away with laying out the pizza on a room temp pan.

      1. I use the 1/4" steel. It is amazing. I can actually get 4-5min pizzas in my oven that have great open crumb and crisp, spotted crusts.

        My pizzas actually look like this (I put the oven on max, preheat for 30 mins, then turn the broiler on full and preheat another 15 mins, then slide the pizza in):
        http://slice.seriouseats.com/images/2...

        You may be interested in this review:
        http://slice.seriouseats.com/archives...

        My pizza dough is about 74% hydration.

        18 Replies
        1. re: Sirrith

          Sirrith,

          <... then turn the broiler on full and preheat another 15 mins, then slide the pizza in):>

          Do you place your steel up near the broiler? I'm preheating a stone for 45 minutes at 550º and get 8-10 minute pizzas. Dude's been eyeing the steels. Why, I'm not sure, as his idea of baking pizza is calling our local Marco's.

          Hey! I know! A steel (it's manly) on the grill (even more manly) might be enough to get him to bake a pie. Excuse me. A PIZZA. ;)

          1. re: DuffyH

            Yes, I put it on the highest shelf which gives me about 1.5" clearance between the toppings and the heating element! I'm going to try placing it on the 2nd shelf tonight to see if I can get a darker bottom without burning the top.

            8-10 minutes with stone in a 550F oven would probably translate to 6-7 minutes or so on the steel, but I guess that depends on your dough and how much toppings etc...

            It does make pizza baking a lot more fun knowing you can get results that look and taste as good as or better than many professional kitchens :)

            1. re: DuffyH

              A bit depends on the oven...I have an older style where there is a broiler drawer way on the bottom. In any event, if there is an issue with crusts not browning, I have found it makes sense to set the pan as LOW as possible.

            2. re: Sirrith

              Thanks Sirrith! Those links are really great.

              1. re: Sid Post

                No problem, I'll see if I can get a picture of my pizza tonight with the steel, unless it gets eaten before I get the chance.

                1. re: Sirrith

                  Here's the before and after shots. 5 minutes exactly from sliding it into the oven (2nd rack from top this time) to taking it out. I measured the steel at 538F this time round, slightly lower than last time as expected.

                   
                   
                  1. re: Sirrith

                    And that's with the broiler running, yes?

                    1. re: DuffyH

                      Yes, broiler running throughout. If I just use the regular oven (I place my old pizza stone on the shelf above the steel to provide heat from above when doing this), the steel stabilizes at around 460F and I don't get the lovely dark spotting on the crust, I just get golden-brown spots and a pale crust after 7m30s.

                      The broiler (mine is electric) adds almost 100F to the max temperature of the steel and cuts baking time by just over 2 and a half minutes.

                      1. re: Sirrith

                        Thanks for the tip. I'll try it with the broiler next time.

                          1. re: Sirrith

                            Yesterday I purchased some low moisture Mozzarella which I think may be part of my problem. With this new cheese and a tweak or two to my bread making, I should be getting a crisper crust with my future pizza attempts.

                            1. re: Sid Post

                              I've never had to use low moisture mozzarella in my pizza, I always use fresh mozzarella (the ball type stored in liquid). What I've found is that I need to go easy on the sauce, too much and the dough under the sauce doesn't cook through before the edges get over-done.

                              What is your dough recipe if you don't mind my asking?

                              1. re: Sirrith

                                Just an update... managed to get my steel up to 630F now, just need to use the broiler to preheat from the start and preheat for 45 mins on max instead of going oven first then broiler. May be a useful tip if you are using an electric broiler, no idea if it works the same with gas.

                                Now my pizza gets done in under 4 minutes!

                            2. re: Sirrith

                              Hi Sirrith,

                              Today I finally remembered to turn on the broiler, but only for about 30 minutes of the total 45min preheat. I'm using a cheap thin stone and forgot to move my rack up from it's dead center position. In short, I did nearly everything wrong.

                              Time wasn't appreciably shorter, taking about 9 minutes overall, but the pie was lovely, the best I've ever baked, lots of big bubbles, crisp crust, open crumb.

                              Using the same batch of dough (Beth Hensperger's bread machine basic recipe) yesterday in my Breville Smartoven, done in the conventional manner, it was a completely different pie. Preheating the stone for about 30 min on the pizza setting (450º) gave me a pizza that had a very fine crumb, with no appreciable air pockets and an overall light golden crust. No spotting, no char, and worst of all it had no oven spring at all. It took 10 minutes to bake.

                              I may play around with the settings on the Breville and see if I can get a better pizza, maybe using the broiler. As of today, though, it looks like homemade pizza is one of the rare things that is better cooked in the big oven.

                              Duffy

                              1. re: DuffyH

                                I can get pretty decent pizza from a toaster oven. I have no idea what the Smartoven is like, but the toaster ovens I'm used to have bare heating elements on the top and bottom, much like the broiler in an electric oven. Moving the rack and stone up to the top near the heating element will effectively simulate the effect of a broiler in a large oven, and produce similar results although in my experience it takes about double the time (~4 mins with full broiler in big oven, ~9 mins with element on in toaster oven). But you have to time it right and put the pie in just when the heating element cycles on, and maybe even open the door during the bake to make sure the element stays on.

                                1. re: Sirrith

                                  One good thing about the BSO is that it has a number of options. Although the pizza setting only brings the temp up to 450º, the broil setting will bring it up to 500º. I think a little longer preheat with the stone may get it up to where I want it.
                                  I've had decent results with a very thin crust in the Breville before.

                            3. re: DuffyH

                              I've used the preheat-then-broil method with my Lodge Pizza Pan. I used to use cornmeal and a pizza peel, but switched to parchment paper. Crisp crust and good char. Highly recommended.

                  2. re: Sirrith

                    I tried your technique with my gas oven/broiler. I moved it down around 6 inches from the flames and it turned out very nicely, thanks for the tips! I was delighted with the look and taste.

                     
                  3. How hot is your stone? The stone should be preheated for 30 minutes as hot as you oven will get.

                    Don't bother with cast iron. A cast iron pan will never get hot enough to crisp the crust before the top is done. A cast iron pizza pan is as useless as a cast iron wok.

                    The secret to a crispy crust is to get the pizza out of the pan as soon as possible so the crust is directly on the 500+° stone.

                    I form and top my pizza on a cheap steel pan, but I remove it after about 1 minute in the oven so the pizza bakes directly on the hot stone. If the pan is correctly seasoned the pizza should slide right off as soon as the moisture between the crust and pan evaporates.

                    11 Replies
                    1. re: Kelli2006

                      With respect, that is wrong. Cast iron will definitely get hot enough to crisp the crust, many will attest to that, and this review also shows it (and indeed they think the cast iron pan is better than the stones):
                      http://slice.seriouseats.com/archives...

                      1. re: Sirrith

                        Although aluminum pans turn out a perfectly respectable pie, the best deep-dish pizzas I've ever had came from cast iron. Über-crispy crust.

                        1. re: Sirrith

                          Oh, I forgot to add that the Chinese have been using cast iron woks for centuries...

                          1. re: Sirrith

                            The Chinese use hammered steel woks. Cast iron is thicker and doesn't give you the same temperature control as thinner carbon steel.

                            The thinner steel heats and cools much quicker, unlike cast iron which takes much longer to heat up and does not cool down as fast.

                            1. re: Kelli2006

                              No, we (I am half Chinese) do indeed use cast iron woks. We also use hammered steel, but definitely also cast iron. Chinese cast iron is much thinner than "western" cast iron (in fact I just bought a new cast iron wok last weekend) and is quite responsive.

                              I agree that western style cast iron woks (e.g. that lodge monster) are completely useless since they are just big skillets and are impossible to manoeuvre along with having bad response time.

                              Yes, if you prep the pizza on the cold pan then put it in the oven, you are completely correct, it won't get hot enough. I thought you meant it would not get hot enough if you preheated it in the oven before putting the pizza onto it!

                              My oven doesn't have a self-cleaning cycle, so I can't try that, but I'm not sure I would feel comfortable doing it anyway as I'd worry about flakes of burnt crud falling on my pizza (my oven is quite dirty :P ). I didn't really have much of a choice as to thickness, ideally I would love to use a 3/8" steel, but that particular thickness is only offered in 14x16 and is just slightly too big for my oven. I could get it custom cut, but that would add to the cost, and the shipping all the way to Hong Kong would be very painful. So I use the 14x14 Sur La Table version which I managed to get shipped for very cheap luckily.

                              1. re: Sirrith

                                Thank you Sirrith! Your posts have been very helpful to me.

                                Yesterday I stopped by a steel shop and found some circular steel in various thicknesses. I think I might pick up a 12" round that is either 1/2 or 5/8ths thick. The edge is painted so, I'm not sure how I will remove that. If I have to, I guess I could always get a file or heavy wire brush

                                1. re: Sid Post

                                  Liquid paint stripper should work as long as it is powder coat. Make sure to wash it well before using it after you use paint remover.

                                  1. re: Sid Post

                                    No problem Sid :)

                                    I know nothing about paint removal, but just want to add that there have been comments on various reviews of the baking steel to just get a steel slab from metal shops, and other comments relating to food grade steel and mill scale stuff, whatever that is.

                                    1. re: Sirrith

                                      Mill scale is iron oxide that forms on hot steel as it is being hot rolled. You can grind it off.

                            2. re: Sirrith

                              An iron pan would be a good replacement for a stone, but if you prep the pizza on an iron pan then it will not get hot enough in the 10 minutes that it is in the oven to give you the crisp crust that you desire.

                              I do like your idea of using a piece of 1/4" steel in place of a stone. 3/8' steel sheet would give you even more thermal mass, if you oven rack will support the weight.

                              Have you tried the trick to disable the oven safety and allow you to use the self-cleaning oven feature to preheat your stone/sheet?

                              If you want to use the iron pan then you would be better to prep the pizza on parchment and slide it into the pre-heated cast iron pan that is already in the oven or on a grill.

                              1. re: Sirrith

                                Back in the day, before pizza stones were readily available to the home cook, we always used cast iron skillets. I can't remember if we preheated them, though, I'm thinking not because I definitely would have burned myself getting the crust into the pan. And THAT I would remember!

                            3. Heston Blumenthal heated a cast iron pan for 30 minutes then flipped it over, put the pizza on and slid it under a pre-heated grill on high in order to replicate the 450 degrees C (860F) required.

                              he also did lots of other mental stuff.

                              if you cant be arsed just use a very this flatbread you have pre-crisped and a small amount of topping http://www.mybodega.co.uk/appreciate-...

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: pecandanish

                                You can make crispy cookies this way too. Not as high of heat, but an inverted cast iron pan can be used instead of baking sheet. I learned this trick in college I had limited funds for cooking implements and a shared kitchen.