The Path To Pizza Enlightenment
After eating the same pizza recipe every week for twelve weeks, I have seen how decidedly different the results can be depending on the baking surface used. Personal preference for char and crispness, as well as the emphasis placed on ease of cleaning and usability, will all be determining factors in choosing the right stone. Click through to read about the attributes of each stone.
Cheap Baking Stone
Pros: It's cheap and does a decent job. Sold under a huge number of brand names (and non-brands) a cheap stone is better than no stone.
Cons: This wasn't the crispest crust, if that's what you're after, and many cheap stones are more prone to breaking than their more expensive counterparts.
Comments: For the occasional pizza-baker, a cheap stone could be a good buy. Cheap but can be fragile. Brand names performed better at higher price. Recommended with reservations.
Pros: It holds pizza.
Cons: This gave me the worst pizza of the entire series. An even slightly brown crust requires 12 minutes of cooking time compared to 8 minutes for the other surfaces (and that still may be doughy). With some tweaking of the recipe, method, and cooking time, it might result in a decent pizza. But for this test, it comes in at the bottom.
Comments: Save this one for serving pizza. Not Recommended.
Pros: Pizzas are crisp and well-browned, like those cooked on a pizza stone, but with a lower price tag.
Cons: No matter how careful you are, the stones shift around and need to be readjusted occasionally. Also, drips and spills can get through between the tiles and land on the oven floor. If you need to move your oven racks around, it's more annoying to deal with multiple small stones than one large one. Quarry tiles need to be tested for lead since they are not made as a food safe material.
Comments: These are a decent option for temporary use while you're shopping for a permanent stone. Good best buy. Recommended with reservations.
Double-Stacked Quarry Tiles
Pros: Good browning and crispness (comparable to the single quarry tiles).
Cons: The same safety and shifting issues as the single tiles. Additionally, double stacks of tiles left in the oven are an inconvenience when shifting racks to accommodate other baking projects.
Comments: Nearly identical results to the single layer of tiles despite the increase in mass. In theory, dividing the tiles between upper and lower oven racks simulates the heat distribution of a brick or clay oven, but the results were nearly identical to the testing with a single level of quarry tiles. Buying extra for use as replacements is a good idea since these tiles aren't always available at home improvement centers. Recommended with reservations.
King Arthur Flour Baking Stone
Pros: A crisper crust than with the quarry tiles, and more browning. The rectangular stone gives a little more landing space than a round stone, but it's not so large that it would impede airflow in most home ovens.
Cons: Like any porous surface, it's not going to stay pretty for long when you start spilling things on it.
Comments: One of the better options of the series. No razzle-dazzle, but this is a workhorse of a stone. Recommended.
Emile Henry Baking Stone
Pros: Aesthetically pleasing and practical, this stone can be easily removed from the oven to double as the cutting and serving surface. It also produces the crispest crust of any of the stones, and keeping the pizza on the stone for serving helps keep the crust hot and crisp. The glazed surface can be cleaned with soap and water.
Cons: While this was the crispest crust, some may find it a little too crisp.
Comments: This stone has a lot going for it, including coming in both round and rectangular shapes; a preference to consider before purchasing. Recommended.
Pros: Using a screen makes it easy to transport pizzas to and from the oven and they are very inexpensive.
Cons: The crust wasn't crisp at all. Some people have reported issues with the crust adhering to the screen during baking.
Comments: This falls under the better-than-nothing category. Since there is no surface, such a stone, to facilitate even heat distribution, pizzas cook very unevenly with very light and very dark areas on the crust. Screens are popular for reheating pizzas. Not recommended.
Pizza Screen on Baking Stone
Pros: Easy for inserting and retrieving from the oven. With the added heat distribution from the stone, the pizzas cooked with this method produce a golden brown crust with a thin layer of crispness.
Cons: If you're looking for a seriously crisp crust, this isn't the way to go.
Comments: This option avoids the pitfalls that accompany transferring a pizza off a peel and into the oven. The pizza can also be moved onto the stone, after the crust stiffens up, for direct baking on the stone. Not recommended.
Parchment Paper on Baking Stone
Pros: Parchment paper is cheap, and this makes transport to the oven a little easier. Cleanup is easy. If the parchment is larger than the pizza, drips and spills won't end up on the stone or oven floor.
Cons: The pizza doesn't get quite as crisp as when cooked directly on a stone, but it's close.
Comments: Parchment acts as the perfect "training wheels" for learning how to move a pizza around. If it's a little clumsy, the pizza will still be fine. It also offers a barrier to overly crisp pies. Recommended with reservations.
Fibrament Baking Stone
Pros: An almost endless selection of sizes, you can custom-order a stone to fit your oven and your particular needs. The crust gets crisp—not as crisp as the Emile Henry, but similar to the King Arthur Flour stone.
Cons: There are dire warnings about getting the stone wet. That means cleaning is limited to scraping.
Comments: The water warnings associated with this stone limit its versatility—especially for bread baking that involved spritzing the loaves mid-bake. Recommended.
Lodge Cast-Iron Pizza Pan
Pros:This can be use on the grill or stovetop, in the oven, and under the broiler. Side handles make it easy to move the stone. The crust gets well-browned with spots of char, and crisp. It comes seasoned, but you can opt to season it more, and it is virtually unbreakable.
Cons: Just like any cast iron piece, it has its own cleaning/seasoning rules. However, it's easier to clean than a porous stone.
Comments: The versatility of this one earns some bonus points. There's a certain romance to using a stone rather than metal, but this does the job. The lip, though seemingly a drawback, proved not to be. Recommended.
Pros: Soapstone is a natural, rather than man-made material, and it's aesthetically pleasing. Because it is a soft material, sharp knives can damage the stone, but the rough spots and scratches can be sanded out. An accompanying metal ring makes it easier to transport the stone from the oven. It also comes with a pizza cutter. This stone produces the most char.
Cons: The metal ring isn't intended for oven use, so it will discolor if you put it in the oven with the stone. This stone has the highest price tag of the bunch.
Comments: While this stone gets the most char, that doesn't translate to the crispest pie. The utility of the metal ring on a hot stone is debatable, but it does give the stone a double duty function as a serving piece. And although not a part of this testing, a chilled soapstone would be handy for serving cold items. Recommended with reservations.