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The Baking Steel for Avid Bakers Only? Cooks Illustrated Thinks So.

The Baking Steel for Avid Bakers Only? Cooks Illustrated Thinks So.

CICoverWe think it’s for everyone!

Back in March, America’s Test Kitchen contacted us to order a couple of Baking Steels.  We were thrilled at the opportunity to get the Baking Steel in the hands of respected professionals who would put it through a rigorous yet fair kitchen test.

Fast forward to May.  I grabbed a copy of Cooks Illustrated the day the May issue dropped.  Eager to read the results, I flipped to the feature article – a match up between Baking Steel and the trusty Old Stone Oven Baking Stone.  See online version here.

The Baking Steel equally battled the Stone head-to-head and in some cases outperformed the opposition.  We were pleased to read that “the Steel produced a tall, airy crust with large bubbles and a bottom surface that was crisper and more deeply browned than the stone-baked crust.”

However, I feel a few points need clarity to ensure Steel users have the total picture and a 100% accurate takeaway from the test.

1. Weight

At 15 pounds (5 pounds heavier than the stone), it took muscle to maneuver it in and out of the oven.

This, folks, is the secret behind the science! The weight is what makes Baking Steel work.  The thermal conductivity of steel is far greater than stone.  Steel will conduct and store heat better than stone, thus resulting in pizza that is light and airy, with a crisp crust. Steel also results in reduced bake times. The thicker the steel, the better it bakes.

2. Superheating Technique

We decided to see how the steel and stone would fare subjected to a new superheating technique that we recently developed for whole-wheat pizza, which features very wet dough. We preheated both steel and stone in ovens set to 500 degrees and then ran the broiler for 10 minutes before dropping the temperature back to 500 degrees and adding the pizzas. This worked well with the stone but not so well with the steel, which fully cooked the bottom of the crust before the top was done. So we tried it again, this time leaving the broiler on. It was perfect: After just 4 minutes, our pizza emerged with a deeply browned, crisp crust and a bubbly, crackly top surface. The superheated steel had matched the intensity of the broiler and cooked the pizza rapidly and evenly from top to bottom. (With pizza on the stone, however, leaving the broiler on is a no-go: Because the stone wasn’t able to match the heat of the broiler, the top of the pizza scorched before the bottom fully browned.)

The superheating technique is not necessary when using Baking Steel.  Even though  by using the broiler, a 4-minute pizza (60% reduction in bake time for pizza) was achieved, the product design inherently addresses bake time (it’s faster and crust is more consistent). However, if you chose to use this technique, bring on the heat, but respect the science. It’s going to cook fast so don’t stray far from the kitchen. Once you get a feel for the Steel in your oven, you’ll nail cook time down to the second.

3. Recommendation

Baking Steel is for the “Avid Baker” while the Stone is for “Most Bakers”

The Baking Steel is for anyone who wants to make a perfectly baked pizza, pure and simple. Yes, “avid” bakers are raving about our Steel everywhere online. But, the science behind the Steel makes up for lack of skill. With the Steel, you can go from pizza zero to pizza hero. And that’s something to get fired up about!

So, there you have it – the complete truth from the kitchen test.  Now, we want to hear from you.  What do Baking Steel users and enthusiasts out there think?

Baking Steel: For the Avid Baker or Everyone?  Please comment to let us know. 

 

  • http://twitter.com/geeksluvfood Garvin Family

    I think it’s for everyone.. I myself have never made anything with a stone or owned one, if I made pizza it was just on a cookie sheet and never that good and the pizza I have had from stones, again, not great.. there are many brick oven pizza places near me (lucky me) so why would I bother? A friend told me about the product and seeing the pictures of the bubbles and crusts, I bought it right away! I’m still learning about stretching dough so there is a learning curve for me but even if the pizza isn’t even or the crust is too thin or too thick for my preference, it’s always perfectly cooked and the crust is what I expected from everything I have learned about the product. The weight isn’t a big deal to me either, gotten use to that. So if I can make a pizza without much experience making pizza in the first place, anyone can.

    • http://twitter.com/AndrisLagsdin Andris Lagsdin

      Thank you for sharing your experience with us. With a little practice, the Baking Steel helps make us all look like experts.

  • Sergi Kent

    I can’t speak as a general baker as the only thing I do is pizza. But I am an avid *Pizza* baker and the difference in the output quality of the steel as compared to every other thing I have tried in the past 20 years is incredible. So baking bread, cakes, and cookies? I have no idea. But if you try to bake pizza in a home oven without a steel, you are simply missing out on some great eats.

    • http://twitter.com/AndrisLagsdin Andris Lagsdin

      One of my favorite attributes is the oven spring created with the Baking Steel. In my opinion, the stone does’t come close.

  • http://www.facebook.com/kevin.daquila Kevin D’Aquila

    I think if you care enough to use a stone…then a steel will make you even happier. Pretty simple :)

    • http://twitter.com/AndrisLagsdin Andris Lagsdin

      Great feedback Kevin! Real simple and spot on!

  • Marjorie

    I retired my stone once I tried the baking steel. We make pizza almost once a week and we love how the pizzas turn out. I recently tried bread on the baking steel and it came out great. The bread bakes faster and I got a better rise, so you have to watch your baking times and adjust as needed.

    • http://twitter.com/AndrisLagsdin Andris Lagsdin

      We need to start a stone museum! What is your go to for pizza dough?

  • TK Thompson

    I used a cooking stone for over 20 years to make pizza prior to buying a Baking Steel and NEVER achieved the results I got the first time I used the steel. My results are consistent with those Cook’s Illustrated achieved: a well-browned crust with nice chew in just 4 minutes with a preheated steel. I never imagined that I’d be able to pull off wood-burning,pizza-oven-quality pizza in an electric oven, but the Baking Steel makes it look easy! (I sound like an infomercial)

    As for bread, I’ve gotten the best results using Jim Lahey’s revelatory and dead simple No-Knead technique and a pre-heated cast iron dutch oven (as popularized by Mark Bittman in the NY Times). Similar science, but the lid on the dutch oven traps steam, extending the oven spring of the bread.

    • http://twitter.com/AndrisLagsdin Andris Lagsdin

      The best part is the Baking Steel will get better and better with age. The darker it gets, the more radiant heat we can expect…Thank you!

  • Richard Owen

    I’ve been baking for many years, make all of our bread and have been using a heavy 3/4″ thick stone for a long time. My stone started to develop a crack so I started to look around for a new one and came upon the steel. I bought the thinner one and have had great results right from the start.
    I may or may not qualify as an “avid” baker but my son has never made pizza. While I was away on a trip he and his friends made pizza on the steel and they loved it. Success on his first try with no help from me.
    He and his friends are definitely not avid bakers.

  • Michael Rolli

    I’ m not sure what Cook’s means by “avid” baker. I have been baking pizza for over 30 yrs using every kind of surface sold to home bakers. The Baking Steel is the fastest and produces the most reproducible results (and therefore the easiest) of anything I’ ve used. I preheat my electric wall oven 45 mins on bake, switch to broil just as I am ready to top my dough, and cook using broil for 3 mins 30 secs to 4 mins depending upon the type of dough, humidity, etc.
    We gave one of my sons and his wife their own steel for Christmas. They had never baked pizza before and they were able to get great results right from the start. They also use theirs on their gas grill with very good results.
    We have equally great results baking rustic bread on the steel. Again, it is much faster than the stones we previously used – about 50%. So experienced baker or novice, about all you need to do is be aware that the steel will be faster.

  • http://www.facebook.com/bill.iverson.75 Bill Iverson

    Bottom line from Cook’s Illustrated: Baking Steel makes better pizza and more consistently, but you have to move a 15-pound object a few feet to your oven. How very odd to say this makes the Baking Steel best only for “avid” pizzamakers. My Baking Steel made my stone instantly obsolete, and I wouldn’t say I’m “avid,” in my pizzamaking or other baking. Somebody did call me an “avid” photography the other day, and I felt slightly patronized, since it sounded a bit like “tries hard but isn’t really great.” So maybe Cook’s Illustrated should just stop at saying the Baking Steel makes better pizza.

    • http://twitter.com/AndrisLagsdin Andris Lagsdin

      I concur!

  • Sara O

    I like to bake, but wouldn’t call myself an “avid baker”. I have been making pizza for several years with sporadic luck and could never get a stone to work as well as the baking steel worked THE FIRST TIME. Yes, it’s heavy, but it is so worth it. I have been recommending it to everyone I know.

    • http://twitter.com/AndrisLagsdin Andris Lagsdin

      Love it Sara, Thank you for your endorsement!

  • Creo

    I agree with the consensus here. A friend told me about the steel which I researched and immediately ordered one for myself (I went with the “Big”). From my very first pizza, there was no doubt in my mind that this was a far superior surface to cook on than any stone I have ever used (and I have had many for a variety of reasons, one being that they tend to break which will certainly not be a problem with the steel).

    While it is heavy, I tend to just leave it in the oven unless I have a specific reason to remove it (and then it only goes a few inches over to stand in the small space between the fridge and the wall). I certainly do not see this as a drawback,

    Superior and repeatable results from a variety of dough without a single failed pie. I have made pizza for many friends and family and they all agree this is simply great pizza with quality that I have never been able to achieve in my home oven in the past. I had even been seriously considering a wood fired oven project for the back yard, but for now at least that project is on hold since I am getting such amazing results from my steel…

  • Lisa Cutler

    My husband is the typical pizza maker here and the steel was a gift from my parents to him after I saw it in Bon Apetit (?). WE LOVE IT. It is heavy but who hasn’t carried a bag of groceries containing milk, maybe some sugar and some flour before? Just like with my now retired stones – the thinner one worked like junk but the heavy one did a better job. Just not anywhere near where my steel does. This is now a must have in my kitchen.

    • http://twitter.com/AndrisLagsdin Andris Lagsdin

      Thank you Lisa!

  • http://www.facebook.com/john.b.turner1 John B. Turner

    I’ve become an avid Pizza maker solely as a result of getting the baking steel. If you are looking for a San Francisco style pizza, good luck with your pizza stone — the heat transfer is just not sufficient. My only regret is not getting the larger steel. I was worried about moving the heavy item back and forth, but frankly it seldom leaves my oven these days. (Even roasting chicken I’ll leave it in — preheat a few degrees above my roasting temp, and when the bird goes in the temperature drops for a fraction of the time I’m used to; the energy stored in the steel allows the temperature to jump right back to where I want it.)

    • http://twitter.com/AndrisLagsdin Andris Lagsdin

      That is a great use for the Baking Steel!

  • Jason Fulton

    I read CI’s article and didn’t feel the “avid” baker moniker disparaged the steel in any way. I think they made it clear that it was an upgrade in every way but that it was also possible to get good results with their recommended stone. Pizza stones don’t suck so this seems an accurate description to me.

    My only observation on the steel has to do with recovery between pizzas. I find that the first pizza is fantastic, reflecting all the wonderful qualities of the steel. But if I try to put a second pizza one immediately after pulling off the first one, I get a much diminished result, with softer crust. Any suggestions on the amount of time I should wait before putting in the next pizza? Could this be a function of putting the stone high in the oven rather than on the bottom?

    • http://twitter.com/AndrisLagsdin Andris Lagsdin

      Hi Jason,
      Generally i give my steel about 5 minutes to rebound. Once I pull a pie out, I begin to dress off my second pie. Plenty of time for the Steel to get right back up to temp.
      You can certainly move the Steel closer to the top rack. Do you have a gas or electric oven?

  • Dan E

    I really agree with your comments on the superheating technique. I messed around with using the broiler and it just burned the cheese and added an extra step. I have a convection gas oven, so now I put the steel in the next-to-bottom rack, turn on convection bake and set the temp to 550. I can cook pizza after pizza and every one of them is out of this world! Another trick I learned is that the bottom of the crust stopped charring quite as nicely after the first pizza, but it had to do with leftover cornmeal on the steel. So now, I take a spatula and scrape the extra cornmeal off the steel after I take the pizza out. My wife makes fun of me when she sees how giddy I get making pizzas now. :)

  • Panarras.Com

    The baking steel plate is also extremely useful for baking high quality bread at home. We tell you all you need to know about it here (in Spanish): http://www.panarras.com/index.php/tecnica/tecnicas-de-horneado/horneado-con-acero

  • Pamela S

    You decide! How many pizza stones have I owned in my cooking life-time (40 years)? Probably at least TEN owing to breakage, etc. How many pizza steels do I expect to own? ONE. And longevity isn’t the only factor! Performance is key here. The steel out performs the stone in every other category I can think of: ease of use, speed of baking, quality of pizza, taste of dough, etc. Plus, I can roll out pizza after pizza every 10 minutes on steel whereas the stone takes time ( a lot of time) to regain its heat. I have an infrared thermometer. The steel loses almost none of its heat when the pizza is loaded; the stone drops from 500 to 350 and takes a long time to recoup.

  • matthew leff

    I plan to use my baking stell on a gas grill, has anyone tried this yet? does the top of the pizza cook?

    • http://bakingsteel.com/ Andris Lagsdin

      HI Matthew,
      This will require some tweaking. The challenge is balancing top and bottom heat. With the Steel, we have the bottom heat covered. You can try raising the Steel with some bricks to slow down the bottom heat. This may also require tweaks with the temp. Another option would be to elevate the steel and then turn down the heat source. You will need to play around some, but this can be done. We will have to throw a video together. Every grill is a bit different, we just need to find the sweet spot for pizza….

      Thanks Matthew,
      Andris

  • Brandon

    The only question I have is what makes the baking steel worth the $80 if steel sheets of A36 can be bought for $40 shipped.

  • jonesy

    Can you use the Baking Steel on a coal BBQ, specifically a Big Green Egg?

    • http://bakingsteel.com/ Andris Lagsdin

      Hi Jonesy,

      Of course. We have made several for BGE users and they love it…

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