The difference between a merely good pizza and one that's amazing is often the crust. And the best way to make pizza at home so that the crust is crispy, consistently baked a nice shade of brown, and truly great overall is using a pizza stone.
The surface on which you bake a pizza makes a big difference to the crust. Think about it: Your favorite pizza shops probably have brick ovens or dedicated pizza ovens, and their pizzas, calzones and other items are slid inside directly onto the preheated (often ultra-hot!) cooking surface for optimal results.
You probably don't have a pizza oven in your kitchen, or a brick or wood-fired oven in the backyard. However, with a pizza stone (or steel) and some practice, you can replicate the pizzeria experience at home, producing masterpieces with just the right mix of crunch, chewiness and flavor.
Best overall: NerdChef Steel Stone
Best overall runner-up: FibraMent-D Rectangular Home Oven Baking Stone
Editor's pick: Culinary Couture Pizza Stone
Best cast iron baking pan: Lodge Pre-Seasoned Cast Iron Baking Pan With Handles
Best for deep dish pizza: LloydPans Kitchenware Pizza Pan
Do you need a pizza stone?
Of course, it's totally possible to make pizza at home without a pizza stone. In fact, some styles of pizza — Sicilian and other styles of deep dish — cannot be cooked with a pizza stone because they require a special kind of baking pan.
But if you've ever tried to make homemade pizza with a traditional thinner crust, and you were using a basic sheet pan or baking pan, odds are you weren't entirely pleased with the results. Too often, making pizza this way means that the cheese and toppings are done much quicker than the crust, which winds up soggy, floppy, underdone and uneven.
When you place a pizza on a preheated pizza stone, however, the crust immediately begins baking thanks to the hot surface below it. As a result, the crust crisps up nicely, and the entirety of the pizza will (theoretically) be done at the same time, and quickly.
If you need more convincing of the usefulness of a pizza stone, here's how celebrity chef Lidia Bastianich of "Lidia's Kitchen" explains why you'd want one: "It helps to bake a good crusty pizza and focaccia, because it heats to high temperature and disperses the heat evenly, cooking the bottom of the pizza evenly and crisply."
Pizza stone buying guide
Pizza stones can cost under $20 and over $100, and they're not the only products that are known for making great pizza. Some chefs love so-called baking steels or cast iron pans for the crusts they yield. Here are some of the things you should keep in mind as you're shopping for the perfect surface for making pizza:
• Material. Pizza stones, also known as baking stones, are generally made of ceramic or cordierite. Ceramic pizza stones tend to be the more common and less expensive option. They're great at conducting heat, helping to create an evenly baked crust. While ceramic pizza stones should last for years, they're sometimes known to crack if they're not preheated or removed from the oven properly. (Basically, you want to heat the stone up and cool it down gradually, rather than all of a sudden.)
Cordierite pizza stones usually cost a bit more than ceramic ones. Cordierite is a mineral used in kiln shelves, and it can withstand extremely high temperatures. In other words, it's more durable than ceramic or clay.
Pizza stones made of ceramic and cordierite are porous, which helps moisture to evaporate to create a crust that's crispy and dry. (Side note: Because of their porous qualities, pizza stones should never be cleaned with soap and water; instead, simply brush off the surface thoroughly after every use.)
Baking steels, also known as pizza steels, are obviously made of steel. While stones are more traditional for pizza, many chefs actually prefer steels.
The researchers at Cooks Illustrated point out that steel is a better conductor than ceramic, which is why "baking steels 'throw' their heat into doughs much faster, causing them to rise higher and bake and brown more quickly than ceramic baking stones do." In their taste tests, baking steels actually produced superior crusts, described as "a bit more airy and moist inside and perceptibly more tender to the bite. The stone-baked crusts, on the other hand, were slightly drier, chewier, and even a smidge tougher than ideal."
The incredibly versatile cast iron pan offers yet another way to make delicious pizza at home with a nice crispy crust. With a cast iron pan, you can make pizza on a grill or stovetop, or place it inside the oven like a typical pizza. Cast iron is virtually indestructible, and it's an especially good piece of cookware if you like a thicker crust.
• Size and shape. It's important to think about how much pizza you'll probably want to make at a time, and where you'll be making it. Pizza stones and steels come in circular, rectangular, or square shapes, and they can be as small as 10" in diameter, or big enough to fill the entire rack of a large oven.
A 10" pizza stone is only worthwhile if you see yourself making personal pizzas — which can be great fun, of course, and allow the individual to customize the toppings. Larger pizza stones, especially those in a rectangular shape, let you make bigger pizzas and give some much-needed wiggle room if you need to rotate your pizza or move baked goods around. The extra surface area is also handy for preparing calzones, strombolis, breads and anything else you like with a crisp crust. If you're interested in a larger pizza stone, be sure that the dimensions actually fit inside your oven before you buy it.
The thickness of a pizza stone or steel matters too. Thicker, heavier surfaces hold heat better and can bake pizza crusts faster. Good stones and steels are usually at least 1/4" thick, though some are upwards of 3/4" thick. The downside of a thick stone is that it's heavier and harder to move — and possibly easier for you to drop and break, and even damage your kitchen floor.
• Oven or grill? Or both? Most pizza stones can be used inside ovens and on grills alike. But if you plan on using your stone on a grill, take a moment and verify that's appropriate for the stone you're buying. Also, if you want to "barbecue" pizza over charcoals or a wood or gas fire, you'll of course want to make sure that the stone fits on your grill.
• Handles and accessories. Pizza stones and steels, and anything made of cast iron, can be very heavy and awkward to handle — especially when they're heated to 500°. Most pizza stones do not have handles or edges, which can get in the way when you're sliding a pizza in or out of a hot oven. Factor all of this in as you're deciding whether you want a product with handles or something easy to grip while you're wearing clunky oven mitts.
In addition to a pizza stone or other baking surface, pizza makers will probably want two other pieces of equipment: a good pizza cutter and the oversized spatula-like tool known as a pizza peel. A thin, sturdy aluminum or stainless-steel peel is what you want for inserting, adjusting and retrieving thin pizzas in the oven.
Your pizza can be ruined if it sticks to the peel or stone. To avoid this tragedy, add an ample dash of cornmeal or polenta to your peel before sliding your pizza into the oven, and always be sure to preheat the stone according to the instructions (sometimes that means 45 minutes or more under a broiler).
• Kitchen time. One of the great things about pizza stones is that they enable you to bake pizzas very quickly — perhaps in as little as five minutes if it's a thin crust, at a very high temperature (450° or over).
Unfortunately, making pizza at home with a stone or steel takes a lot more time than that. In addition to the prep time involved in making your own dough (if you're not buying it premade) and spreading out the sauce, cheese and toppings, you must factor in quite a bit of extra time for preheating. (To repeat, it's often recommended that they heat up in the oven for 45 minutes or so.) If planning this far ahead is a hassle for what you'd hoped would be quick pizza nights, a pizza stone or steel may not be for you.
Best pizza stones
1. Best overall: NerdChef Steel Stone
Material: Steel | Size: 16" x 14" | Thickness: 1/4", 3/8" or 1/2" | Weight: From 16 pounds
Our favorite pizza stone is actually a pizza steel. Instead of being made of traditional ceramic, which is prone to cracking, NerdChef makes its pizza tools out of steel — very heavy, American-made steel that is guaranteed for life.
NerdChef's pizza steels come in three different levels of thickness (1/4", 3/8" and 1/2"), which weigh 16, 23 and 32 pounds, respectively. Our pick is the middle option, which bakes crust a bit faster than the lightest model, while being easier to work with than the thickest, heaviest steel. (Basically, the heavier the steel, the more heat it will hold, thereby cooking the crust faster.)
Like most good pizza steels, the NerdChef comes pre-seasoned. That means it's treated with a kind of oil (flaxseed oil, in this case) and heated in the oven before going to customers. This step ensures that crusts will brown and crisp up nicely, and it helps to avoid dough sticking to the surface. With a 3/8" NerdChef steel, you'll get a great pizza crust in as little as 4.5 minutes at 450°. (If you're wondering, pizza stones — unlike steels — do not need to be seasoned, nor should they ever be treated with oil; that can ruin them.)
If the 3/8" 23-pound steel seems like it's just too heavy, the 1/4" model also makes a terrific crust and it costs less ($85 vs. $110 when we looked). The good thing is that all NerdChef steels come with two oversized finger holes in the corners to make them easier to handle.
The baking surface for all NerdChef steels measure 16" x 14.25", which means that the biggest round pizza you can make is basically a 14-incher. So while the quality of the pizza you can make with it is top-notch, the quantity is a little on the low side.
Another acclaimed pizza steel is the Baking Steel Original, which is very similar in price and specifications to the NerdChef 1/4" model. It'll help you make amazing pizza crusts and crunchy rustic breads. Unfortunately, it has not been available at Amazon for a while, though you may have better luck ordering directly from the company website.
Yet another very similar option comes from Artisan Steel. This heavy-duty baking steel is also 1/4" thick and weighs 16 pounds, has a baking surface of 16" x 14" and it cost $70 when we looked. Unfortunately, the Artisan Steel doesn't come with finger holes, which makes a pretty big difference for a product this heavy and awkward to move.
2. Best overall runner-up: FibraMent-D Rectangular Home Oven Baking Stone
Material: Stone | Size: 15" x 20" | Thickness: 3/8" | Weight: From 17 pounds
For a no-hassle stone that's big enough for a family pizza and also beloved for its ability to bake amazing breads and specialty cakes, check out the Fibrament-D.
FibraMent baking stones are made out of a proprietary heat-resistant stone material that develops a natural patina over time, which helps to develop a gorgeous crisp crust and avoid stickiness.
The stones are designed to be put in the bottom rack of your oven and to stay there permanently. That's good because they're large and quite heavy. The company makes stones in rectangle and round shapes, each one a substantial 3/8" thick, and our pick is 15" x 20" and weighs 17 pounds.
While that's a good size for making a pizza that'll feed a hungry bunch, it's important to check that it'll fit in your oven — with a little room to spare for air flow. Measure your oven dimensions so that there is at least a 1" gap on every side of the stone.
3. Editor's pick: Culinary Couture Pizza Stone
Material: Cordierite | Size: 15" diameter | Thickness: 3/4" | Weight: 9 pounds
For $50 or less, there are many solid if basic pizza stones on the market that will help you make a respectable pizza. The Culinary Couture stands out because it's thicker than most (3/4"), enabling you to bake a golden brown, airy pizza crust in less time.
The Culinary Couture is circular and 15" around, which is bigger than most of the competitors in this price range. It also weighs more than others, at 9 pounds, though that's to be expected given its extra thickness.
Made of cordierite, this pizza stone can handle temperatures up to 1000°. The manufacturer says it's okay to leave it in the oven for months at a time, and it's also suitable to use on a charcoal or gas grill. At about $40, the Culinary Couture is an outstanding value and can up your pizza-making game right away.
4. Best cast iron baking pan: Lodge Pre-Seasoned Cast Iron Baking Pan With Handles
Material: Cast iron | Size: 14" diameter | Thickness: n/a | Weight: 9.5 pounds
Cast iron is awesome because it can be used pretty much anywhere you might want to cook — including inside an oven, on any kind of grill, over a campfire and on a stovetop (including induction). Cast iron should last forever, too.
Lodge is a brand beloved by rustic cooks and known in particular for cast iron cookware, with options including classic skillets and griddles, dutch ovens, and this baking pan with handles that make it perfect for pizza. Cast iron has very good heat retention, and once the pan is preheated it offers a smooth, non-stick surface that'll create excellent, evenly baked pizza crusts on a 14" pie.
It's pre-seasoned with vegetable oil, so there's no need for treatment before use. It comes with handles that are, well, very handy, especially considering how heavy cast iron is (this relatively thin pan weighs nearly 10 pounds).
One warning: While the Lodge pan is normally priced at a reasonable $40 or less, it's sometimes been difficult to find in stock. As a result, some sellers that do have Lodge baking pans have been listing them for much higher prices (like $100).
So you may want to be patient and wait for more availability, instead of paying a high markup. Alternately, consider another cast iron baking pan that's good for pizza, like one from Cuisinel.
5. Best for deep dish pizza: LloydPans Kitchenware Pizza Pan
Material: Aluminum | Size: 10" x 14" or varies | Thickness: n/a | Weight: 1.5 pounds
We're not going to get into a debate over whether deep dish or thin crust pizza is better. It's literally a matter of taste (and besides, we know we're right). If you're a connoisseur of any style of deep dish pizza and want to try your hand at making it, check out LloydsPans.
Based in Washington state, where it manufactures all of its pans, LloydsPans makes all sorts of professional-quality pizza pans, with a special focus on deep dish. That includes a 16 round, 2.25 deep pan for Chicago-style, a 14 round, 2 deep pan or a 10 x 14 rectangular pan for Detroit-style, and a Grandma Style 16 x 12 panthat's 1" deep for a medium-thick rectangle Sicilian pizza.
They're all made with 14-gauge aluminum that won't warp, even if you're regularly baking them at 500°, and they all come with a special coating that helps them create a beautifully dark, crispy crust and avoid stickiness. Aluminum pizza pans are generally easier to work with compared to those made of stone, steel or cast iron. Aluminum is lighter, and, unlike pizza stones and steels, you don't have to preheat these pans (though you should still preheat the oven, of course).
One note to keep in mind: It's not recommended that you cut the pizza in these pans. That could damage the coating. Instead, slide the pizza out of the pan onto a cutting board. Let it cool for a minute, then do your cutting. Helpfully, most of LloydsPans deep dish pans feature a 76° angle on the edges, making it easier to remove the pizza compared to pans with straight 90° edges.