Pizza Stones: An Ideal Way to Bake a Pizza
Why spend $20-$25 on delivery pizza when, for far less than that, you can make your own pizza at home and turn dinner into a family fun event? Plus, you can say goodbye to haggling over who gets what on the pizza. When you make it yourself, each person can have pizza just the way he or she likes it—or, for less finicky eaters, you can enjoy a taste of several different pizzas.
All you need is a little creativity, a willingness to have fun, the necessary ingredients, and a good pizza stone or two and you’re set to go!
Is it really cheaper?
Let’s use my favorite pizza—a pepperoni, sausage, onion, and green pepper pie on a thin crust—as our comparison. I live in Colorado Springs, CO and ordered the same exact pie from Papa Hut, Pizza John’s, and Checkers. The three prices were relatively similar and averaged $21.67, including the pie, delivery charge, tax, and a $2 tip.
However, to be fair (well, sort of, but let’s give them the benefit of the doubt), we should only compare what the pizza itself cost. Which, again averaged, was $15.66. I don’t know about your family, but one pizza never fed my five. But, it’s a good comparison point, right?
To save me from pricing out all the individual ingredients of my own dough and pizza sauce, I’m going to use a mix and a prepared sauce, both off the shelf at my local grocery. It won’t taste as good as mine, but it sure will be easier to add up. Let’s go shopping!
I bought a store brand sauce ($1.59), crust ($0.99), small package of sliced pepperoni ($1.99), pound of ground Italian sausage ($2.99), one green pepper ($0.79), one onion ($0.45), and pizza cheese, shredded ($2.99). My total? Just $11.79, plus I’ll have sauce, pepperoni, sausage, green pepper, onion, and cheese left over for the next pizza. My experience tells me I’ll get at least two pizzas out of these ingredients, maybe three if there’s not too much snacking on ingredients while we create. (No guarantees.)
That’s a savings of $3.87 (just food) or $9.88, if you include delivery charge, tax, and tip—and I can make at least two pizzas. I’ll let you do the math, but if your family is like mine and orders pizza once a week—well, just think about it.
Beyond the money
But for those of us who love to cook, it’s not about the money (okay, that’s important, but … )—it’s about the experience! Imagine your family gathered in the kitchen, up to their elbows in flour, and making pizzas by hand. No more than two people per pizza, though—just in case they can’t agree, that gives each person a whole half pizza to top at will. And, please, no sneaking black olives onto my pizza by hiding them under the pepperoni. (Yes, this has been done to me. My children thought it hilarious.)
Those are memories Papa Hut, Pizza John’s, and Checkers’ delivery drivers can’t share with you—but that you’ll have forever.
Pizza stones and pans
My personal preference is to use a pizza stone, but pans are also available. Stones create a delectable crispy crust that stands up to sauce, toppings, and cheese nicely. Pizza stones distribute heat evenly across the pizza crust. And, yes, you can use them on your grill, too.
If you use a stone, the best practice is to put your room temperature stone into your cold oven and let both preheat to temperature. Doing it this way, rather than sticking your stone into an already heated oven, allows it to absorb the heat evenly. Plus, stones can crack if a cold stone is placed into a hot oven.
The best way to get your pizza onto—and off of—your hot pizza stone is with a pizza peel (also known as a pizza paddle). You may want to sprinkle your peel with a little cornmeal to make it easier to get the pizza off it and onto the stone. It may take a little practice to do this, but the end result is worth it.
I always leave my pizza stone in the oven to cool down. Just as putting a cold stone into a hot oven can crack it, taking a hot stone and putting it into a cool environment can do the same. Certainly let the stone cool completely before cleaning it.
A good alternative to a stone is a perforated pizza pan. These pans provide uniform baking and because they are perforated, a crispier crust. Heat rises evenly to bake pizzas, calzones, breads, rolls, or other pastries—plus they are nonstick. Yet another viable option is a cast iron pan, which you can also use to roast vegetables, pork chops, chicken, or beef.
Cleaning your stone
You can use a pizza stone cleaner to scrub off any baked on debris, but mostly you’ll just use warm water—but not soap. Because the surface of the stone is somewhat porous, any detergent or soap will eventually seep into your stone and become an unwelcome “topping” on future pizzas.
Of course, one of the best benefits of making your own pizzas is the freedom you have to experiment with toppings. Essentially, you are only limited by your imagination—not by the pizza chains’ imagination (or more likely, demographics). Here are some of our favorites. At the end are links to pizza dough and pizza sauce recipes, as well.
A true slice of heaven is eating a New York spinach and ricotta pie.
- vegetable-oil cooking spray
- 1 portion (15 ounces) New York-Style Pizza Dough (recipe link below)
- unbleached bread flour for dusting
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/2 cup New York-Style Pizza Sauce (recipe link below)
- 1/2 tablespoon freshly grated parmesan cheese
- 1 1/2 cups lightly packed fresh spinach leaves, torn into large pieces
- 1/2 teaspoon minced fresh garlic
- 2 cups coarsely shredded whole-milk or part-skim, low-moisture mozzarella cheese
- 1/3 cup whole-milk ricotta cheese
- 1 ripe tomato, cored and thinly sliced (optional)
Extra-virgin olive oil is drizzled over the dough, then a smearing of sauce and a sprinkling of garlic are added before fresh, coarsely torn spinach is layered on top. Whole-milk mozzarella is the protective cover that keeps the spinach from burning, and little globs of ricotta dot the pie. It’s a classic.
Position an oven rack on the second-lowest level in the oven and place a pizza baking stone on the rack. Position another rack in the upper third of the oven. Preheat the oven to 500 F.
Coat a 12-inch pizza screen or perforated pizza pan with the cooking spray. Remove the dough from the plastic bag and place on a lightly floured work surface. Lightly dust the dough with flour. Using a rolling pin, roll the dough into a 10-inch round without rolling over the edges. Lift the dough and check to make sure the dough isn’t sticking to the work surface. Shake the excess flour from the dough.
Toss the dough until it is stretched to a 12-inch circle and place it on the prepared pizza screen or pan. Alternatively, lay the dough on the prepared screen or pan and gently stretch the dough into a 12-inch round.
To top the pizza, brush the dough with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Spread the pizza sauce evenly over the dough, leaving a 1/4-inch border. Sprinkle the Parmesan over the top. Scatter the spinach over the top and sprinkle the garlic over the spinach. Cover the spinach with the mozzarella. Using a teaspoon or your fingers, arrange little globs of ricotta evenly over the top. Drizzle the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil over the top.
Place the pizza in the oven on the upper rack. (Work quickly to slide the pizza into the oven and close the door so the oven temperature doesn’t drop too much.) Bake the pizza until the crust is crisp and golden brown, 10 minutes. Using a pizza peel, lift the pizza off the screen or pan and place the crust directly on the baking stone.
Using the peel or wearing thick oven mitts, remove the screen or pan from the oven. Continue baking the pizza until the bottom of the crust is golden brown, about 3 minutes longer. Using the peel, remove the pizza from the oven and transfer to a cutting board. Arrange the tomato slices over the top, if desired. Slice the pizza into wedges and serve immediately. Makes one 12-inch pizza.
Serves 4 to 6.
Diane Morgan and Tony Gemignani, Pizza (Chronicle Books, 2005).
- New York-Style Pizza Dough (15 ounces), at room temperature (recipe link below)
- flour for dusting
- 1/4 cup New York-Style Pizza Sauce (recipe link below)
- 2 ounces fresh mozzarella, sliced thin
- 3 to 4 heirloom tomatoes, sliced thin
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 4 fresh basil leaves
Preheat grill to 500 F on outdoor grill with pizza stone on the grill. Have a pizza peel ready.
Remove dough from plastic bag, keeping the smooth top side facing up. Place it on a lightly floured work surface and lightly dust the dough with flour. Using your fingertips (but not your nails), press down on the dough to flatten it and push it outward into a larger circle. Flip the dough over and repeat on the other side, and then flip the dough back over. (You always want the smooth side up.)
Thinking of the circle of dough as a clock face, make a fist with your left hand and place it firmly at the 9 o’clock position, about one inch in from the edge (this will keep the edge of the dough slightly thicker). Place your right hand at the 3 o’clock position, putting your thumb on top of the dough and your other fingers underneath. Lift the dough and stretch it a bit. Move the dough a one-eighth turn and repeat. Continue until you have evenly stretched the dough into a 9-inch circle with slightly thicker edges.
Dust the pizza peel generously with flour. Using your hands and working quickly, lift and transfer the dough to the pizza peel. Give the peel a few shakes back and forth to make sure the dough is not sticking.
To top the pizza: Spread the pizza sauce evenly over the dough, leaving a 1-inch border. Distribute the slices of mozzarella evenly over the top. Distribute the tomato slices evenly over the cheese. Drizzle the olive oil over the tomatoes.
Give the peel another gentle shake back and forth just to make sure the dough is not sticking. Slide the dough from the peel onto the hot baking stone using a jerking motion with your arm. Work quickly to slide the pizza into the grill and close the top so the temperature doesn’t drop too much. Bake the pizza until the crust is crisp and golden brown, about 8 minutes. Using the peel, remove the pizza from the grill and transfer to a cutting board. Scatter the basil leaves over the pizza. Slice the pizza into wedges and serve immediately.
The perfect, golden-brown, Chicago-style deep-dish pizza.
- One 20 oz. Dough ball from Master Dough Recipe (recipe link below)
- 12 oz. Pork, ground (uncooked)
- 1 tbsp. Fennel seed
- 1 tsp. Salt
- 1 tsp. Pepper
- 2 tsp. Romano cheese, grated
- 1 1/2 cups Tomatoes, ground
- 1 tsp. Oregano, dried
- 1 tsp. Basil, dried
- 8 oz. (11 slices) Part-skim, low-moisture mozzarella, sliced
- 2 tsp. Romano cheese, grated
Press dough across bottom of pan and up the sides.
Mix the ground pork, fennel seed, salt, pepper, and 2 tsp. Romano cheese in a bowl and set aside.
Mix the ground tomatoes, oregano, and basil in a bowl and set aside.
Lay the slices of mozzarella over the dough to cover.
Press the seasoned pork sausage into a patty that is less than 1/8 inch thick. To make this go easier, brush olive oil over a sheet of aluminum foil. Put the pork patty on the foil. Place other piece of foil over the patty. Roll with a rolling pin until it is thin.
Place the sausage patty over the cheese.
Spread the seasoned tomatoes over the sausage.
Sprinkle the Romano cheese over the tomatoes.
Bake on the middle rack of a preheated 475 degree F. oven for 25-30 minutes until crust is golden brown and pulls away from the sides of the pan.
Allow the pizza to rest for 3-4 minutes before cutting and serving.
Perfect for lunch or dinner.
Makes two 12-inch pizzas
- 1 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast
- 1 cup (8 ounces) water, room temperature
- 1 3/4 cups (8 3/4 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting work surface and peel
- 1 cup (4 ounces) cake flour
- 1 1/2 teaspoon table salt
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- 1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes
- 1/2 teaspoon sugar
- 1 small garlic clove, minced or pressed through garlic press (optional)
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
- Table salt
- 8 ounces fresh mozzarella, cut into 1-inch chunks
- 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
This recipe requires a pizza stone and a peel. Convection ovens will produce a lighter, crispier pizza, and you will need to reduce the overall cooking time by a minute or two. You can shape the second dough round while the first pizza bakes, but don’t add toppings until just before baking. You can let the dough rise overnight in the refrigerator if you like; place the dough balls on a floured baking sheet and cover with plastic wrap coated with nonstick cooking spray. If using mozzarella packed in brine, pat the cheese cubes dry before placing them on the pizza.
For the crust: Adjust oven rack to lowest position, set pizza stone on oven rack, and heat oven to 500 degrees.
In liquid measuring cup, whisk yeast into water to dissolve.
In food processor fitted with metal blade, process flours, salt, and sugar until combined, about 5 seconds. With machine running, slowly add liquid through feed tube; continue to process until dough forms satiny, sticky ball that clears sides of work bowl, 1 1/2 to 2 minutes. (If after 1 minute dough is sticky and clings to blade, add 1 to 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour and continue processing. If dough appears dry and crumbly, add 1 to 2 tablespoons water and process until dough forms ball.)
Divide dough in half and shape into smooth, tight balls. Place on floured counter or baking sheet, spacing them at least 3 inches apart; cover loosely with plastic wrap coated with nonstick cooking spray and let rise until doubled in volume, about 1 hour.
For the topping: In clean bowl of food processor, process tomatoes until crushed, two or three 1-second pulses. Transfer tomatoes to fine-mesh strainer set over bowl and let drain at least 30 minutes, stirring occasionally to release liquids.
Just before shaping pizza rounds, combine drained tomatoes, sugar, garlic (if using), 1 tablespoon basil, and 1/4 teaspoon salt in bowl.
To shape and cook pizzas: When dough balls have doubled in size, dust dough liberally with flour and transfer balls to well-floured work surface. Press one ball into 8-inch disk. Using flattened palms, gently stretch disk into 12-inch circle, working along outer edge and giving disk quarter turns.
Lightly flour pizza peel; lift edges of dough round to brush off any excess flour, then transfer dough to peel.
Spread thin layer of tomato topping (about 1/2 cup) over dough with rubber spatula, leaving 1/2 inch border around edge. Slide onto stone and bake until crust begins to brown, about 5 minutes.
Remove pizza from oven with peel, close oven door, and top pizza with half of cheese chunks, spaced evenly apart. Return pizza to stone and continue cooking until cheese is just melted, 4 to 5 minutes more.
Transfer to cutting board; sprinkle with half of remaining basil, 1 teaspoon olive oil, and pinch salt. Slice and serve immediately. Repeat to shape, top, and bake second pizza.
Pizza dough and sauce recipe links
Oh how we love pizza! Can’t get enough? Check out these pizza-related blogs on CHEFS Mix for more:
- Pizza Stones: An Ideal Way to Bake a Pizza
- Pizza for Everybody!
- Saucy Tips for Homemade Pizza
- Show Pizza Some Amore
- Specialty Pizzas: Thin Crust and Grilled Pizzas
Your turn: What is your favorite pizza style or topping?