Pizza Stones and How to Pick 'Em
This is what happens to most expensive, store-bought pizza stones.
A few years ago, I purchased on of those pizza stone kits at Target or Kmart or something like that. I remember getting it home and being ultra excited to try it out. I ripped open the packaging and stuck the orange stone in the oven. I followed the dough recipe in the box and made some dough, opened a can of tomato sauce, and shredded a package of cheap mozzarella cheese.
After assembling my pie and the wooden pizza peel that came with the kit, I plunked it on the stone and waited. About five minutes later, I heard a slight pop come from the oven. I opened the door and saw the stone had split right down the middle. Shards of clay (or whatever it was made of) had splintered off into the pizza.
That kit probably cost $30, which was precisely $25 too much -- I'd pay $5 for the wooden peel. But the rest of the stuff in the package was garbage, especially the stone. This $25 piece of "specially formulated stone" split
after during the first use.
The sad thing is most pizza stones are like this. They can cost upward of $100 for imported Brazilian soapstone and silly composites with useless "features" like handles and curved lips. But the truth is, you can duplicate or improve upon the performance of the best pizza stones without dropping that kind of cash.
First, what does a pizza stone do?
Quite simply, it holds heat.
ovens aren't terribly heat accurate, especially older ones. You might
set the temperature to 500 (usually the top range on a home oven), but
what you actually get could be closer to 450. Even then, the
temperature fluctuates as the coils turn on and off each time the
thermometer reads the zone. Ovens also have hot and cold spots. The
dead center of an oven may be ten to 15 degrees hotter than near the sides,
or vice versa.
A few unglazed quarry tiles arranged in an oven will work 100 times better than a commercial pizza stone, at a fraction of the cost.
Stone, as it were, is a relatively poor energy
conductor. It takes quite a bit of energy to raise the temperature of
stone, as opposed to a metal like copper or aluminum (what most
pizza-sized sheet pans are made from). As a result, once stone is
heated, it retains that heat longer. In effect, by placing a pizza
stone in your oven, not only are you regulating the temperature but
you're also creating a superhot cook surface that will retain its
heat, thus crisping the bottom of your pizza/bread at a much higher
This is the secret behind ultracrisp and luxuriously textured crusts.
So how do you duplicate the heat retention of these expensive pizza stones without shelling out that kind of dough?
1. Go to the Home Depot.
2. Find the flooring section and look for "unglazed quarry tile." If you don't know where to find it, ask an associate. You do not
want to purchase a glazed or painted tile on accident. Those tiles
often contain lead or other harmful chemicals that become airborne when
3. Find an appropriate size. If there's no 12x12 inch
or 16x16 inch tiles, buy a few smaller ones (like 8x8) that you can
arrange to form a larger cooking area. Also, look for tiles that are at
least one inch thick.
4. Pull out a $5 bill and pay. Expect to receive a bunch of change.
(Most UQTs cost around 33 cents apiece. How's that compared to $50?)
5. Return home and clean your tile with water and only a light amount of soap. Allow to air-dry for at least 12 hours.
6. Arrange your tile(s) on the bottom rack of your oven, set one up from the very bottom rung.
The first time you use your tiles, they may emit a slight musty odor
from any retained water escaping. This is OK -- just hold the heat
until the smell dissipates.
8. UQTs are very durable and are
hard-fired, but you may want to temper them the first time you use
them. To do this, just heat the oven up with the stones in place in 100-degree increments,
holding each temperature for around 20 minutes, until you reach 500. Always place cold stones in a cold oven -- never place your stones in an oven that's already been preheated or they will crack.
make a pie, and get to baking. You'll get the best, crisp crust you can
achieve at home, and you'll have saved $50 in the process. Taste that?
Tastes like victory.
Later this week, I'll give a recipe for a nifty butternut squash pizza you can make on your new stone.
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