Using your pizza stone regularly can build up a blackened surface to the stone. This seasoned appearance doesn’t usually cause any problems until it starts smoking – and then you can find yourself in the annoying situation of smoking out your house whenever you fire it up to cook pizza. Why does it smoke, and can you do anything to stop it?
It smokes because it has absorbed fats and oils into the porous material when cooking. Many oils smoke at high temperatures, and if left for a period, they might have gone rancid to produce bad odors or a smell of burning.
Some ways to stop it smoking:
- Remove grease and oils by cleaning the stone with baking soda/bicarbonate of soda.
- Burn it off in your oven’s cleaning cycle.
- Burn it off outside – use your BBQ.
My pizza stone was black, smoking and making my pizzas taste bad. I looked into some ways that I could save it and bring it back to life which I’ll share here.
1. Why Is It Smoking?
Let’s face it, using a pizza peel can be pretty difficult at times. Especially when your dough starts sticking and causing your toppings to go everywhere on your stone.
Oily toppings such as cheese or pepperoni fall onto the stone and the fat melts. The stone is porous, meaning it will absorb any liquid, and so this oil will permeate into the material. It will also bring in any debris or flavors that the oil contains.
Some fats smoke more at a lower temperature (that’s why the right oil is needed for deep frying), and this article tells me animal fats smoke at 370°F/185°C which isn’t very high considering pizza is at least 500°F/260°C.
So as you can see – do everything you can to not get oils into your pizza stone!
2. How To Stop It Smoking
To stop the stone smoking we obviously need to do some cleaning, but a simple brush and scrape won’t do here. All pizza stone cleaning instructions advise to not do much cleaning, as water and soap will get absorbed into the stone.
So for this reason, I will advise you not to jump for any products which may be toxic, or poisonous, or will affect the smell and taste from being absorbed.
Water can be your enemy too, as the stone will absorb it and take a long time to dry out properly. The water will expand to steam when heated and can break the stone – as pizza stones are very brittle. Make sure to dry the stone thoroughly before heating it.
So here are your options to de-grease:
Cleaning With Baking Soda (bicarbonate of soda)
You can’t clean your stone with soap, as the stone will just absorb it. So you need to find another way to cut the grease.
Baking soda is an alkali and a great degreaser. It’s also safe to eat – it goes in cakes – so there is no harm in putting it on your stone.
Make a paste with some water, and use a scouring pad to rub the grime off your stone. You can then rinse it in some water and give it a few attempts.
This really helps get the top layer of oils and burnt-on residue off the stone.
Burn It Off In Your Oven Cleaning Cycle
The oven cleaning cycle is a cleaning function where the oven heats up to a temperature far above usual cooking temperatures so the oven can decompose any unwanted food debris to ash. The oven usually gets to around 850°F or 450°C and the door remains locked for safety while it burns for an hour or two.
Given a usual oven’s top temperature is 450–500°F or around 240°C, it’s a notable difference that can really incinerate anything inside. This can do the job of self-cleaning the pizza stone if placed inside, and effectively ‘smoke out’ anything inside.
Could it damage the stone? It might do if the stone is a cheaper one. But if it’s so dirty that it is smoking, you’ve got nothing to lose. Just take care when dealing with the extreme temperatures.
Heating It Outside On the BBQ
If you don’t have a self-cleaning cycle or would prefer not to fill your house with smoke, or risk burning it down, then you can always take it outside. Use your BBQ, gas burner, or whatever outdoor cooking tools you have which can get really hot.
It will have the same effect as the cleaning cycle. Heat the stone for at least 90 minutes to give it long enough to get to a high temperature, and then burn any contaminates away.
Always start with the stone inside so that the stone heats up slowly and evenly to avoid thermal shock. Any don’t leave it unattended at these temperatures.
3. When It Can’t Be Cleaned
Some poor-quality stones can just absorb too much oil and seem to never get rid of the bad smell and taint. The first stone I bought was like this, and no matter what I did to clean it, it always smelled like an ashtray.
If you’ve tried everything above then it might just be time to buy a new stone – they don’t last forever. The odors that come off an unclean stone actually taint the pizza pretty badly, and it’s only until you get a new stone or steel that you realize how much better off you are.
Pizza steels are even better than pizza stones are you can clean them much more easily and they last indefinably.
4. How To Prevent
Prevent The Stone From Going Black By Using parchment paper
You can cook the pizza on top of the stone with some parchment/baking paper. This way the stone is safe from toppings falling onto it, and will stay cleaner for longer. It is a much less messy way to make pizza if you aren’t that skilled with a pizza peel.
I’ve found that the bottom of the base still gets crisp, but just not as crisp as if going straight on the stone. This is because the stone draws moisture from the dough as it cooks. With the parchment paper, you get a slight barrier where steam builds up – it still makes a good pizza though.
- Stretch or roll out your dough on the worktop with some flour.
- Cut a piece of parchment paper just large enough for the pizza.
- Pull out the rack with the stone enough to easily drop the pizza on top.
- The paper gets brittle, so use tongs and a plate to retrieve the pizza.
- Simple and no mess!
Get A Pizza Steel
A fairly newcomer to the pizza cooking world is the pizza steel. This is a quarter-inch thick piece of steel that heats in the oven instead of a pizza stone. It has the benefits of heating up faster, transferring the heat better for crispier bases, not cracking, and being very easy to clean.
I ended up going for a pizza steel and haven’t looked back since. It produces the best pizzas I have made and would recommend it to anyone making pizza. No more smokey ovens – you can wash the steel with water and soap.
They are slightly more expensive than the average pizza stone, but they are indestructible so will last a lifetime, rather than replacing pizza stones when they inevitably crack. I have this pizza steel and can fully recommend it (click to see on Amazon). If you’d rather get something a bit cheaper, then at least get a pizza stone made of cordierite like this one from Amazon.
I store mine in the oven without any bad effects (it actually helps your oven heat evenly, and retain more heat) and I cook pretty much anything on top of it with great results.
I did a review on the Pizzacraft steel for anyone wanting more detailed information.
Related: Should You Season A Pizza Stone?
People often ask if you need to season a pizza stone, and the answer is no you don’t. Cooking tools like cast iron pans need seasoning by rubbing oil into them before you use them, but this isn’t needed for a pizza stone.
Pizza stones work best when they don’t have any sort of barrier between the pizza and the stone – the stone is porous and draws moisture from the base as it cooks. So rubbing oil into the surface when you get it is counterproductive.
As we’ve seen, adding oil to the stone only makes the stone smoke more and it can also go rancid to produce bad odor and tastes – so avoid it and season the stone by cooking on it.
You’ve now got some tips to help you get rid of the smoke and smell of your stone. In my experience, I managed to get rid of the smoke for a while. But eventually, the stone had an unmovable smell a bit like an ashtray. And this tainted my pizzas every time I cooked, so I ended up biting the bullet and getting a pizza steel. Very happy with the pizzas it produces and so I’ll be using the steel from now.