Making a drool-worthy pizza at home is as satisfying as it gets…but also not the simplest task if you don’t have a wood-fire pizza oven in your kitchen or backyard. (Um, we don’t.) No worries: That’s where a pizza stone comes in handy. But are you taking advantage of all yours has to offer? Here, nine pizza stone mistakes you might be making, and how to get the best pie possible at home.
First off, what exactly is a pizza stone?
The best part of a fancy restaurant pizza—the blistered, crispy-chewy crust—is usually the result of a wood-fired brick oven. But unless you’re lucky enough to have a wood-burning oven in your home (that’s our goal), it’s impossible to reach the high temperatures necessary to produce a pro-level pizza in a conventional oven—we’re talking 800°F.
Enter the pizza stone, a flat, portable cooking surface that’s usually made of unglazed ceramic, stone or steel. It sits in your oven, where it absorbs and holds onto heat. When you cook a pizza directly on the stone, it acts like the floor of a brick oven, cooking the crust with direct heat. It won’t get your oven to those smoldering wood-fired temperatures, but it will yield a crispier, browner crust than if you simply baked your ’za on a baking sheet. That’s because the pizza stone material retains high heat and transfers it to the crust immediately on contact. And since it holds onto heat for a long time, it also helps regulate the overall temperature of your oven and eliminate fluctuations that can affect your pies.
Pizza stones are really just round baking stones, but you can use a regular baking stone to make pizza too. The thicker the stone, the better it tends to cook pizza and the longer it tends to last. Pizza stones range in price from budget-friendly to high-end, but no matter your model, it helps if you know how to use it properly.
The 9 Biggest Pizza Stone Mistakes People Make
1. You’re Not Preheating the Pizza Stone (or Not Preheating It Long Enough)
Sure, a pizza stone delivers high heat to your pizza crust the second it touches the surface, but it can’t actually do that if it’s not blazing hot when you put the pie in the oven. The pizza stone needs plenty of time to absorb heat. To achieve this, you should preheat the pizza stone for at least 45 minutes (and an hour is even better). Otherwise, the pizza dough won’t achieve the crispy crust you’re after.
2. You Don’t Let the Pizza Stone Cool in the Oven
You preheated your pizza stone—nice! So when all the slices are eaten, you gird yourself with oven mitts and go to take the stone out of the oven. But what you don’t realize is that this is a recipe for disaster, particularly if you have a stone or ceramic slab. These materials don’t like extreme fluctuations in temperature, and the rapid switch from a hot oven to a cool countertop can cause thermal shock; basically, the pizza stone can crack. The easy solution? Cool the stone in the oven before even thinking about touching it.
3. You Remove the Pizza Stone from the Oven at All
Even better than allowing the stone to cool before removing it from the oven is to just never remove it from the oven at all. Not only does it eliminate the potential for thermal shock, but it will help your oven hold an even temperature, eliminating pesky hot spots and improving your cooking and baking beyond just pizza.
4. You’re Not Using the Right Temperature
You may be used to cooking just about everything at 350°F, but if you want to replicate the fiery temps of a wood-fired oven, you’ll want to set your own oven as hot as it can get. Typically, that’s around 550°F, but read your pizza stone manual to see if the manufacturer recommends a different temperature for that model.
5. You Cook Frozen Pizza on It
Remember thermal shock? It doesn’t just apply to setting a hot pizza stone on a cold countertop. As tempting as it is to zhuzh up a store-bought frozen pizza by cooking it on your stone, that can also cause thermal shock (since most frozen pizzas aren’t meant to be thawed first). Stick to a baking sheet, in this case.
6. You’re Building Your Pizza Directly on the Stone
It seems like a shortcut to stretch the dough on the stone, then pile on your sauce, cheese and toppings before moving the whole thing to the hot oven. But while we hate to sound like a broken record, this means you’re not preheating the pizza stone. If you’re like, what the heck, does that mean I need to learn how to yield a pizza paddle?, the answer is no. We certainly do not have time for that, and neither do you. Our secret trick is to build the pie on parchment paper, which can be plopped right onto the preheated pizza stone. It shouldn’t interfere with the crisping of the crust, and while the edges of the paper might char, it’s oven safe. (Ahem, on that note, don’t use wax paper.)
7. You Clean the Pizza Stone with Soap
The most common materials for pizza stones—unglazed ceramic and stone—are porous. They’ll soak up any moisture that touches them, including the soapy water you’re using to scour stains away. Nobody wants a soap-flavored pizza, so you should never clean your pizza stone with soap. Instead, allow the stone to cool, then brush any crusty bits away with a dry scouring brush or bench scraper. For stubborn spots, use a little hot water or spot treat with baking soda. (And if you bake the pizza on parchment paper, you shouldn’t have much to clean up in the first place.) Over time, stains are unavoidable, but we like to think they add character.
8. You Season the Pizza Stone Like You Would Cast Iron
You might think a light coat of oil will make that pizza stone non-stick, but the same rules about soapy water also apply to oil. If your stone is porous, it will absorb the oil, which will in turn become rancid over time. Aside from the bad taste and odor of old oil, seasoning the stone can also cause it to smoke in the oven—yikes.
9. You Only Use Your Pizza Stone to Make Pizza
It wouldn’t be unreasonable to think that your pizza stone should be entirely dedicated to ’za. But it’s a far more versatile kitchen item than it seems. Remember, pizza stones are just round baking stones, so you can use it in the same way. Pizza stones also make excellent bread, especially flatbreads, pitas and tortillas, as well as crisp crackers and homemade English muffins. They can even eliminate a soggy bottom when making pie.
At the same time, there are some tasks that just aren’t well-suited for that stone, namely anything that involves moisture or oil (like searing a steak or roasting vegetables).
How to Use a Pizza Stone for A-Plus Pies Every Time
You should refer to the manufacturer’s instructions for your specific pizza stone, but in general, here’s how to use your stone for optimal results:
Place the pizza stone in a cold oven.
Preheat the oven (with the pizza stone inside) to 500°F.
Slide the pizza onto the hot stone and bake until the cheese is bubbly and starting to brown.
Carefully remove the pizza from the oven to a cutting board. Allow it to cool slightly before slicing. Meanwhile, turn off the oven, but leave the pizza stone inside to cool.
When the pizza stone is completely cool, brush off any residue, but don’t wash it with soap.
9 Pizza Recipes to Try at Home
Ready to wield your pizza stone? Here, a few pizza recipes to get you started.