Making homemade pizza is a fun way to spend time with family, and the results are almost always delicious. But are your pizzas as tasty as the ones you get from your favorite pizzeria? Unlikely.
It's not your fault! Most high-end pizza restaurants--the kind that produce thin, crispy-but-airy neapolitan style pies--have specialized ovens that can reach temperatures of over 800 degrees. If you're lucky, your oven at home tops out at around 500 degrees. No matter how great a chef you are, your home kitchen simply can't compete.
But with a pizza steel, you can get pretty close.
A pizza steel is essentially a thick (1/4" or more), flat slab of stainless steel. You put it in your oven, set as hot as it'll go, and wait for the steel to absorb as much heat as possible. It should stabilize at a slightly lower temperature than the air temperature of your oven, since the steel radiates heat as well as absorbs it. When you transfer your pizza to the hot steel (using a pizza peel, if you don't want to make a huge mess or go to the hospital for burns) and put it back in the oven, the heat from the metal radiates into the crust, cooking it faster than the heated air of the oven ever could on its own.
As author of The Food Lab chef J. Kenji Lopez-Alt puts it, it's the difference between putting your hand in a 212 degree oven, and dipping it in 212 degree water. The former is tolerable, the latter will burn. In a conventional oven, even with a pizza steel, your cheese and toppings will always burn before the crust does. Your mission is to transfer as much heat as possible into the bottom of the crust before you’re forced to take the pizza out because your cheese has started to brown.
It's the exact same principle as a piece of kitchen equipment you've probably heard of, and may even own: the pizza stone. But stainless steel is far more conductive than stone, meaning it's more effective at imparting its temperature extremes onto something else that touches it. It's why a metal can of soda in the fridge feels colder on your skin than the plastic condiment bottle sitting right next to it. A pizza stone might stay hotter for longer than a pizza steel since it radiates heat more slowly (steels attempt to mitigate this with sheer girth; the thicker the steel, the longer it'll stay hot), but speed is more important than endurance when it comes to cooking a good pizza. In the right conditions, your pie should only be in the oven for a few minutes before the toppings start to burn, meaning the base only has a short amount of time to crisp up the crust.
It might not be worth buying a pizza steel if you only make pizza occasionally, but the hot slab of metal has all sorts of other uses. The folks over at Baking Steel have rounded up some of their own favorite recipes, including pita bread, english muffins, homemade pretzels, and grilled cheese sandwiches. If your meal involves some kind of dough, there's a good chance that a pizza steel can help you get restaurant-quality results out of your consumer-grade oven.
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