How Does a Pizza Stone Work? (And Do I Really Need One?)


We have a special weakness for the holy fusion of dough and molten cheese. And we're staunch believers that we shouldn't need to proselytize why you need to try making your own pizza at home. And if you've ventured down this path, chances are you've encountered recipes that call for cooking pizza directly on a stone. And perhaps, like many of our readers, you want to know what the fuss is about and whether you really, truly need to purchase a pizza stone.

A little science first. Pizzas are meant to be cooked quickly in a blast of hot oven air, enabling the crust to crisp and blister on the outside while the interior remains soft and enticingly chewy. Whereas commercial and outdoor wood-fired ovens achieve temperatures that can run in excess of 1000°F, most home cooks are working with ovens that max out at 500°F, a temperature that instantly plummets when you open the door to slide your pie in. That’s where a pizza stone comes in. Think of it like a heat battery, a terrific analogy we learned from Andrew Janginian. You charge it up by preheating it in the oven, and then it releases this heat into the surrounding oven as well as directly into your pizza, helping to maintain those high temperatures critical to achieving a great crust and proper rise. Similar to a battery, it also needs an occasional “recharge,” so if you’re making a bunch of pizzas, you’ll need to give it 15 to 30 minutes in between to come back to its potential.

While a pizza stone won’t get you the same results you’d attain in a fancy wood oven, it will produce a pizza that’s far superior to a baking sheet for a $50 to $100 investment that, with proper care, can last a lifetime. Even better, there's no need to find a special space to store yet another item that's rather heavy to lug in and out of the oven since one of the best places to store your stone is inside your oven. When left on the oven rack, your baking stone of choice serves as a temperature regulator helping to maintain a consistent heat during your baking and ensuring it comes back to temperature faster after you open the door mid-bake to check on things. Keep in mind, you will need to preheat your oven for longer than you normally would for this to be effective.

While the concept of a pizza stone is pretty straightforward, there are several options to consider, and it isn’t a “one size fits all” situation. Literally. You’ll need to ensure an appropriate fit for your oven because if the stone is too big, it will block air circulation in your oven and do more harm than good. You’ll also want to consider what stone works for the kind of baking you plan to do. Here’s what you need to know:

Ceramic Pizza Stones

Great for beginners or casual bakers interested in testing the waters without a big financial commitment. The porous surface will discolor and stain with use, which is natural, so don't expect it to remain pristine.
Cost: $
Use: Oven only. Always begin heating it in a cold oven so it slowly warms, otherwise the stone could crack.
Care: Scrape it clean and use only water to rinse it. DO NOT use soap or cleaning products on the stone as it will absorb these and lech them back out next time it's heated, and nobody wants soapy pizza.

Flametop Enameled Ceramic Stones

A red bbq pizza stone.
A great option for those who want durability as well as aesthetics. No fussy cleaning methods required. Apart from baking, it can also be used as a plancha to grill vegetables and fish.
Cost: $ to $$
Use: Oven and grill. Resistant to thermal shock.
Care: Dishwasher safe.

Cordierite Pizza Stones

Ceramic Baking Stone with Pizza

Cordierite is prized for its durability and, as such, is frequently found in ceramic kilns. Its extra cost tends to be offset by its longevity. It's porous, like ceramic, so follow the special care instructions that come with it.
Cost: $$ to $$$$
Use: Oven and grill. Resistant to thermal shock.
Care: Scrape clean and don't use soap.

Cast Iron Pizza “Stone”

Heavy as sin but incredibly durable, cast iron transfers heat better than stone. This makes cast iron great for pizza crusts, though it could lead to undesirably dark-bottomed crusts on breads. Can be used for other purposes on the stovetop as you would a griddle, comal, or plancha. Special care required to maintain the exterior seasoning.
Cost: $ to $$
Use: Works with your oven, grill, campfire, and stovetop (including induction). Comes pre-seasoned.
Care: Clean and maintain the seasoning and otherwise care for it as you would any cast iron cookware.

Pizza Steel

The gold standard for pizza fanatics. Incredible heat transfer rates that can produce those elusive dark, blistery crusts that are rarely seen outside of wood-fired ovens. Similar to cast iron, it's incredibly heavy and requires special care, but can also be used on the stovetop as a cooking surface. As with cast iron, be mindful (and watchful) of your bottom crust if using it to bake other breads as they can darken quickly.
Cost: $$$ to $$$$
Use: Oven, grill, and stovetop (including induction).
Care: Clean with a stiff brush and water.

What to use in place of a pizza stone

Nordic Ware Sheet Pan Set of 3 Side View

If you’re not ready to take the plunge yet, there are some kitchen hacks we’ve successfully used to improve our pizza crusts. One of the most popular is inverting a baking sheet (don’t use a nonstick baking pan for this!) on the bottom oven rack and letting it preheat for quite a while, similar to how you would a pizza stone. While it won’t retain heat the same way a pizza stone does, half-sheet pans are prone to warping at high temperatures, so starting from a cold oven and letting it warm up for a while should allow it to heat evenly and keep the cooking surface as flat as possible.  It offers plenty of surface area for a 12-inch pie. And since the baking sheet is upside down, you don’t have to worry about struggling to transfer your unbaked pizza over the rim.

You can also try the same inversion tactic with your largest cast iron skillet, ensuring your pizza isn’t larger than the bottom of your pan. If this sounds like too much a walk on the wild side and just reading it is giving you nightmares about cleaning burnt pizza off the bottom of your oven, consider this risk-free way to bake a smaller pizza inside a screaming hot cast iron skillet as Michael Ruhlman does.

However, there are tons of ways to scratch your pizza cravings without using a “stone,” such as heading outdoors to your grill, experimenting with pan pizzas, and making calzones.

Already have a pizza stone? Then you'll want to send it on its maiden voyage with any of our most raved-about pizza recipes.

HUNGRY FOR MORE?

Comments

  1. Hi, my name is Chris and enjoy your emails and all the recipes and tips that help my cooking. I saw the article about the white ceramic pizza stone, which I have. I found that my crust comes out like concrete and not soft. Any tips to help avoid this for future Baking?

    1. Welcome, Chris! There could be several contributing factors here beyond just the pizza stone. Are you heating your oven as high as it will go with the stone inside? You want that stone as hot as possible so that the pizza will cook quickly. The longer you have to cook it on the stone, the harder it will get. Also, you want to make sure your dough isn’t too dry and that you’re not overworking it, which can result in a hard dry crust.

  2. Well done Jack! I have an Emile Henry pizza stone that I love. Nice to see the other options. Very well put together article.

    1. Thanks Terry! I’ve been in love with the Emile Henry pizza stone (and all their products) since my Sur La Table days, back before Modernist Cuisine championed the pizza steel in 2013. Have you tried using yours on the grill yet, both for pizza and as a grill surface? I’m curious to see how it performed for you…from years of apartment living I’ve only had opportunity to use mine in the oven.

  3. I have a thick cordierite one I’ve probably had for a decade. It lives in my oven. For exactly the property to retain oven heat you describe. This means I have to spend extra time preheating my oven before I bake anything but, once heated, I’m able to open the door to check on things without big temperature fluctuations.

    When I’m using biscuits as a crust for something I bake them directly on the stone for a few minutes to get a cooked bottom before I place them on the food they’ll bake on. And, of course, it’s excellent for free formed bread as well as pizza.

    I’ve never cleaned mine more than to scrape it with my bench knife. It’s stained but who cares!

    1. That’s fantastic, Rainey. Great suggestion to use it for maintaining heat in your oven.

      Mine is pretty stained, too, and I’m ok with that.

    2. Rainey, glad to know you keep yours in your oven 24/7/365 and have great results. They can be so heavy that moving them is a workout in and of itself! Fully support embracing the “patina”…a stained baking stone is usually the sign of a happy, prolific, and well-fed baker!

Have something to say?

Then tell us. Have a picture you'd like to add to your comment? Attach it below. And as always, please take a gander at our comment policy before posting.

Upload a picture of your dish