Baking steel v/s stone- which is the best? There’s no easy answer to this generic question. The opinions are highly divided over this never-ending debate. Both have their fair share of benefits and flaws.
Each is suitable for baking a specific set of dishes. While a baking steel can beat a stone hands down when it comes to handling high heat, pizzas and bread baked on a stone are blessed with a finer taste.
You have to consider factors like what kind of food do you intend to cook often, on open flame or oven etc. For our test, we decided to prepare a 12” pizza on a baking stone and steel respectively.
In this following section, we will use our takeaways from the result to find out whether steel is better than stone or vice versa.
Key Features Compared for baking steel v/s stone
#1. Size and weight
Steel: Most baking steels are made of heavy-grade steel and weigh around 15 lbs. Quite obviously, loading and unloading a hefty pizza stone from the oven is no cakewalk. Baking steels are generally available in two sizes- 16x14” and 20x14”. There isn’t a stark difference between the two in terms of usability.
However, the later one is heavier than the 16” version and isn’t really worth the hard work it takes to handle. On the brighter note, there’s a solution for this. Nowadays, you can find heavy baking steels sold in pieces. Instead of an entire stone, these blocks are way easier to maneuver.
Stone: Ceramic stones are the most manageable type of pizza stones due to its comparatively lighter weight than steel. While 16” pizza stones are ideal for making large Neapolitan or New York style pizza, for medium pizzas, pastries, cookies and calzones, a 13” stone will suffice. Some of the oven-to-table ready stones also come with detachable racks.
These racks make removing the hot pizza from the oven a breeze. If you want a more durable option, opt for a cordierite stone. Cordierite possesses a greater ability to resist extreme temperature shifts and spread the intense heat evenly.
Steel: Baking steel can get super hot super quick. Dipping the hot stone in cold water immediately would dramatically reduce the longevity of the equipment. Before cleaning, let the steel cool off completely. Then use a scrubbing brick to wash the residue on the cooking surface. Be gentle.
Use plain water only, better avoid using any dishwashing agent. If you don’t have a scrubbing brick, you can substitute it with a nylon brush. Steel is prone to catch rust. Even if it does, use steel wool or sandpaper to scrape off the rusty spot. After the initial clean-up is done, pat the stone dry with a towel. Letting it air dry only increasing the risk of catching rust.
Stone: The surface of baking stones is porous unless it is glazed. Porous surface absorbs the moisture and grease extracts from the food and develops a unique taste. In case of a baking steel, rust stains trigger a metallic taste. For stones, the absorbed oil and grease eventually doubles as the seasoning for the upcoming baking sessions. We assume that the smell and taste of detergent is the last thing you want in your food.
So, never use it no matter how thick is the layer of grime on the stone is. Baking stones tend to blacken over time. If your stone has a film build-up, use a medium-grit sandpaper to scour off the cooking surface. Let the stone cool off completely before this step. For regular washing, scrape off the food remnants with a spatula and then wipe off the dirt with a wet cloth.
#3. Heat Transference
Steel: Perhaps the first thing you should consider while debating over baking steel v/s stone is their individual ability to transfer heat. Steel is capable of storing a massive amount of thermal energy, much more than a pizza stone.
The ability to transfer that intense heat to the pizza quickly is what actually makes all the difference. The high thermal conductivity of steel transforms a raw pizza thin crust pizza in no time. High heat conductivity is an added advantage when you are baking New York style pizza.
Stone: Stone, on the other hand, has a higher specific heat compared to steal. It means a preheated stone can store much more thermal energy, thus get hotter than the maximum temperature your oven can reach.
The pizza stone we used had a thickness of ½”. Whereas our convection oven tops out at 550 degrees, the preheated stone measured over 700 degrees on the infrared thermometer. This resulted in a brown pizza crust and a thoroughly cooked center. If you cook a pizza on a preheated steel for a bit too long, the crust starts to darken.
#4. Cooking Precision
Steel: The crust of the steel-baked New York style pizza was near-perfect. It had the perfect chew and the crust water crispy, golden and most of all, yummy. It had a couple of dark spots which is actually what puritans seek after in a traditional New York style pizza. The hole structure of a pizza is reliant upon how fast the energy is passed on to the dough. Our pizza on the steel had large, gorgeous bubbles inside which made every bite a delight.
Stone: The pizza baked on a stone was also airy with a couple of blistering bubbles but the bubble structure wasn’t as glorious as we noticed in the steel-baked pizza. The holes were a bit flat towards the edge of the slices.
So, that was the summary of our observation in the baking steel v/s stone face-off. While baking steel clearly has an edge over stone in terms of reduced cooking time and ease of maintenance, only a stone can flawlessly replicate brick oven style pizza. Due to the high specific heat of a stone, baking pies, bread, and cookies are much easier on a stone.
On the other hand, the preheating time of a baking steel is lesser than what stones require. Therefore, if you run a restaurant, we would suggest you opt for a steel.
So, the bottom line is that both are superior in their own terms. What you really need to take into consideration is how you wish to cook.