A Steel of a Deal: A Pizza Steel is an Investment in Great Pizza

Or, a pizza a day keeps the doctor away.

by Jan Hostyn

Jan Hostyn’s pizza steel in its permanent oven-home
Jan Hostyn’s pizza steel in its permanent oven-home.
Jan Hostyn photo

Pizza has always been something of an obsession for me. In an ideal world (where dietary guidelines and families who object to eating the same thing night after night don’t exist), I think I could consume pizza every day.

My mom started it all with her massive pans of gooey homemade pizza. Not thin crust pizza, which is what I consume copious quantities of today. Hers had a thick, chewy crust topped with loads of sauce, cheese and assorted toppings.

After I left home, pizza seemed like too complicated a creature to conquer on my own. So began the days of Chef Boyardee pizza-making kits — pizza crust mix in a pouch, sauce in a can and a nifty little package of seasoning to sprinkle on top … I kid you not. But at the time, heaven.

My pizza evolution started from there. It began with making my own dough. From scratch. I went from braving a simple pizza crust to attempting sheet pan pizza, to dabbling with pizza baked on one of those fancy perforated pans designed to make crisper crusts. Next came the ever-popular pizza stone, with grilled pizza on the barbeque making the occasional appearance shortly after.

But then it all stalled. Sometime during all of this I had the pleasure of eating real (and practically perfect) Neapolitan-style thin crust pizza. In Italy. And that promptly ruined homemade pizza for me. My crusts suddenly were no longer crisp enough. Or airy enough. Or chewy enough. They had become woefully lacking. And since Neapolitan-style pizza needs a super-hot 800-900°F oven (something I don’t have) to achieve that signature crust, I simply quit making pizza.

Until my sister discovered the pizza steel. According to her meticulous research, steel is the perfect vehicle to cook pizza on. Steel’s thermal conductivity is much better than that of a pizza stone, and that means your pizza crust will get that critical blast of heat a heck of a lot quicker. The result: your crust will rise faster, creating bigger air bubbles, and it will cook faster (a very basic and unscientific explanation, but Google will tell you everything you need to know and more). The end product? That coveted crust.

At first I wasn’t convinced, but my sister is relentless when it comes to anything she decides to research. And although she can be practically impossible to please, she adored her pizza steel. So after a trip to witness (and consume) the pizza baked on a pizza steel miracle firsthand, I returned home determined to try it myself. Because yes, my sister was right (as usual). The crust was amazing. And it even had that lovely spotty char on the bottom that you only get at really good pizzerias.

Hijacking my sister’s knowledge, I outfitted my oven with a pizza steel. Well, not officially. I couldn’t find a pizza steel in Edmonton at the time. And ordering it and having it shipped seemed prohibitively expensive (Modernist Cuisine sells their baking steel online for $119USD, shipping not included). So I went to a metal warehouse (Metal Supermarkets) and had my pizza steel made. Well, two of them, actually.

The original plan was to keep one of the steels and give one to my brother. But once I got them home, they both ended up in my oven. One just seemed too small and they both fit perfectly side by side, so…

Here’s the thing: my pizza steel is not officially food-grade steel. It doesn’t have the same finish as stainless steel, so it’s prone to rust. But I cook my pizza on parchment to minimize the mess, so it doesn’t matter. And the edges on both steels were all rough and jagged and needed filing down. So it’s not exactly ideal. But you specify the size and thickness and voila, a pizza steel in exactly the size you want, for about
$40 each.

A warning: a pizza steel can be heavy.  My steels are each 12 by 14 inches and 3/8-inch thick (so not huge by any means). And they weigh in at just under 20 pounds each. So, ever since I heaved my steels onto the bottom rack of my oven, they haven’t budged an inch. They simply live there.

Besides, I’ve since discovered that the steel isn’t just good for pizza, it does amazing things for bread and scones and cookies and, well, oodles of things.

Is the pizza as good as true Neapolitan-style pizzeria pizza? Home ovens don’t go to 800°F, so no. But it is good enough to tempt me to make (and eat!) pizza almost every day.

After discovering the beauty of egg on pizza, Jan Hostyn now has an excuse to eat pizza twice a day.