A pizza stone is a ceramic or stone tile which is placed in the oven to preheat before pizzas are placed on top to bake. It essentially mimics the cooking techniques from a brick oven, where the stone resembles the oven floor. A conventional home oven isn’t designed so well for cooking pizza – it doesn’t get hot enough, and it doesn’t have a hot surface to put the pizza on to crisp the base.
The pizza stone is an essential item for any home pizza chef, turning your amateur bakes to the next level. They take some time to learn how to use, so this article has a complete guide to everything you need to know.
How Do Pizza Stones Work?
A pizza stone is essentially a large slab of solid material that absorbs heat in the oven, ready to transfer it to the pizza base when cooking. A home oven lacks high temperatures, especially lacking in heat from below – you’ve probably tasted an undercooked homemade pizza before.
The high heat from below ensures that the pizza base gets cooked thoroughly, as often the toppings will brown quickly in the oven but the base will be left doughy and floury.
The stone is also made out of a porous material which draws moisture from the dough as it cooks. Instead of a metal pan which could basically condense and steam your pizza, a pizza stone ensures the base gets extra crispy.
Do you need a pizza stone? No one likes a heavy, chewy, partially cooked pizza base, and often a light and crispy base is what a good pizza is prized upon. It’s that reason why a good pizza stone is so important.
Using Your Pizza Stone For The First Time
If you are using the stone for the first time then there are some common questions that come up. Here are a few things to keep in mind before your first use.
There is lots of advice online about seasoning your pizza stone when you buy it. I believe this to be mainly misinformation. The surface is porous, so absorbs moisture when cooking to crisp the base – a layer of ‘seasoning’ oil doesn’t help that process, so avoid rubbing oil in. Just make sure the oven and stone are nice and hot before you use it, and you will find the pizza won’t stick to it.
If you rub oil into the stone then this can smoke, and the oil will go rancid over time, leaving you with a bad smell and taste to the pizza!
Pizza stones can withstand very high temperatures so you can heat the stone to the maximum temperature on the oven – around 500-550F/260-280C. The pizza stone has already been fired at extreme temperatures when it was made, so you can go full heat first use.
Pizza stones suffer from thermal shock so don’t heat or cool the stone too quickly otherwise you risk it cracking.
Your pizza stone doesn’t need anything on top of it – oil, flour, parchment paper or foil. Using these on top actually decreases the performance as you want direct contact with the stone so it can draw moisture from the pizza base and make it crispy.
How To Use A Pizza Stone
Follow these steps to ensure you get the best cooked pizzas, and you look after your stone while you do it.
1. Put the pizza stone in a cold oven, before you turn it on. Pizza stones are brittle and can suffer from the thermal shock of going from too cold to too hot quickly. Allow it to heat up with your oven to minimise this risk.
2. Put the stone on an upper rack of the oven. I usually put my pizza stone on the highest rack, but have heard from some this cooks the toppings too quickly. Each oven is different so try the second to top rack first to ensure you don’t burn your pizza.
2. Preheat the stone for 45 minutes before cooking pizza. Your oven should be at 500-550F/260-280C. You want the stone to be as hot as it can be to get a crispy base, so don’t cut down on time otherwise your crust will stay doughy and undercooked.
3. Transfer your assembled pizza to the stone. You can do this in a few ways – traditionally it is with a pizza peel, but you can use a rimless baking sheet, or cutting board or load it on with parchment paper.
4. Turn the pizza once after 5 minutes of cooking. Don’t let one side get over cooked, so keep an eye on it and turn the pizza 180 degrees once. The oven won’t lose too much heat by opening it.
5. Remove the pizza after another 4 minutes or when fully browned. Just make sure that the pizza is fully cooked – it is a common mistake to remove it too early. When you think it’s done then give it a few more minutes until it is completely browned.
6. Allow the stone to cool in the oven before moving. Much like when you heated it up slowly, the same thing applies to returning to cold temperatures. Don’t move it or clean it until it is cooled down.
Pizza Stone With A Grill
You can use your pizza stone with a grill. Follow the same general steps as if using an oven, but use the grill cover to regulate the heat when preheating and cooking the pizza.
How To Transfer The Pizza to The Stone
Your pizza stone is going to be blisteringly hot by the time it has pre-heated. You can’t simply assemble the pizza on top of it, so you need a way to get the pizza to the stone. There are a few ways you can do this.
1. Use A Pizza Peel.
This is the traditional choice and works best. It is not something the average cook has in the kitchen but you can pick up a peel for the price of a takeaway pizza now so there is no excuses.
- Stretch your dough on the work top with some flour and semolina.
- Give the peel a dusting with flour and semolina to stop sticking, then move the stretched pizza base to the peel.
- Working quickly, top the pizza and give it a shake to make sure it isn’t stuck. Add some more flour if needed.
- Open the oven and pull the rack out if you need more space.
- Using a quick back and forth action, transfer the pizza to the stone in one confident movement.
- If the crust has slipped over the side, close the oven and wait a minute until it has cooked slightly. You can now move it back on to the stone and will cook normally.
I have a full article on how to use a pizza peel properly. There is definitely a skill to it, so check out the tips and videos I have there.
2. Use A Pizza Peel Substitute
You might not have a pizza peel to hand, but don’t worry as you can still use your stone. You just need something similar which will allow the pizza to slide off into the oven. Some ideas are
- A rimless cookie sheet.
- A rimmed baking sheet flipped upside down.
- A stiff piece of cardboard.
- A cutting board.
- A serving platter.
I did an article on this too with some guidance on how to use these items and avoid dropping your pizza all over your oven. Check it out here – 7 Kitchen Items To Use As A Pizza Peel Substitute.
3. Use Parchment Paper To Load The Pizza
You can use parchment paper on a pizza stone. This is another way to get the raw pizza to the hot stone. A piece of parchment paper is also known as baking paper in some parts of the world.
You can build the pizza on top of the parchment paper once it has been stretched out. Once it is topped, you can then open the oven and pull the rack with the stone on. Drop the pizza with the paper on top. Parchment paper is designed for baking, so it can withstand the high temperatures.
It can get brittle in the heat though, so you might get pieces of paper on the top of the pizza if you are not careful when retrieving it. You will need to use a spatula or pair of tongs to retrieve the pizza as the paper will likely tear if you pull it directly by the paper.
Don’t use waxed paper as this will melt and smoke in the oven – not what you want your food cooked on.
Frozen Pizzas With A Pizza Stone
You can cook frozen pizza on a stone and it will make the base much crispier than if you put it straight into the oven.
But pizza straight out of the freezer has its risks because it is so cold and the pizza stone is so hot. The temperature shock to the stone can make it crack – how common or rare this is, is up for debate. One way to minimise the risk is to cook the pizza for a minute or so on the rack above, and then move it to the pizza stone once it has thawed.
Prepacked, frozen pizza has been partially cooked and is designed to be cooked without a stone to ensure the dough and toppings cook evenly in the time stated on the pack – so you might get a crispy base and undercooked toppings.
One thing to keep in mind is that the frozen pizza will cook much faster than the times stated for normal cooking. The stone and oven in general is hotter, so it will be done a few minutes early, so keep a watch that it doesn’t burn.
Pizza Stone Maintenance
Pizza stones are brittle and need to be looked after and cleaned properly. They can last for years if you look after them correctly, or can shatter in a few uses if you don’t. Follow these tips for proper usage.
How To Clean A Pizza Stone
You should clean your pizza stone to make sure it doesn’t start smoking or smelling bad in the oven – this will start tainting your pizzas and you will have to get a new one. Prevention is best – try and not drop too much cheese and oil on it.
Before you clean the stone its worth mentioning you should do this when the stone has cooled. This will make sure you don’t burn yourself, but also to protect the stone from cracking.
Scrape off burn on debris. If you stone gets any toppings on it from where you transferred the pizza, its safe to say this will burn solid from the high temperatures. You can wait until it gets very hard, then use a dough scraper, knife or spatula to remove the burnt on food.
Wipe the surface. Use a damp brush or cloth to wipe the surface of the stone for any charred dust or burnt flour. The stone will likely have some marks on from its use, and you won’t get those off but that is fine.
Don’t use soap. The soap will soak into the porous stone and you will never get it out! You don’t want to taint the taste or smell of the stone when it next heats up, so avoid this and just use hot water.
Don’t soak the stone in water. If you soak the stone then it will just absorb all the water like a sponge. It will then take a long time to dry out, and if you need to use it again soon after, it could have excess water still trapped inside. This could expand to steam when its put in the oven again and crack the stone.
Air dry the stone fully. Make sure it is completely dry before using again, this could be an hour or two or longer depending how wet you got it.
How to Stop Your Pizza Stone Cracking
There is no doubt about it, pizza stone cracking is a really common problem. The good news is that you can still keep on using it until you replace it – just push the pieces together on your oven rack like normal. I did a post about fixing a broken pizza stone in another article.
The main reason for cracks is the temperature changes. Follow these steps to try and minimise the chances of it breaking:
- Don’t put a cold pizza stone in a hot oven.
- Don’t put cold pizza on a hot stone.
- Don’t wash a warm stone in cold water.
- Try not to handle the stone too much.
- Don’t heat the stone when wet.
- Don’t use your pizza cutter on the pizza stone.
How Long Do Pizza Stones Last?
Pizza stones can last a few years if you look after them and are lucky. The quality of the material will also determine if it breaks or not. Generally, if you pay less then it isn’t going to last as long – the more expensive ones are thicker, and have better material. Cordierite is a material which should last longer than a normal ceramic one, and are often thicker.
I had some trouble with some breakages, so I decided to jump across to the pizza steel. This is basically a square piece of steel which does the same job, except it is unbreakable. The steel transfers heat more efficiently, and also heats up faster. They are a bit more expensive, but if you only need to buy one then I think its worth it. It has made the best pizzas at home for sure. Read my review of the Pizzacraft pizza steel for some more information.
Where To Store Your Pizza Stone
The stone is big and heavy to move, so you’ll be happy to hear you can keep your pizza stone in the oven. It does mean slightly more wear and tear, especially if you are putting heavy pans on top of it, but probably the less moving is a good trade off.
Your oven will take slightly longer to heat up, now that it has an object inside to heat up also. It does have some benefits in that the stone will maintain a more constant and even temperature inside. When you open the door while cooking, heat will escape, but with the stone inside, the oven temperature will return to its desired temperature quicker than without a stone.
Can you put aluminum foil on a pizza stone?
It is not advised to put aluminum foil on top of the stone. The foil will act as a waterproof barrier and the stone will lose its porous qualities used to draw moisture from the crust. You will end up with a pizza base which is more doughy, as it as essentially steamed itself. Parchment paper can be used if you want to keep the stone clean, as the paper allows some of the steam to pass through.
Is a pizza stone better than a pizza pan?
For cooking thin crust pizzas, a pizza stone is better than a pizza pan. The thermal capacity of the stone ensures that there is a constant heat source from below. This cooks the crust thoroughly and quickly, giving an extra crispy base. A pizza pan does not have this heat as you usually assemble the pizza inside the pan before you place it in the oven.
Can you put a pizza stone in a hot oven?
It is not advised due to the thermal shock which the pizza stone will receive. While it is not a definite breakage if you do, you should always try to heat the stone slowly. The material is not suited to changing temperatures rapidly so the stone could crack. You can leave the pizza stone in the oven so it is ready to use as soon as you turn your oven on.