By Jonah Reider | FoodAndWine.Com
Troy Warren for City News And Talk #foodie-all
Master the almighty Baking Steel, and your food will come out crispier, crunchier, and just plain better.
CREDIT: BAKING STEEL
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It is rare that I recommend a specific piece of cookware. Home cooks should, for the most part, be able to use new techniques, recipes, and ingredients to upgrade their cooking without needing to swap out their pots and pans. But once in a while, I find a tool that truly alters the way I cook at home. This year, it was the Baking Steel (the Skinny Griddle, $169, can be pre-ordered at bakingsteel.com).
It all started when a steelworker and pizza obsessive named Andris Lagsdin was working at the Stoughton Steel plant in Massachusetts back in 2012. When Lagsdin learned that steel conducted more than 20 times the heat of a brick oven or a ceramic pizza stone, he used jets of ultra-hot plasma-cut gas to cut a thick piece of steel that perfectly fit his oven. He baked a pizza on it, and was blown away by the results.
Weighing in at around 23 pounds, the Baking Steel Skinny Griddle absorbs and conducts heat far better than any baking sheet or pizza stone I’ve tried. I’ve been using one for months and can vouch for the versatility and power this tool brings to any home kitchen. Imagine the perfect mashup of a pro sheet pan, a luxury griddle, and a fancy pizza stone. It’s absolutely indestructible, easy to clean, elegant in any kitchen, and incredibly fun to cook with.
Bake Pizzeria-Caliber Pizzas at Home
Before I got a Baking Steel, I was under the impression that exquisitely puffy pizzas—the ones that cook in a few minutes, with a hint of bubbly char on top—required an extremely expensive oven, probably wood-burning, most likely sitting in some sort of endless landscaped backyard. In my apartment, pizzas always ended up undercooked, or dry and tough. I strongly preferred to order from a pizzeria. No longer: with a Baking Steel slid towards the top of my oven and preheated for 45 minutes under the broiler, pizzas cook as if they were in a smoky, scorching-hot oven.
I always use Langis’ simple recipe for slowly fermented pizza dough, but any type of fast-cooking breads such as naan or pita will cook beautifully directly on the steel, right under the broiler’s flame. I’ve found that even frozen pizzas turn out crispier and fluffier than with any other tool or method. And if the pizza starts to get too brown on top, just turn off the broiler—the Baking Steel conducts heat so well that it’ll keep on crisping the bottom until it’s cooked through.
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Enjoy Unmatched Even Heat From Your Oven
Beyond pizza, the Baking Steel will dramatically improve your oven’s general intensity and evenness of heat. Thin aluminum baking sheets are susceptible to hot spots in a home oven and quickly lose their heat if you open and close the door. With a thick, preheated steel in the oven, I no longer have to spin pies around, flip poultry one way or another, or watch sadly as just one corner of a tray of cookies gets burned. Even my favorite frozen snacks like mozzarella sticks, spanakopita, or samosas crisp up impeccably when baked directly on my hot steel.
CREDIT: BAKING STEEL
Create Gorgeous Crusts on Breads
Such a large and consistently hot surface is a godsend for bakers: all sorts of breads and pastries emerge from my steel with an incomparably burnished bottom crust. Large unwieldy breads like baguettes and challah slide effortlessly onto the steel, especially when there’s a sheet of parchment underneath to avoid any sticking. This is the only way to approximate the power of a giant brick oven at home.
CREDIT: BAKING STEEL
Griddle Like a Pro
The Baking Steel isn’t only for inside the oven. Laid directly over my stovetop burners, it becomes an incredibly versatile griddle or plancha. I have yet to find a better large surface on which to sear steaks until they have a crust like burnt caramel, fry five eggs at once, or griddle a platter of pancakes. Blistering two dozen shishito peppers and 18 shrimps at the same time? No problem. Over very low heat, the steel becomes a useful warming platter for a pot of coffee in the morning or for side dishes leading up to a meal.
Or I can split the difference between hot and warm: Because the steel easily covers two burners, I can set one half to be blistering hot (for searing smash patties, for example) and the other half at a gentler medium heat (great for toasting buns and caramelizing onions). The griddle models of these steels feature an easy-to-clean divot that collects fat and drippings. And with use, the Steel quickly develops a natural nonstick patina, so it’s never very difficult to scrub and wipe clean once it has cooled down.
No matter what I’m cooking, Lagsdin’s culinary steel tool has left me feeling profoundly more self-assured in the kitchen. And that sensation, more than ever, is one worth embracing. This cult kitchen apparatus deserves a place in your kitchen.