Without the right utensils, it's difficult to cook the perfect, gourmet-style pizza from home. Even certain restaurants, particularly those that lack traditional stone ovens, struggle to reach the much-desired Neapolitan standard.
Luckily, pizza stones, one of the world's oldest cooking utensils (dating back to the Paleolithic Age!), have recently made a comeback amongst budding pizza chefs. And for good reason, too, as they are a sure-fire, affordable way to guarantee a perfect crust and base for your homemade pizza. Sometimes, the most basic of tools still work the best!
However, as simple as pizza stones may appear, they are very easy to use incorrectly, and the slightest mistake in the process could ruin your entire pizza. Read on for the best hints, tips, and recommendations for first-time pizza stone users.
Prepping your Pizza Stone
As all good chefs should know, the key to success is in the preparation. First off, especially if your pizza stone is fresh out of the packet, it is recommended that you wash it thoroughly prior to using it.
During the preparation process, it is also recommended that you make sure you have all other necessary utensils ready, which includes: a pizza peel for transporting your pizza onto the hot pizza stone; an oven rack and/or baking tray to support the pizza stone when it's in the oven; and, of course, a working oven! Also, although not necessary, it could come in handy to own a thermostat to check both the heat of the oven and your pizza stone.
A common error made by first-time pizza stone users is to season the stone, as one would with other bakeware utensils. Pizza stones do not require seasoning like a cast-iron skillet, as, given the required temperature that the pizza stone needs to be used at, it would be impossible for the pizza to stick.
The pizza itself also produces natural oils during the cooking process. Adding additional seasoning to this could lead to several problems, including unwanted odors or smoking, which could ruin both your pizza and the overall quality of your pizza stone.
Heating the Oven and the Pizza Stone
Secondly, and arguably the most crucial part of the entire process, is preheating both your oven and your pizza stone. It is very important to carry out these stages separately, as the pizza stone needs to enter an already preheated oven.
Firstly, heat your oven to your desired temperature, which depends on how well-done you want your pizza to be. The average temperature for cooking pizza is 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Once the oven has reached your desired temperature, slide the pizza stone into your oven.
Now it is necessary to wait until the pizza stone itself has reached the temperature of the oven – this is also where a thermostat would come in handy. Some pizzaiolos recommend waiting for up to 50 minutes, while others suggest as little as 15 – after a few practices with the pizza stone, you will be able to gauge how long your pizza stone requires.
Cooking the Pizza
Once the pizza stone is at the required temperature, gently lower your pizza onto it using a pizza peel. Ensure that the pizza does not stick to the peel by dusting it with either flour or semolina. This will also ensure that the pizza slides on and off the peel with ease.
Some pizza stones will come with instructions describing where best to place the stone in your oven. However, given that all ovens are different, it is recommended to place the pizza stone as close as possible to either the coils or the fan, as it will heat the pizza at a much quicker rate.
Pizza cooking time varies and is difficult to determine, so you are required to keep an eye on the pizza throughout. Use the peel to check if the bottom and the sides of the pizza are browning, and, especially for Neapolitan-styled pizzas, make sure the edges are lightly charred before taking it out.
Cleaning the Pizza Stone
Although most pizza stones come with a no-stick guarantee, the pizza cooking process can get messy. Several things, such as fallen toppings and dripping oil, can stick and eventually harden on the stone, and cause issues in the future.
In order to avoid this, it is important to clean the pizza stone regularly, if not every time, to prevent problems such as bad odors and smoking.
As a safety precaution, it is essential to leave the pizza stone in the oven to cool down, which could take a period of several hours, before cleaning it. However, don't wash it with soapy water! The soapy water could get trapped in the small crevices along the surface, which could lead to bigger cracks and bad tasting pizza. Instead, scour the stone with a lightly damp cloth, and be sure to dry it immediately afterward.
Keeping the Pizza Stone in Good Condition
Cracks to the pizza stone are inevitable, but there are a few preventative measures that should be kept in mind. One is to always transport the pizza to another plate to cut it into slices and refrain from cutting the pizza on the stone.
Another measure is to ensure that your pizza stone is completely dry before putting it in the oven.
Pizza stones are, of course, fragile and should be treated with better care than other bakeware utensils. Careless handling of pizza stones will lead to cracks and other damage.
Keep in mind that cracks can also occur when the stone is exposed to a drastic temperature change. Avoid this by leaving the stone in the oven to cool down after use.
So now you know how to use a pizza stone for the first time. Follow the rules set out in this article and start perfecting your pizza stone baking skills! However, pizzas are difficult to perfect, and it may take a lot of trial and error before you reach that much-desired Naples-standard of pizza making. Good luck, and happy baking!