Published January 1, 2011. From Cook's Illustrated.
When we heard raves about the thin, perforated metal disks called pizza screens, we wondered if using them would make our pizza-making easier.
To produce great pizzeria-style crust at home—well browned, crisp, and just a bit chewy—we usually turn to the blasting heat of a pizza stone, which we place 3 to 5 inches from the top of the oven to ensure that both the top and bottom of the pie cook quickly. But when we heard raves about the thin, perforated metal disks called pizza screens, we wondered if using them would allow us to skip preheating the heavy slab as well as the always-tricky step of transferring the pie from the pizza peel into the oven. They certainly had price ($4 to $20) and lightweight convenience (a few ounces) going for them—but would they actually turn out a decent crust?
The short answer is no. Though the screen did ease a few pizza-making logistics—building the pie on the disk ensured a perfectly round circle, and moving it in and out of the oven was a breeze—the results were subpar. We ran two tests, baking the pies directly on the oven rack and on a preheated stone, but in both cases the screens prolonged the cooking time and the pizzas (while nicely browned) emerged unappealingly hard and crackerlike.
But if the perforations allow steam to escape so that the crust can crisp up, why were our pies baking up stiff and tough? The explanation was twofold: First, the screens simply didn’t get anywhere near the 500-degree mark of a stone, so the crust cooked slower and dried out. Second, the perforations allowed steam to escape from the dough, and the evaporating moisture prevented the crust from getting hotter than the boiling point of 212 degrees—a process called evaporative cooling. With that in mind, we’ll skip the screens and stick with our favorite pizza stone.