They say there’s a time for every purpose under heaven. At least, that’s what the famous Byrds of the 60s used to say in all their songs. Well, in the same spirit, there’s a kitchen tool that is well suited to every given purpose. Today, we’re going to talk about no other purpose than one of the most delicious of them: making a crispy pizza. If you’re like me, then you simply enjoy the pizza making process and are popping up these round beauties as often as you can in your own home. However, in order to make the best crispy crust pizza in your home, lacking expensive professional equipment, you can’t just use any baking surface. Here we enter the realm of pizza making science, as opposed to pizza making art.
Most pizzas are baked on one of 4 kinds of surfaces. Each of these has its own advantages and disadvantages. In order to find the very best one, we’ll have to look at each in turn. Before that, however, we have to learn the difference between pizza stones and pizza pans.
A pizza stone can be either rectangular or round and is a stoneware “slab” that supports the pizza as it slowly cooks. The body of the best stone is riddled with microscopic pores that absorb the moisture from the pizza as it cooks and improve the stone’s ability to absorb and retain heat for extended periods of time. In general, to use a stone properly, first you preheat the stone, and then you place the pizza on top of it. When you do this, the little pores will absorb the moisture from the pizza dough as it cooks. The very bottom of the dough will heat immediately, and the heat will be evenly distributed throughout the pizza crust. The pizza will end up with a uniform cook and the crispy crust won’t face the risk of getting burned long before you get to cook the toppings.
Pizza Stones – Pizza stones can be made of different varieties of terra cotta, either ceramic, or otherwise. However, the very best of them are made of minerals, like cordierite. We’ll look at the ceramic and cordierite pizza stones in our comparison today. They also come in different thicknesses and diameters. The stones with diameters of 14 inches happen to be the most popular.
The main issue with ceramic pizza stones is their brittleness in the face of sudden temperature variations. Heat them up too quickly and there’s a high chance they will either crack or break all of a sudden. You also risk breaking them in the unfortunate event that you break them. Proper care of these pizza stones involves placing them in the middle rack of the oven long before you heat it. Once the oven (and the stone by extension) achieves a temperature of 425 degrees Fahrenheit, which is the proper temperature for cooking most pizza, you can place the pizza on the stone and let it cook. You should note that, because of the great porosity of pizza stones, they’ll absorb just about anything, including liquid detergents. That means you have to be super carefully while cleaning them. Only use plain water with a brush or a cloth. No detergents
Pizza Pans – The very best pizza pans will typically be made of a thick layer of aluminum or cast iron. The major advantage of aluminum pans is that they are able to absorb a tremendous amount of heat in a very short time. They can also distribute the heat to the very bottom of the pizza. Although they aren’t quite as good as pizza stones at evenly distributing heat, they are fairly good if you haven’t got much in the way of other options. There is one problem, however, that puts the pizza pan, no matter what metal it is made of, way behind the pizza stone. These pizza baking surfaces do not have the myriad microscopic pores that the pizza stones have. The pores are very important as they will absorb the moisture from the pizza dough and help it to get crispy and crusty. Many manufacturers try to compensate for this by perforating their pans with tiny holes on the surface. However, these holes do not make the pans any more absorbent because of metal does not have the ability to absorb moisture. The main advantage of pizza pans is that are not affected by the stress from drastic temperature changes. They won’t crack or break when you heat them up quickly or when you drop them. You can place them in a hot oven without having to worry about them. They can also be washed with non-caustic soaps and detergents without having to worry about them absorbing the liquids. You should, however, wash the detergent off with plenty of water before drying the pan to avoid an aftertaste of detergent creeping into your pizza.
Aluminum Pizza Pans – This pizza pan will heat up very quickly. That is the upside. The downside is that it won’t absorb the heat very well and neither will it retain it very well. If what you’re looking for is an oven baked pizza with a lovely brown wonderfully crispy crust, then you need a surface that remains evenly hot for the duration of the baking. You will also need a surface that will absorb the moisture in the dough. If your dough remains moist, then your crust will be soggy. That is the major disadvantage of an aluminum crust. This isn’t to say aluminum is terrible as a cooking material. If you’re boiling water, then using an aluminum pot is fine and dandy. However, if you’re looking to make a spectacular pizza, then ditch the aluminum.
Ceramic Pizza Stones – The finish on a ceramic pizza stone is very smooth. That means you won’t be getting any pores on the surface and that surface is anything but absorbent. On a ceramic surface, your pizza dough will pretty much retain most of the moisture that it started out with. If you want an oven baked pizza (or even one made on a grill) that’s has a crisp crust, then you simply need a porous surface. It is the only kind of surface that will properly absorb the moisture and allow the crust to get crispy and golden enough to make an impressive pizza. A ceramic stone also has the disadvantage of being very brittle. It will crack or break very easily if you expose it to sudden temperature changes. Remember that it is very important to preheat your oven to the required temperature before you place the pizza on it and let it cook if you want your pizza to turn out terrific. It might not be so easy for a ceramic pizza because it could break in the process. The best thing is to put it into the oven before you preheat the oven so the two grow hot together. Putting a cold ceramic pizza stone into a hot oven will likely lead to it cracking or breaking. This vulnerability to sudden temperature extremes makes a ceramic pizza stone an inferior choice for making the perfect pizza. In fact, the simple act of placing a frozen pizza on a very hot ceramic surface dramatically increases the chances of the ceramic shattering.
Cast Iron Pizza Pans – Cast iron is just as non-porous as aluminum. It does, however, do a much better job that aluminum when it comes to absorbing and retaining heat. The problem is that it doesn’t heat up evenly, and this is not good for your pizza at all. The pizza will have varying degrees of crispness because the pan on which it sat had varying temperature levels on it. In other words, your pizza crust will look like a rainbow with varying degrees of brown heading to black. That’s not a good look at all. At that rate, you’re might as well fry your pizza on a stove top instead of going through the trouble of popping it into the oven just to get the same result. Cast iron is probably the poorest choice you can make for your pizza and you should avoid it if you can afford something better.
Thermarite Pizza Stones – This is the closest you can get to the goal of producing the perfect pizza. A Thermarite pizza stone will allow you to make a world class pizza at home whether you’re doing it in the oven or on a grill. It has great porosity and wonderful heat absorbing characteristics which are superior to aluminum, ceramic, or cast iron. You should know, though, that the thickness of the stone matters a great deal when it comes to the durability of the stone and its heat absorbing qualities. Most thermarite stones on the market are either too thin or too thick. The ideal thickness should be somewhere in the realm of a half inch. Any thinner and the stone won’t be able to absorb enough heat. Any thicker and the stone will take an awfully long time to heat up to the right temperature. When it comes to stone baking, preheating is crucial to producing a superior crisp crust pizza in your grill or oven. Thermarite is a much better choice than other materials. Thermarite is a premium, proprietary blend of cordierite that is widely used in kilns and brick ovens. Thermarite is very durable because it is a special premium formulation of cordierite. This is important because there are a lot of unscrupulous manufacturers out there selling cheap and low-quality versions of cordierite. CastElegance sells a premium blend called Thermarite (TM applied for) that is more durable than any stone on the market. Our stone can go from 800 degrees Fahrenheit to being plunged into cold water without breaking. Cordierite is a porous material that absorbs moisture, heats evenly, and absorbs a great amount of heat for an extended period of time. These characteristics are exactly suited to the task of achieving a delicious result—an evenly baked, golden-brown pie, piping hot from your grill or oven. Better still, a half inch thick cordierite stone will withstand quick temperature changes. When properly cared for, the stone will perform well and consistently for many years. Thermarite was formulated to preserve the best characteristics of cordierite while being the most durable solution on the market. Cooking is part art and part science.
In making the sauce and choosing toppings for your pie, take as much leeway as you like to exercise your creativity. Just don’t forget the laws of science will play a big part in the result, too. Working with the best ingredients and the best tools will ensure the best possible results.