This guide will introduce you to a baking stone. We’ll share with you what is it, why you need one, how to use it and we’ll provide reviews of some of the top rated pizza stones on the market.
If you want to enjoy brick oven quality pizza or baked goods without owning a brick oven, then a baking stone is a cost effective option and also a great gift idea for pizza lovers and bakers alike.
Have you ever wondered why your homemade pizza or bread does not have that unique pizzeria or bakery flavor?
One of the reasons is the crust. The metal baking pan, often used, is not porous and cannot absorb moisture — because of this you are more likely to end up with a softer, maybe even soggy crust.
A baking stone, also called a “pizza stone”, is designed to eliminate this problem. Because it absorbs moisture from the dough, it can help produce a crispy crust that’s evenly cooked — it also eliminates the hot spots that can sometimes happen in a kitchen oven.
This makes it a perfect option for cooking dough-based foods, which often taste better when they have a crispy, baked texture and a little bit of crunch.
What is a Baking Stone?
A baking stone is a thick, flat piece of natural stone surface that is used for baking. It can be square, round or rectangular in shape and can be anywhere from 1/2 inch thick to an inch thick. It works in a very simple manner.
The stone is placed on the middle rack, or bottom of the oven, preheated for 30 minutes (or an hour if it’s thicker), before baking.
As the stone heats up, it will absorb the heat and retain it for a long time. Heat rises uniformly and is then transferred directly to the bottom of your dough — allowing you to bake calzones, breads, rolls or pastries and pizza evenly. They will finish with a nicely browned, crispier crust.
Depending on the type of baking stone selected, they are generally heat safe up to 600 degrees Fahrenheit.
To Glaze or Not to Glaze?
Baking stones or pizza stones come in different natural materials, with the most common being clay, marble, tile and firebrick. They are sold primarily as “unglazed” which stands to reason if they’re purpose is to absorb moisture while providing even heat.
There are a few pizza stones, however, that are sold as “glazed” — this might seem counter intuitive if the primary purpose of the stone is to absorb moisture. Some of these “glazed” stones, however, are considered “micro-glazed” which means the glazing has fine cracks or fissures which still permits some moisture to penetrate. The fully glazed pizza stones should be listed, by the manufacturer in their product description, as non-absorbent.
Glazed or unglazed becomes a matter of personal preference. A “glazed” baking stone is marketed as easier to clean and costs a little more but seasoning an “unglazed” stone with non-stick spray or cooking oil before baking will provide equally easy cleaning as the “glazed”.
The Best Way to Use a Pizza Stone
To get the most mileage out of your pizza stone, you need to know how to use it properly. Here are a few steps to ensure a long useful life:
- Preheat the stone – The key to making that crispy crust you love so much, is to ensure that the stone is heated well, so never rush the preheating stage. Experts recommend that you preheat it for 30 minutes, or up to one hour, BEFORE setting the dough on it. It’s important to mention that when your oven is done heating to temperature, your baking stone is NOT done heating. This is why it needs to heat at least 30 minutes for a 1/2-inch thick stone and up to an hour for a 3/4 to 1-inch stone.
- Always put the stone in a cold oven – A cold stone, regardless of type, placed in a hot oven, is likely to break because it cannot withstand the sudden temperature change. That is why it’s advisable that you put the pizza stone inside a cold oven before turning it on. This is important because it allows the stone to heat with the oven, thereby preventing thermal shock and possibly breakage.
- Season regularly with oil – Learning how to season a pizza stone is easy. To prevent dough-based goods from sticking on the surface of an unglazed natural stone, just rub a small amount of olive oil on the surface regularly. Rub it in a circular motion, until the oil sheen is gone and has soaked into the stone’s top layer. If you leave any extra oil on the surface, it will cause the stone to smoke when you heat it up later. Alternatively, there are some in the kitchen who sprinkle bread crumbs, rice flour or cornmeal on the stone’s surface, to prevent sticking in lieu of oil.
How to Select the Right Baking Stone for You
Finding the best baking stone for your needs is not difficult. First, you need to make sure that the stone you’re buying will fit your oven. This can be accomplished by measuring the depth and width of your oven cavity.
If you have a natural gas oven, you’ll need to allow for at least one inch on each side of the stone, for air circulation — similar to what you would do with cookie sheets.
In addition, if you love your bread or pizza evenly cooked and crispy, then go for a thicker stone, about 3/4 to 1 inch thick. The thicker the stone, the better the heat absorption in the pizza stone and better distribution of that heat to the food for the optimum in uniform baking.
The largest, SINGLE PIECE, baking stone you can buy, to fit in a standard sized kitchen oven, is about 16 inches by 14 inches.
Baking stones come in square, rectangular and round shapes. Rectangular stones provide more surface area, and are ideal if you plan to bake bread and other foods requiring more space or are in a non-standard round or square shape. If you plan to bake just pizza, then go for one that is round or square depending on the shape of the pizza you prefer.
How to Clean a Pizza Stone
To consistently get the best performance from your baking stone in the kitchen, it needs to be cleaned. But because it is a porous material, it needs special care just as you would care for a marble or granite countertop or floor or any other surface made from natural stone.
Here are some tips to ensure your pizza stone is around for years of use and crispy crusts:
- Because your natural stone is porous, it should never be washed with soap. The soap will leach into the surface of the pizza stone and your next baked good will have the flavor of that mystery ingredient — soap.
- Always clean your natural pizza stone after it has completely cooled. Introducing a hot stone to cold or tepid water will weaken the structural integrity by going into thermal shock and can cause small fractures that can later lead to cracks and breakage — you don’t want to pull BOTH your pizza and your pizza stone out of the oven in pieces.
- Because an unglazed stone surface is not sealed, scrape off any spilled or cooked on food with a stiff brush, plastic scraper or scrubbing pad and then wipe the surface with a damp cloth. Allow it to completely dry before seasoning it and using it again.
- An unsealed surface WILL get stained but this in no way impacts the flavor of your food as you continue to use it.
- As the main benefit of a baking stone for pizza or other baked goods is to absorb moisture, do not use chemical sealers on it as you would on a granite or marble countertop even if the sealer is considered food grade. High heating temps will damage the natural stone by causing the sealer to expand when heated and crack the stone. The heated sealer can also leach into your food.
Conclusion – Beware of Imitations
Your best pizza stone is going to made from a natural material with absorbent properties. There are many advertised “pizza stones” that are little more than pizza pans, made to look like stone.
Be wary of oven-to-table models, highly glazed models, baking steel and “dishwasher safe” models.
Single piece baking stones versus baking tiles provide the benefit of no moving, shifting or adjusting. Some models come with legs on the bottom that actually make it easier to get the stone out of the oven for cleaning.
The thinner the pizza stone, the better the chance of it cracking and breaking with extended use. The cost difference between a 1/2-inch versus a 3/4-inch is nominal and the thicker stone will provide longer life and more consistent results.
Finally, natural stone is heavy. Before buying at Amazon or anyplace else, be sure to note whether shipping is included or at an additional cost. Shipping for a large pizza stone can be better than a third of the cost of the stone itself.