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 steel, the Original Baking Steel made by the Boston-based Baking Steel company (try saying that three times fast). There are other ways to make perfect pizza at home, including the Ooni Pizza Oven and the Presto Rotating Pizza Oven, and there are even other options for baking steels, but the Original Baking Steel is my favorite for a few reasons that I’ll get into below.
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 commission to help support the blog when you shop using links on my page. I only recommend products I really love or have paid for myself.
True story: 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.
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. Over a hundred pizzas later, 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. In fact, one of the greatest tragedies of getting the steel right before the pandemic is that we haven’t been able to have more friends over to witness that baking steel magic firsthand.
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????
The Baking Steel blog has excellent resources and plenty of articles on the science behind making pizza on a steel, of course. I also recommend checking out Joe Rosenthal’s fantastic in-depth article on NYC-style pizza making that gets into some other DIY steel options and details for optimal thickness and how to size a steel to your oven. He also gets into ways people have hacked steels and stones to even better replicate those pizza oven temps at home and which ones he does (and doesn’t) recommend.
Baking steel vs. Baking stone
I’ve had baking stones (also called pizza stones) before and I just never quite got the results they promised. While baking steels and baking stones are used in a similar way, stone doesn’t get as hot as steel does. After the first week of using my baking steel, I threw out my baking stone.
Baking stones are also porous, which means they absorb oils (and smells) and residue. Baking stones are 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 mine 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 entire time 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:
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.
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 your pizza crust. It’s definitely more awkward, and it 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 the Original Baking Steel
- The biggest tick in the “pro” column for the Original 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. The 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 any pizza dough recipe you like on it. All doughs bake the same way. 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.
- 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 16×14″. It fit fine in the oven in my LA 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. That said, it is smaller than the Ooni (which is designed for outdoor use) and the rotating pizza ovens.
- 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?