Baking Steel

A baking steel is an improved version of a baking stone that transfers heat quicker and is less liable to crack. They act as a heat sink in the oven to dampen out fluctuations in temperature, especially when the door is opened, and generally help give you a better crust on your pizzas, hearth breads and other things.

Pizza stones are great and I spent many a happy year using a round granite Weber BBQ pizza stone before it finally cracked. (This was probably my fault because I was in the habit of pouring boiling water from the kettle into a metal tray below the stone and probably got a bit casual about pouring water on the stone). In my hunt for a replacement I came across the Pizza Lab article on Serious Eats where they talk about using a baking steel. Since they referenced the legendary, beautiful, fascinating but extremely expensive Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking, it was bound to be worth following up. The project mentioned in the article has now left kickstarter and is selling from their website at Of course, the issue is that this is a US company selling a very heavy product (at a profit) so it’s an expensive ($79 steel + $70 shipping) option for the UK.

Rather than abandon, I decided to head down to my local metal supply shop and pick up a similarly sized lump of stainless steel. Phoning ahead I had a classic ‘conversation’ with the ‘sales’ chap, which consisted of me asking him various questions about 304 and 316 stainless in different thicknesses, dimensions, and him replying with ‘yup’ and ‘nope’ in the kind of way that makes you know they just want to get off the phone as soon as possible. The upshot was that they had and could cut 6mm (1/4 inch) 304 plate stainless steel to any size whilst you waited. I wanted 316 (otherwise known as 18/10) as this is the daddy, but 304 (18/8) is good enough for food and better than the stuff that they use for the above. Needless to say, the industrial estate warehouse, with its interior portacabin office and Terminator-scaring machinery made the earlier conversation more understandable. This was no place for a marketing department or a customer relations executive: this is about cutting and selling metal.

I tried as best as I could to be nonchalant (in my suit) and put on my best “I’m totally comfortable with this” act (lots of training at Screwfix trade counters), and asked for a piece of 350x350mm, 6mm, 304 plate stainless steel. A ‘yup’ and some impressive hydraulic noises later I was presented with a reasonably shiny piece of steel that looked quite similar to the above mentioned. Not a bargain at 35 GBP but you get a significant chunk (c. 7kg) of metal for your money.

And the upshot of this long story? Well you can easily season your baking steel by baking a very thin coat of high smoke point oil at 230-250C until it goes golden brown. After that the baking steel acts as promised, producing excellent crusts on breads and pizzas.

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