What is a baking steel? How do you use one? Does it really make perfect pizza at home? I've had a mine for about a year now and I can honestly say my pizzas have never, ever been better.
In this review I'm going to talk about my specific baking steel, the Original Baking Steel made by the Boston-based Baking Steel company (try saying that three times fast).
Disclaimer: This post is not sponsored, nor was I paid by the Baking Steel Company for my review. However, The Practical Kitchen is part of the Baking Steel affiliate program which means I earn a small commission when you shop using the links on this page (at no cost to you). Thank you for supporting my work!
My baking steel journey — why you can trust me!
When I first told my husband I had ordered a baking steel, he was extremely skeptical. He was like, "but homemade pizzas are never as good as restaurant pizzas, they're one of those things you should always just order." And I was like, "Well I think you'll be surprised, and also a pandemic just started so I don't think I'll be returning it anytime soon."
Reader, it took exactly one (1) pizza for him to eat his words (along with a slice of delicious pizza). He loves this thing as much as I do, and we have more than gotten our money's worth.
I've made over a hundred pizzas on my baking steel at this point and I still cackle with delight when I open the oven to reveal a perfectly blistered pizza with a leopard-spotted bottom glistening with bubbling cheese and whatever toppings I've decided to fix up that day.
Every time you pull a perfect pizza off the baking steel and realize you're standing in your own home and not a wood-fired pizza kitchen it feels like you've just done some sort of incredible magic trick. I've even given multiple people baking steels as gifts, that's how much I love it and how confident I am that other people will love using it too.
What is a baking steel and how does it make perfect pizza?
The Original Baking Steel is a 16 pound, quarter-inch thick piece of steel. It fits in most home ovens. And because steel absorbs and conducts heat very efficiently, it can take a 500F home oven and quickly replicate the 700F+ temperatures of a wood or charcoal fired oven. It also helps your oven eat more evenly.
It gets so hot that you can cook a whole perfect pizza at home in about 4 minutes. Yes, FOUR MINUTES. I repeat: FOUR. MINUTES. Who doesn't want four minute pizza????
Baking steel vs. Baking stone
Before I bought my baking steel, I went through a few different models of baking stones (also called pizza stones) and I just never quite got the results they promised. While baking stones and baking steels are used in a similar way, stone just doesn't get as hot as steel does. After the first night using my baking steel, I threw out my baking stone.
- Baking stones are porous, which means they absorb oils (and smells) and residue. Baking stones are also hard to clean because they also absorb water and soap. And baking stones have a tendency, unfortunately, to crack.
- Baking steels, on the other hand, are virtually indestructible. They aren't porous which means they're easy to scrape clean with a metal bench scraper, and baking steels get much, much hotter than baking stones. The Original Baking Steel comes pre-seasoned and ready to use out of the box.
I clean my baking steel by scraping it off, wiping it down, and popping it back in the oven to dry out, but I've only had to season it maybe twice in the year I've had it. It's in excellent condition.
How to use a baking steel for perfect pizzas
To use a baking steel, put it in your oven and let it preheat for at least an hour before you plan to bake. The length of time and temperature will depend a bit on what recipe you're following or what results you're looking for, but most pizza recipes will say to preheat it for an hour at 500F before use.
I use a wooden pizza peel to launch my pizzas onto the baking steel and to help me rotate them about halfway through baking. You're "supposed to" use a metal peel to pull the pizza out of the oven (they're thinner and lighter) but the wooden peel has worked just fine for me thus far.
I've used my steel in 3 different ovens, and while most ovens have a broiler unit in the top of the oven, the broiler in my current apartment is (annoyingly) in a drawer below the oven.
Here's how to use a baking steel depending on where your broiler and heating unit are:
How to use it — in an oven with a top broiler
If your oven's heating unit and broiler system is in the top of the oven (most are), you'll want to arrange the top rack of your oven so it's about 7" or so below the heating unit. For pizza, preheat the oven to 500F with the steel in place for an hour before you plan to bake. It's up to you how you want to use the broiler for your pizza, but I like to turn the broiler on about 5 minutes before sliding the pizza in. Then I leave the broiler on for the first two minutes of baking, but turn it off and leave the oven at 500F for the final two minutes.
This is the same whether you're using a gas oven or electric oven, though you may need to adjust cook times to figure out what gets you the results you're looking for in your home oven.
How to use it — in an oven with a bottom broiler
If your oven's heating unit and broiler system are in the bottom of the oven, using a baking steel is a bit trickier but not impossible. Luckily most ovens are not designed this way, but the gas oven in my current apartment is, and it took a bit of troubleshooting to figure out how to get the best results with the bottom broiler so I want to take the time to mention it. (You can see the actual setup of my oven (which I hate and do not recommend) here.)
If your oven has a broiler in the bottom drawer space (or in my case, it's a flap that pulls down) then, you'll want to arrange the steel on the bottommost rack in the main part of the oven, as close to the heating unit as you can.
Launch the pizza onto the steel for about 6-7 minutes, rotating halfway through, until the bottom is quite done and the top is bubbly. Then, slide an inverted sheet pan in to the bottom broiler drawer, turn on the broiler, and slide the pizza into the bottom drawer for 1-3 minutes. This lets the broiler brown the top of the pizza, getting your cheese nice and bubbly and adding more color to the top of your pizza.
It's definitely more awkward, and does add some time to the pizza making process, but you'll still get that high quality perfect restaurant-style pizza at home that you're looking for.
Pros and cons of a baking steel
- The biggest tick in the "pro" column for a baking steel is that it's not just meant for pizza. The Ooni and the Presto Rotating Pizza Oven are giant, clunky uni-taskers. Sure, they do their jobs well. But they each only do one job. A baking steel, on the other hand, can be used for lots of different things.
- Pies: In Erin McDowell's latest book, The Book on Pies, she recommends using a baking steel to prevent the dreaded "soggy bottom." I tried this out when making a brown butter pecan pie for Thanksgiving and can confirm it's true — I've never had a crisper, sturdier pie crust bottom than when I use the steel.
- Breads: For crusty breads like ciabatta, or breads where you want a nice crispy bottom like a focaccia, a pre-heated steel will get you the results you're looking for.
- Bagels: For homemade bagels with deliciously crispy bottoms, pop your boiled, egg washed bagels onto a pizza peel dusted with semolina flour and slide them onto a pre-heated steel.
- The Original Baking Steel is smaller and less bulky than larger pizza ovens. It can be used on your gas stove top, in the oven, and on a grill.
- You can use pretty much any pizza dough recipe you like on it and use the same process for all of them. Store bought dough is fine, so is America's Test Kitchen's one hour pizza dough, as well as sourdough pizza crust, pizza dough from a boxed mix, and pretty much any other pizza dough you like. You can even use it to get a crispier bottom on your deep dish and skillet pizzas which bake in pans by sliding the pans right onto the steel.
- It's quite heavy at 16 lbs, which can make it tricky to lift and move around. This is particularly challenging when it's hot, which can be frustrating if you forget its in the oven and start pre-heating before you've adjusted the oven racks. Baking stones, on the other hand, are slightly lighter (but still heavy) and many have been designed with handles to make them easier to carry.
- If you have a smaller apartment oven, the baking steel can be a tight fit even at the relatively small size of 16x14". It fit fine in the oven in my L.A. apartment, but the way the oven rack curls up slightly in my smaller oven here in Boston means the front of the baking steel does bump right up against the door of the oven when closed.
- It takes quite a long time to cool down, which isn't ideal if you need to use your oven without the baking steel within an hour or so after turning the oven off.
Let's talk cost
Currently, the Original Baking Steel costs $99. That might seem steep, especially in comparison to a baking stone, but the baking steel will last you a lifetime. It costs the same as about 3-4 delivery pizzas (including 20% tip because you're a good person). So once you've made 5 pizzas on your baking steel, you're basically saving yourself money. But really, who can put a price on the ability to make perfect pizza at home?
Is a baking steel right for you?
If you love pizza and want to make it — and make it well — at home, a baking steel is a great addition to your kitchen. Whether you're making pizza regularly or just bringing it out once or twice a year for pizza parties, it very quickly pays for itself compared to ordering delivery pizza.
If you're someone who likes being a little bit extra, who likes taking an extra step for the best possible results with minimal effort, and wants to really wow your friends at a pizza party — a baking steel is absolutely going to be Your Thing.
It's also great if you're ready to take your bread and pie making to the next level, and for anyone who likes meal planning and will remember to get the dough ready and oven pre-heated before baking. I also recommend a baking steel if you have a small kitchen with minimal storage. With no cords or assembly required it has a small storage footprint (store it vertically) and is easy to take out and to put away.
The baking steel is probably not for you if you have a bad back or limited mobility. It does need to be moved around and carried sometimes, and at 16 pounds, it can be a bit awkward to hold.