For years the pizza stone was king, but steel is quickly becoming the preferred surface for cooking pizza at home, and for good reason. For perfectly crispy crust and a nice airy crumb, nothing beats steel. While home ovens typically top out at 500 – 550 degrees, steel has a secret weapon. It’s advantage comes from the thermal conductivity and thermal capacity of the material.
Steel’s Advantage: Thermal Conductivity
Steel is an excellent conductor of heat, which means that after it’s brought up to temperature in your oven, it can transfer the stored heat to other objects extremely quickly, much more quickly than a typical ceramic pizza stone. When dough is placed on the hot steel, an immense amount of heat is instantly transferred to the bottom of the crust which not only makes it crispy but gives it the slightly charred look often seen on professionally made pizzas.
The rapid transfer of heat also causes some of the moisture in the dough to turn to steam and create air pockets. The rising of the dough due to the steam is known among bread bakers as oven spring and is what creates a light airy finished product. A good conductor of heat like steel can provide more spring and larger air pockets by converting more moisture to steam before the crust begins to harden. Once the outside of the crust hardens it can no longer expand, so it is important that the heat is transferred to the dough as quickly as possible.
Thermal capacity or heat capacity is the ability of a material to absorb and retain heat. It is represented by how much energy (or heat) it takes to change the temperature of an object by a given degree. If it requires a lot of energy to heat an object up, then it also will not cool down easily.
The high thermal capacity of steel means your baking surface will stay hot even after heat is transferred into your pizza dough. This allows you to make multiple pizzas right after one another and helps maintain the overall temperature of your oven.
Baking Steel – The Original Baking Steel Company
These guys launched their company through Kickstarter and were one of the first to bring a food grade steel to market specifically for baking. They offer 1/4″ thick, 3/8″ and 1/2″ options plus a round version. Skip the round one as it’s even more difficult to slide your pizza on without the added wiggle room.
NerdChef Steel Stone – Nerd Chef
This is the first pizza steel I ever used and I still believe it to be one of the best. They offer a 1/4″ Standard, 3/8″ Pro, and 1/2″ Ultimate model which I recommend (thicker steel means more thermal capacity). The holes in the corners of the Nerd Chef make it much easier to handle than other models. These steels are seriously heavy and having some place to hook your fingers through when moving it around is a blessing.
Pizzacraft Baking Plate – Pizzacraft
The Pizzacraft steels are a low budget option at less than half the cost of some other offerings on this list. They’re also considerably thinner at a claimed .14 inches (just over 1/8″) and therefore lose some of their ability to retain heat. While they’re lighter and easier to handle, I’ve found thinner steels don’t give the same char to the underside of the crust. Their square option is also a bit small at 14″ x 14″. If it fits in your oven, opt for the rectangular 22″ x 14″.
Artisan Steel – High Performance Pizza Steel
The Artisan Steel is another made in the USA pizza steel at what I think is the ideal size of 14″ x 16″. It is only available in a 1/4″ thickness but it is an attractive option since it’s less expensive than other 1/4″ models. There are no holes of any kind in the Artisan Steel so you won’t be able to hang it up.
Falls Culinary – Dough Joe Pizza Steel
The Dough Joe series of pizza steels from Falls Culinary are all 15″ x 15″ and are available in 1/4″, 3/8″, and 1/2″ thicknesses. While I prefer rectangular to get the most space out of your oven, this one doesn’t feel undersized. The Dough Joe units also have a nice beveled edge and a fun pizza guy logo (if you’re into that sort of thing).