In the ongoing quest for quality pizza from my own kitchen, my latest ventures have focused on the sheet steel technique described in Modernist Cuisine (and described in brief in the Wall Street Journal). Simply put: steel holds more thermal energy than a baking stone, so a thick sheet of metal is a superior pizza-baking surface than a ceramic baking stone. To achieve the perfect combination of bottom and top browning, the steel heats at the oven’s maximum temperature before the pizza is loaded, then the oven’s broiler finishes the cooking and browning with top-down heat.
My initial results weren’t so great; I didn’t allow the 3/8ths inch thick steel to heat sufficiently. So I ended up with a hard (not crisp) bottom crust and overly browned uppers.
The latest trials improved on past results–thanks in no small part to my infrared thermometer. Using it, I learned that the sheet steel lags far behind the oven’s ambient temperature. So I’m preheating for a full 45 minutes now, and the bottom charring and texture are much more pleasing.
Sheet steel isn’t especially expensive, but it is very heavy and does have a tendency to rust. Can’t manage the weight of sheet steel? Then try the Emile Henry pizza stone or Lodge cast iron pizza pan.