The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Steel sheet instead of pizza stone?

hansjoakim's picture
hansjoakim

Steel sheet instead of pizza stone?

I just finished reading an online piece on "Modernist Cuisine", the six volume tome covering virtually all aspects of cooking. In the piece, the following is suggested for baking the perfect Neopolitan-style pizza in your home oven:

 

PROBLEM #3: You love Neopolitan-style pizza, but don't want to invest in a brick oven.

SOLUTION: Make an oven out of a steel sheet.

Get a ¼-inch-thick sheet of steel from a metal fabricator (Google a local one), have it cut to the size of your oven shelf and insert it in the rack closest to the broiler. Preheat the oven at its highest temperature for ½ hour, then turn on the broiler and slide your pizza onto the metal plate. It should emerge perfectly cooked in 1.5 to 2 minutes.

WHAT'S GOING ON: Pizza in a brick oven cooks at about 800 degrees-way hotter than the highest setting of most home ovens. The metal sheet is more conductive than a brick oven's stone, so it can cook just as fast at a lower temperature.

 

Any volunteers? How about steel sheets for bread as well?

Mebake's picture
Mebake

Theoratically, Hans, It would work! Depends what grade of steel it is, though, as Carbon Steel, Stainless steel , Manganeses Steel ... Molybdenum/ Vanadium Steel all Have variable Thermal mass capabilities, as well as Heat distribution. Thickness of the sheet is also a factor.

To Get similar effects from brick oven, your steel sheet has to conduct heat slower, yet distribute heat evenly.

My thoughts..

cranbo's picture
cranbo

I saw an earlier post about this today in another thread and was intrigued.

So I measured my oven grate in my plain-vanilla GE oven (22" wide x 16" deep). 

1/4" steel plate @ 12"x24" will cost an estimated USD $31, and weight about 20 lbs (not light!), so a 16x22" plate will probably cost and weigh a little more. 

Another quote for 1/4" carbon steel plate at 24"x24" was about $54. Of course, this would have to be cut down to size.

AW's picture
AW

I would love to know if you all do this and how well it works. (I've often thought about building a community brick oven. I live in a poor neighborhood and have no idea how involved this is but it would be great for the community.)

lynnebiz's picture
lynnebiz

I was just reading about this in an older post on the pizza.com forum. I'm thinking about seeing if I can get a piece to fit in this old oven in the apt I recently moved into. My son called me last night and asked if I would partake in a pizza 'challenge.' He & his roommate are going to buy the ingredients (best they can find) and he wants me to make some pizza like I used to make, a few years ago (so much for my lazy adaptations - he wants some real effort, lol). Plus he informed me I now have to write down my recipes, because they want to learn how to make it.

So I need to improve this stove that looks like it was built some time in the late '60's, or early '70's, along with a few other tweaks - including improving the area where I prepare the pizzas.

I live in a city where there seems to be quite a few sheet metal fabricators, so I think I can do this (w/out incurring shipping costs). Will let everyone know if I do this, of course. :D

cranbo's picture
cranbo

Called a local steel place in my neighborhood, and was quoted $25.50 USD + tax for a 16x22 piece of 1/4" steel plate. 

I think I'm going to throw down on it. They said it would take about 1 hr to cut. 

EDIT: ordered it today, will pick it up tomorrow. Cheaper than a baking stone, most 14x16 stones are in the $35+ range. Not to mention that it is plate, so it should last forever. 

LindyD's picture
LindyD

Hi Hans, interesting approach.

What caught my eye was the instruction to: "insert it in the rack closest to the broiler."

Cook's Illustrated ran an article on pizza in their Jan-Feb 2011 issue.  While it was dedicated to achieving a "foolproof thin-crust pizza," the author noted that home ovens just don't get hot enough to produce a browned crust before the interior dries out.

Through experimentation they discovered that moving the stone to about four inches from the oven ceiling and preheating for an hour at the hottest setting produced  a great pizza.

Both publications seem to be on the same page about rack placement.

Mebake's picture
Mebake

Cranbo, Would you post on how it'll turn out for you? For breads too?

cranbo's picture
cranbo

I'll probably try some pizza on it first, then some breads. 

Inspired me to mix up a late night batch of pizza dough for tomorrow!

Dragonbones's picture
Dragonbones

I do something similar with a Lodge Double Play Grill/Griddle. It's like a 1/2" sheet of cast iron, just about the right size for my smallish oven, and with a good long preheat I can get a great pizza crust. It also makes a good heat sink even when I'm not baking right on it.

cranbo's picture
cranbo

I picked up my 16"x22" piece of 1/4" steel plate yesterday from my local metal supply shop. 

Weight was 25.5 lbs, not light, but not too heavy at all. 

Cost with tax was $27.60 USD. 

Took about 15 minutes or so to grind down all the edges using an angle gringer and smooth out the cut sides. Then I took some sandpaper and polished the surface and the edges. 

Wiped it down, then washed it with hot soapy water, scrubbed with steel scrubber, and wiped it down again. 

Threw it on the stovetop (it's big enough to easily cover both burners). Cranked up the burners, seasoned it with melted bacon fat, green onions, a generous heap of salt. Wiped clean, then reseasoned with garlic and leftover bacon fat. These are techniques I've read about and used for seasoning woks, and they work to help get rid of the initial metallic taste. 

Wiped clean again, rubbed with a light coating of vegetable oil, then into an oven @ 550F for 30 minutes. 

I gotta say, that steel retained heat on the 2nd rack from the top better than my baking stone 2nd rack from bottom. After 30 minutes of the oven cooling, I could easily touch the stone, but I could barely touch the steel. 

Whipped up some pizza dough, will try baking on it today. Photos to come...

cranbo's picture
cranbo

Here's the raw piece of 16x22 steel plate, before grinding and sanding. 

Steel plate, rough cut

 You can see that the edges looked nasty

steel plate, edges

As I said, some angle grinder and sandpaper made quick work. Then washing and seasoning, first with green onions then with garlic, and bacon fat!

steel plate, seasoning, green onions

It's a big enough piece to use as a nice griddle, except it doesn't have edges, so if you have too much fat, it could run right off the edges. 

It's a perfect fit in the oven, about 1" on all sides, including the front (there's a 1" gap between the front of the grate and the oven door)

steel plate, in oven on rack

Can't wait to try it out! So far the tests are looking good, holding heat in very well. 

ssor's picture
ssor

veggie oil gets sticky if left for very long. Olive oil doesn't dry but most of the others do.

jennyloh's picture
jennyloh

Before I got my baking stone, I tried galvanised iron sheet and cast iron in my oven. cast iron are fantastic for pizza, as it seems to retain heat very well. But it can burn the bottom of bread quite quickly too. For the galvanised iron sheet, it heats up pretty quickly, saves time on heating up the stove, seems to be as good as baking stone. I have not compared them side by side, so hard to say if there's major differences.

cranbo's picture
cranbo

hi jennyloh, yeah, that's my experience too so far, stone & steel seem very similar. 

The upside about the steel is that it will last forever, never crack, and likely will never warp due to the thickness. Not to mention that you can easily apply direct heat, like on a BBQ or a stovetop to the sheet. 

If I had to do anything different I would weld a slight edge, about 1/2" high on 3 sides, so that if there was any liquid that spilled on it, it would be (mostly) contained. 

kim's picture
kim

In Asian, the oven is quite small so they use something like this called magic sheet copper instead of pizza stone:

http://item.rakuten.co.jp/shopos/hiratenitadoubanset/?scid=af_ich_link_img

My cousin is uisng magic sheet copper for baking bread for a couple years now and the result is good but I'm not sure about pizza.

 

Canbo can you report back about your pizza baking using steel plate and how your bottom turn out. I think your pizza may turn out nicely since you are using gas oven.

 

Kimmy

 

 

cranbo's picture
cranbo

I'll come back and post photos soon, but the pizza turned out really well.

I think the steel definitely gets hotter than the baking stone, because at 550F on the stone usually takes about 7 minutes total, and it was more brown at 6 minutes already, using the same recipe that I always use. I'd say there is even maybe a bit more charring with the steel sheet, which for pizza I think is especially good.

ssor's picture
ssor

plate. The stone and the plate will come to the same temperature but the plate may have enough mass to maintain its temperature after being hit with the relatively cold pizza.

cranbo's picture
cranbo

My 15" round pizza stone, 3/8" thick, weighs 5 pounds. 

My 16x22" steel plate, 1/4" thick, weighs 25 lbs. 

pear_tart's picture
pear_tart

I'm on a quest to perfect pizza dough. wonder if heating the bottom of a cast iron frying pan, then using that as a pizza stone would give the same results?

ssor's picture
ssor

weighs 25 pounds. ;)

jennyloh's picture
jennyloh

I've tried that before, definitely works for me!

lynnebiz's picture
lynnebiz

I used to make pizza in my cast iron pan all the time. When there were less people around to eat it (all but one kid moved away), I got lazy - but my younger son (I live right near him now, and he frequently puts in requests for my pizza) and one of my daughters tell me the cast iron version is the best.

Sometimes I'd heat it up before hand, other times I'd just put it in as is - to me, both turned out great. Gave my daughter one of my cast iron pans so I can't do a side-by-side comparison (would be good to try, though).

cranbo's picture
cranbo

Pizza baked on the steel plate turned out nicely. I made a "Spanish" pizza with thin-sliced chorizo, piquillo peppers, sweet smoked paprika and a few splashes of aged sherry vinegar.

Spanish pizza

Crust browning was really nice, with a little char. I do a final shape and initial bake on a 14" pizza screen and remove the screen for a direct-on-steel bake for the last 2 minutes. Total bake time at 550F was 6.5 minutes.  

Pizza crust browning

lynnebiz's picture
lynnebiz

This looks terrific! I actually like the bottom of my pizza to look just about like that. (wanted to say thanks for 'sacrificing' a slice to become squished for the photo of the crust, haha - I'd have a hard time doing that!)

One question - what is a pizza screen?

cranbo's picture
cranbo

Here is the 14" pizza screen I use

It's a metal mesh disk that looks like this:

Pizza screen

Many pizza restaurants use them to handle dough in lieu of a peel. It also helps novices achieve a perfectly round shape, and encourage browning of the bottom crust, whether you're using a pizza stone or not. 

Mebake's picture
Mebake

Such a wonderful Crust, there, Cranbo! Keep an eye though, Steel charrs easily!

oceanicthai's picture
oceanicthai

won't shatter, better use of oven space, cheaper, what a fantastic idea!

HMerlitti's picture
HMerlitti

Use of a steel plate in the oven makes sense.   How affective can a 1/4" plate be??

I wonder how much more affective 1/2" thickness would be over 1/4" thickness.   Twice as affective ??

I called a local fabricator, 14" x 19" by 1" thick steel plate is $ 116.   Stainless steel is about 4 times more expensive.

It seems to make sense to go for at least a 1/2" thick plate.

What do you all think ??

cranbo's picture
cranbo

well, 1/2" thickness would have 2x the thermal mass, so I imagine it would take longer to heat up but should retain heat even moreso. I'm no physicist, so I don't know if it would actually retain heat for double the time than a 1/4" sheet, although I suspect it will not. 

the problem with a 1" thick plate is that in that size it will probably weigh close to 100lbs, maybe too heavy for your rack, but possible for your oven floor. Not to mention that 100lbs will be very unwieldy to handle!

Your 1/2" plate will weight about 50lbs, which is pretty heavy too. Again, I don't know the weight those oven racks are meant to support, so I suggest proceeding with caution. 

I find my 1/4" steel plate to be very effective. It's probably as thick (if not thicker than) the bottom of my cast iron pan, so that will give you some idea of its heat transmission & retention qualities. Of course, it's not cast iron, it's steel, but its heating properties are quite similar for our purposes here. 

Personally I'd stick with the 1/4" plate, try it and see if you like it. 

ssor's picture
ssor

This link takes you to a long list of materials ant their specific heats. that is the amount of heat it takes to change the temperature of the mass. http://www.engineeringtoolbox.com/specific-heat-solids-d_154.html

As can be seen clay and brick have a specific heat nearly twice that of iron or steel. For  comparason water has a specific heat of one BTU per pound per degree F.

cranbo's picture
cranbo

One more thing to be aware about steel plate: you do need to do a good job seasoning it, especially if you bake with steam.

After a few weeks of use, the underside of my plate is showing some very light surface rust, no doubt to the humid baking conditions. 

Lap's picture
Lap

So has anyone use this stone while either spraying water or putting a tray of water to create steam consistently? What is the crust like? Can one use parchment on the steel, similar to the stone? Results of breads? Thanks.

cranbo's picture
cranbo

For spraying water or steam, the challenge is where you place your steam generation device. If your steel takes up most of your oven grate (as mine does), probably placing your steam generation device on top of the steel is best. 

Sure, you can use parchment on steel, no different than anywhere else. 

Crust in my opinion is not substantially different than stone. The biggest difference is that the steel does tend to get hotter faster, and because of the heat conduction and thermal mass, loaf bottoms can scorch if you're not careful with your temps. 

 

ssor's picture
ssor

Much depends on the mass of the item and the conductivity. A 32 pound copper plate would be better than a 32 pound ceramic plate or a 32 pound aluminum plate. The aluminum plate would be much thicker than the copper or steel plate to have the same surface area and mass. A ceramic plate that massive would probably need to be kept hot in order to have it uniformly hot throuh its thickness.

HMerlitti's picture
HMerlitti

SSOR,

Where do you see the specific heat for steel  on the chart ??

ssor's picture
ssor

Use iron. mild low alloy steel is 99 percent iron and the rest is carbon and silicon and sulfer and a little nickel.

barryvabeach's picture
barryvabeach

I just picked up some 3/8 steel plate from a junk yard, grinded off the rust and paint, and am in the process of seasoning to use for pizza.  I am using safflower oil.  I just ran a test similar to Zim, though not as complete.  With the steel plate on the highest rack, I used a probe to measure the oven temp near the plate, and an IR to measure the upper surface of the plate.   Unfortunately, the IR listed range tops out at 518, though I got readings as high as 575, I don't know how reliable they were.  In general, through the first 30 minutes, the oven temp was about 50 degrees higher than the plate.  By 40 minutes, the oven temp was 530 and the IR said 560 for the plate ( not sure of the reliability ).  By 50 minutes, the probe was at 550 and the IR said OL.    I used the IR on the oven walls and saw temps in the high 400s , so it seems clear to me that the plate is getting hotter than the walls.  I will be trying it out for pizza this weekend. 

PeterS's picture
PeterS

come with steel decks. I think that a stone deck is better suited for bread baking due to the greater mass of the dough and longer residency time of the bread in the oven.

barryvabeach's picture
barryvabeach

cc

jaywillie's picture
jaywillie

J. Kenji Alt at seriouseats.com, who does regular explorations of pizza baking surfaces, recently tested a baking steel brought to market by a foodie who owns a steel fabrication company. Alt is a guy I hold in high regard as a chef and food writer. He raves about the pizza made using this baking steel. The article includes some of the technical reasons as to why steel is superior to baking stones. The baking steel costs $72 shipped; I ordered one last week, but they are backordered to mid-October. I almost wish I had seen this thread earlier, because I might have tried to create my own plate. Although ordering it online and getting a finished product was much easier, it was a bit more expensive. Oh, well. I can't wait to try it out for both pizza and bread.

Serious Eats pizza section can be found at:

http://slice.seriouseats.com/?ref=nav_slice

The article about the baking steel: 

http://slice.seriouseats.com/archives/2012/09/the-pizza-lab-the-baking-steel-delivers.html?ref=pop_slice

The original Kickstarter page for the baking steel (Kickstarter campaign now finished):

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/bakingsteel/baking-steel-create-the-crust-you-crave

The company that makes and sells the baking steel: 

http://stoughtonsteel.com/

breadmansteve's picture
breadmansteve

I too stumbled across the baking steel site and it sparked  my thinking. i work for a aluminum  and stainless company and i was able to score a 3/8   cut to size piece of 304 stainless at 26#'s  for $20  Lol don't be sad. i polished it and seasoned it, and it works Great. 6 1/2   minute pizzas @ 550° 

grind's picture
grind

Whilst cleaning out "our" garage, I found a steel grounding plate slightly rusting on a shelf.  So I dusted it off, cleaned it up and have used it twice for bread.  I really like it.  Next will be a rectangular pizza.  Another item saved from the recycling bin!

Alfie's picture
Alfie

Fresh mozzarella and kalamata olives pizza

The pizza browned quickly on the bottom in comparison to baking the top.  The steel radiates heat more than the pizza stone.  The bake time went from 8-9 minutes to 5 minutes.   

1/4" steel plate weights 10 lbs per sq ft so 1/2" 12" square sags the rack a bit.  I originally wanted 1/4" steel but my friend only had 1/2" so we went with that.  I think 1/2" might have been overkill.  

This is the first time using the steel plate so there is room for improvement.

 

 

Michaellovespizza's picture
Michaellovespizza

Hi to the all the pizza and bread lovers!

I am curious about the pizza steel and want to make my own. I was asked what kind of steel to use for the perfect tool.

Is there anyone who can give me some ideas what kind of steel is the best? I understand stainless steel is way more expensive, but what type of steel did you use?

 

Have a great day!