Cooking a pizza at home can be tough, especially if you like crispier crust. Using a cookie sheet as a pizza pan can get you crisp edges but a soggy bottom, and dedicated metal pizza pans aren't much different. Part of the problem is the metal, which doesn't absorb moisture. Enter pizza stones. Because they are made of porous materials, they absorb moisture from the bottom of the dough. The result is a crispier, more evenly browned crust. Pizza and baking stones are also handy for other baked goods, like bread, cookies, focaccia and calzones.
Pizza stones (also called baking stones) come in a variety of shapes, weights and materials. According to the only comprehensive test of pizza stones, in Cook's Illustrated, rectangular stones are preferable to round ones because they provide more surface area for cooking. Nevertheless, the editors caution that some rectangular stones can be too wide for your oven, while some are so heavy that lifting them is unreasonably difficult.
As for materials, the editors at Cook's Illustrated and other reviewers give high marks to stones made of clay, because they produce evenly cooked bottoms and crispy crusts. Soapstone is another material that users say performs well. By contrast, Cook's Illustrated finds that pizza stones made of cement tend to produce pale crusts and can give off fumes.
Pizza stones are a simple and relatively inexpensive product (most sell for well under $100), yet they garner a fair number of complaints among users. Many of these complaints involve cracking and breakage, although it's not always clear whether these problems stem from misuse or actual product defects. Some users, however, also report soggy baking results, or even unpleasant odors when the stone is heated. To find the best pizza stones, we analyzed user feedback as well as professional assessments of performance, durability, convenience and quality. While these aren't the only pizza stones to deliver customer satisfaction, they do offer benefits that -- reviewers and home cooks say -- set them apart from the pack.
If you want to bake pizza with the kind of crisp crust you often find in old-style brick-oven pizzerias, the Old Stone Oven 14\" x 16\" Pizza Stone (*Est. $40) by Kitchen Supply Company garners high marks. Reviewers say it produces evenly cooked, golden-brown and crispy pizza and calzones, and they add that the raised feet -- which look like little speed bumps positioned around the perimeter of the stone's underside -- make it easy to grasp.
Almost all owners give the Old Stone Oven pizza stone high ratings, with some commenting that it even makes frozen pizza taste good. Several users say it is great for baking focaccia, breads and cookies as well as pizza. A minority of users post complaints, most of which cite problems with cracking or breakage that sometimes occurred during shipment. A handful of users say the dough tends to stick to the pizza stone, and one user reports a chemical smell upon heating the stone for the first time.
A baking stone that garners more mixed reviews is the FibraMent-D Home Oven Stone, which comes in a choice of three round sizes and three rectangular sizes, and ranges in price from $40 to $90. While some users posting to discussion-based websites report excellent baking results with a FibraMent-D pizza stone, one published test found that the FibraMent-D stone was heavy to lift, gave off unpleasant odors and produced uneven and pale baking results.
For a low-cost option, the Bialetti 3-Piece Pizza Stone Set (*Est. $15) comes with a 13-inch round pizza stone, a serving rack and a cutting wheel. Some users say the set is a great value, although others report that the stone is thin and breaks easily, and one user says it imparts a bad taste to food.
Another low-cost option, which appears on several discussion-based cooking websites, is to pick up an unglazed quarry tile from a home center, or even a piece of terra cotta from a nursery. Several users say that these tiles cost a few dollars at the most, and that while they can be thin and may break easily, they are cheap to replace. User comments on baking performance, however, are mixed. Many cooks warn that the tile must be unglazed, as the stone must be porous for the pizza crust to become crisp. In addition, a glaze may contain lead.
If you're looking for a stone that doubles as a good-looking serving piece, a choice that gets high marks is the All-Clad Pizza Baker/Stone with Tray and Cutter (*Est. $125). Though pricey, the stone is sold with a stainless-steel serving tray and pizza cutter. The pizza stone sits snugly in the tray -- or you can use the tray on its own, to serve hors d'oeuvres, fruit and cheese, or other prepared foods. Home cooks say the stone bakes up a nice pizza, the tray is good-looking and the cutter works well. One user complains, however, that the stone arrived scratched.
Cook's Illustrated features the only multi-product test of pizza stones. Its 2010 article (available to subscribers) summarizes baking results for five pizza stones, with reviewers preferring rectangles to rounds and giving a thumbs-down to cement. Other reviews are less helpful. For example, a GoodHousekeeping.com blog article describes an excellent cooking experience with one stone, but does not mention if other pizza stones were tested. Similarly, Bestcovery.com recommends five stones, but does not describe any formal testing. Retail websites including Amazon.com and Cooking.com provide helpful user ratings and reviews. Chowhound.com posts ongoing discussions, although comments are anecdotal.