Baking Steel

Published May 1, 2013. From Cook's Illustrated.

When it comes to baking pizza, can a baking steel outperform the tried and true baking stone?

Overview:

When we heard about a new baking “stone” made of steel, we were intrigued. The Baking Steel from Stoughton Steel ($72) is designed to create an exceptionally crisp, well-browned crust on pizza and other baked goods. We ordered one to compare its performance with that of our favorite baking stone (made of clay), the Old Stone Oven Pizza Baking Stone ($39.99). Before following our recipe for Thin-Crust Pizza (see related content), we preheated both steel and stone in 500-degree ovens for an hour. Although the manufacturer’s instructions suggest placing the steel on the bottom oven rack, we placed it high in the oven as our recipe instructs. (We called the company and learned that it doesn’t actually matter where you place the steel.) The first thing we noticed was how heavy the steel is: At 15 pounds (5 pounds heavier than the stone), it took muscle to maneuver it in and out of the oven. Heft aside, both resulting pizzas looked and tasted great. But there were differences: The steel produced a tall, airy crust with large bubbles… read more

When we heard about a new baking “stone” made of steel, we were intrigued. The Baking Steel from Stoughton Steel ($72) is designed to create an exceptionally crisp, well-browned crust on pizza and other baked goods. We ordered one to compare its performance with that of our favorite baking stone (made of clay), the Old Stone Oven Pizza Baking Stone ($39.99). Before following our recipe for Thin-Crust Pizza (see related content), we preheated both steel and stone in 500-degree ovens for an hour. Although the manufacturer’s instructions suggest placing the steel on the bottom oven rack, we placed it high in the oven as our recipe instructs. (We called the company and learned that it doesn’t actually matter where you place the steel.) The first thing we noticed was how heavy the steel is: At 15 pounds (5 pounds heavier than the stone), it took muscle to maneuver it in and out of the oven. Heft aside, both resulting pizzas looked and tasted great. But there were differences: The steel produced a tall, airy crust with large bubbles and a bottom surface that was more crisp and deeply browned than the stone-baked crust. The stone-baked crust emerged perfectly golden brown and evenly baked, with a thinner profile overall. The steel cooked pizza in 9 minutes compared with 10 minutes on the stone.

Next, we baked multiple loaves of our Rustic Italian Bread (see related content). On the steel, the loaves baked faster—about 10 minutes from the recipe’s stated baking time was cut—and came out with crisp, well-browned crusts. On the stone, loaves baked to an equally handsome and even golden brown. All the loaves boasted a light, open crumb, though the loaves baked on the steel were about ½ inch taller.

Finally, we decided to see how the steel and stone would fare subjected to a new superheating technique that we recently developed for whole-wheat pizza, which features a very wet dough: We preheated both steel and stone in ovens set to 500 degrees and then ran the broiler for 10 minutes before dropping the temperature back to 500 degrees and adding the pizzas. This worked well with the stone but not so well with the steel, which fully cooked the bottom of the crust before the top was done. So we tried it again, this time leaving the broiler on. It was perfect: After just 4 minutes, our pizza emerged with a deeply browned, crisp crust and a bubbly, crackly top surface. The superheated steel had matched the intensity of the broiler and cooked the pizza rapidly and evenly from top to bottom. (With pizza on the stone, however, leaving the broiler on is a no-go: Because the stone wasn’t able to match the heat of the broiler, the top of the pizza scorched before the bottom fully browned.)

Here’s why the materials behave differently: The stone provides a steadier, “calmer” heat than does the steel, which is a more active conductor, rapidly transferring heat from the oven to the dough. The punchier heat from the steel gives dough more oven spring, making pizza crust and bread rise higher and become more crisp and airy than the versions baked on the stone. Heat travels more slowly through stone, so when you bake on it, the stone actually cools slightly just where the dough touches and is slower than steel to recover.

The steel can double as a stovetop griddle (but only for pancakes and foods that don’t drip grease, since it’s rimless) and works well under metal pie plates to help catch drips and crisp bottom crusts. It can be scrubbed clean with hot water and a stiff brush or steel wool (without soap), and it should be dried well and occasionally oiled lightly to prevent rust. If you want reliably terrific baking results at a moderate pace, the Old Stone Oven Pizza Baking Stone remains our top choice. But if you’re an avid pizza baker seeking to emulate the violent heat of a professional pizza oven, the Baking Steel is a worthwhile splurge.

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  • Product Tested

    Results Key:

    Good ★ ★ ★ Fair ★ ★ Poor
  • Prices are subject to change.
  • Highly Recommended - For Most Bakers

    Old Stone Oven Pizza Baking Stone

    This roomy clay stone remains our top choice. It reliably browns and crisps dough evenly and at a moderate pace, and small feet slightly elevate the 10-pound rectangle for easy handling.

    • Baking ★★★
    • Ease of Use ★★★

    $39.99

    BUY NOW Amazon
  • Recommended - For Avid Bakers

    The Baking Steel by Stoughton Steel Company

    This heavy slab of food-safe recycled steel produces more oven spring and transfers heat even more efficiently than does a stone, resulting in slightly taller, airier pizza crust. But be prepared to pay careful attention to avoid burning, because it also cooks foods faster. The steel can double as a stovetop griddle (for nongreasy foods, since it’s rimless), and it works well under metal pie plates to brown bottom crusts. At 15 pounds and with no handles, the flat steel is a bit cumbersome to lift in and out of the oven.

    • Baking ★★★
    • Ease of Use ★★½

    $72.00

    BUY NOW Amazon
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