DIY Baking Steel

I’m going to deviate a bit from talking about home improvements….

I like pizza, I like cooking, therefore I decided I should try making pizza.  Specifically, I wanted to make a neapolitan style pizza like Tutta Bella.  Neapolitan pizzas have strict rules about how they can be made.  In particular, I like the crust on these pizzas.  They’re thin, gooey and delicious.

Making the crust on a Neapolitan pizza requires the use of only a handful of ingredients: Flour, Salt, Water and Yeast.  My favorite crust recipe is the Modernist Cuisine variant.  The hard part is that they need to be cooked in a wood fire oven.  This is not a post on how to build your own wood fire oven.  I’m determined, but not that determined!  Wood fire ovens get hot, really hot, 700+ degrees.  In a wood fired oven, the pizza cooks in less than three minutes.

Like I said, I didn’t build a wood fire oven, so I had to find another option.  Home ovens don’t get anywhere near hot enough.  To mimic the behavior of a wood fire oven you need to use something that can create even heat and quickly transfer the heat to the pizza.  Normally, people use a pizza stone to do this at home.  While looking into baking stones  I ran across the Modernist Cuisine pizza steel.  Modernist Cuisine does a lot of cool stuff, if I had a larger kitchen pantry and a bigger budget, I’d have all of the gadgets they recommend.  I think playing with an antigrill would be fun.

The folks at Modernist Cuisine recommend using a pizza steel over a stone because it works better.  If making your own seems like too much work, go to Amazon and buy one from them.

They sell theirs for $99, and it has their name engraved on it.  It’s pretty and made in the USA.

$99 seemed steep to me for something I’m not going to use all that often, I made my own for $49 ($45 in steel and $4 in supplies).

Update 7/2017: 
Since this blog post first launched, a lot of other people have started making baking steels. There are lots of options on Amazon. I think it’s going to be hard to beat the price to effort ratio of this one for example.

How to make a baking steel

I bought a 14″x16″x3/8″ steel plate from Eddie at Exor Ironworks.  Eddie ground the edges so that they’d be smooth.  He sold me the steel plate for $45.  If you don’t live in Seattle, find a local blacksmith and ask for an “A36 Steel Plate”.  A36 is the alloy.  Keep in mind that Steel has a weight of .284 pounds per cubic inch.  That means that my baking steel is nearly 24 lbs!

 

Eddie grinding the edges of my steel plate

The steel plate from your local blacksmith will be coated in a rust like material called “mill scale”.  Before you use the steel, you need to get the mill scale off.  The easiest way to do that is with white vinegar.

 

The steel plate comes dirty and coated in mill scale

I used an old storage container I had and submersed my plate for 48 hours in the bucket.  If you don’t have a bucket handy, a garbage bag will work just fine too.

Soaking in vinegar

After 48 hours in the vinegar soak, hit the plate with a garden hose and the gunk will come right off.  I scrubbed mine with baking soda to neutralize the vinegar (I’m pretty sure this is overkill), and then with soap and water to get any remaining gunk off.  The steel should be a nice light grey color at this point

Without the mill scale to protect it, the plate will start to rust.  Stick the plate in the oven at a high temperature to dry it quickly.
I did two plates at once, they’re in the oven to dry after the vinegar bath
Once the baking steel is thoroughly dry, you need to season it like you would with a cast iron or carbon steel pan.  If you want to learn more about seasoning cast iron, Sheryl Canter has the best post I’ve read.  I followed her instructions, use flax seed oil and apply three coats.  The seasoning will keep the pan from rusting.
My steel after three coats of flax seed oil seasoning
Congratulations!  You now have a ready to use baking steel!

How to use the baking steel

The key is to give the steel plenty of time to heat up.  I put my steel in the upper third of my oven then let the oven heat up at maximum temperature for 45 minutes.  I then run my broiler for 15 minutes, leading to an hour of preheat time.  Using this method, I’ve gotten my steel to 700 degrees.
Pizza on the steel, the steel was at 700 degrees when I measured it

To get the pizza on and off of the steel, you’re going to want a pizza peel.

How well does it work?

I very much have to work on my dough stretching skills but here are a pair of pictures from recent attempts.  I over cooked the pizza in the picture, but it was still delicious.
Love how the crust came out!

 

Round is overrated

 

Summary of Instructions for Making a Baking Steel

  1. Buy a 14″x16″x3/8″ A36 Steel Plate
  2. Soak plate in vinegar for 48 hours.
  3. Clean thoroughly
  4. Dry thoroughly in the oven
  5. Season steel
    1. Apply a thin coat of flax seed oil to all 6 edges
    2. Rub off as much as you can
    3. Place in oven at oven’s max temperature for an hour
    4. Allow to cool in oven
    5. Repeat three times

30 Replies to “DIY Baking Steel”

  1. Thanks for the post.

    I'd purchased a piece of scrap steel this week for the same reason. Scrubbed it with Comet, washed with soap and water, and then ran it through the dishwasher. It still didn't look clean; when I found your post I did what you suggested. After just 20 minutes I'm amazed at what's coming off of the sheet.

    Thanks, Koz.

  2. Hi Koz, A couple of questions/ comments:

    1) I'm about to get a steel myself after years of working on tiles/stones. Do you have any reason to have concerns about lead in A36 steel or any evidence that explains why I *shouldn't* be concerned about lead transferring to food?
    2) If you are still struggling with dough let me know and I can point you to some great resources (sonofawhatthe@gmail.com)
    3) I'm trying to make good New York style as without the wood and without the temp there's no duplicating Neopolitan. Someday: wood burning oven in back yard!!

    1. 1. I have no knowledge as to why you should or shouldn't be concerned about lead in A36 steel.

      2. Thanks but I figured out my challenge! I found switching to mass based measurements helped a ton.

      3. Can't help you, I'm not a fan of the New York style 🙂

  3. Thank you for posting this. Being in Canada, the cost would be even higher to purchase a pre-made baking steel and have it shipped here from the USA. I'm having the metal cut now and will be following your instructions.

  4. So happy to find your blog! Purchased a 14 x 19 piece of A36 3/8" steel for $26 CDN. Rounded the corners with a plasma cutter and used a grinding disk to smooth & sand the entire piece clean, so no vinegar soak was necessary. The seasoning instruction are great and the baking steel looks perfect! This weekend I'll be baking lots of bread. Thank you!

    1. Glad I could help! That's an incredible price for the steel. A grinding disk works too but most people don't have a grinding disk or plasma cutter at home which is why I recommend vinegar 🙂

    2. Sandra, would you be able to share with me where you bought your piece of steel from? I'm located in Toronto and this would save me some research on where to get a piece!

    3. Koz, can your steel plate be used on a stove top, too? I got a quote on a 16" x 18" x 1/2" plate for $136 Canadian (rounded corners and cleaned.) is there a reason you chose your particular dimension? Thanks for your help.

      1. You can! They make a very heavy duty griddle too!

        I picked the size because it was bigger than the pizzas that I make. The size gave me room to work without crowding.

  5. do you think that having more than one baking steel ie. having a baking steel on each rack of the oven would work so that each pizza would receive heat from top and bottom. thinking out loud commercially.

    1. I don’t think so. I think the reality is that you need the direct heat of the broiler to get the steel hot enough. The bottom one just won’t get the same impact.

  6. I used your plan. I found a local recycling center that also sells new steel. I bought a 16X18" torch cut (hot rolled steel) for under 15.00. I have a grinder etc. I only put the steel in the vinegar bath for 24 hours and the mill scale was all gone. I didn't use soda, however, I did use a sander (after grinding the edges smooth) on the surface just to clean it up. I used 40 grit with a palm sander and finished with 220. The steel has a polished quality to it. It's now in the oven for it's first seasoning. Thanks for the information. I have a 16X18" steel for under 20 bucks.

  7. I used your plan and it turned out great. I found new steel at a local steel recycling center. I bought a 16X18" .25" A-36 piece that was torch cut for less than 15.00. I have a grinder/sander so did my own edge work after soaking the steel in vinegar for 24 hours. Hose it off, you don't need soda as it's a mild acid. I did sand the surface of mine to polish it. It's in the oven for it's first seasoning. Will be interesting to see how it works for pizza. Again, thanks for the info. I got a 16X18" steel for under 20 bucks including the gas to go get it, etc. (I wanted a little larger surface to be able to bake 2 loaves of artisan bread at a time).

    1. I don’t know the answer to your question. The specific heat capacity of aluminum is nearly twice that of steel. It will probably work!

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