I'm always surprised when I hear someone say that they think pizza stones are a waste of money. "They don't work."
"What do you mean they don't work?" I usually respond. "Of course, they do. They're the greatest thing since the invention of the oven."
At this point, the person usually launches into a whole host of things they've tried or done or read, and usually, the words, "I followed the directions and it still didn't work," are included in the tirade.
I then reply (sometimes with a little more condescension than I mean to), "Well no, apparently you didn't follow the directions."
A pizza stone is a wonderful tool for your cooking arsenal and should be a staple in your kitchen that you can turn to for many other types of food, including bread and other baked foods. But when used for pizza, if you follow a few simple steps it will produce a well cooked, crispy, and flavorful crust each and every time.
Its origins can be traced back throughout human history long before the invention of pizza and it is still used in most cultures in one form or another. If it didn't work, I don't think it'd still be around.
The first mistake I've noticed people make is that they don't heat it up prior to putting their pizza on it. The whole concept of the pizza stone is that you're placing the pizza on a hot surface, therefore the crust starts cooking immediately. Like with pizza ovens, when the pizza is placed on the stone surface, the wood fire has been going for hours and the crust of the pizza rests on is already a few hundred degrees. The mistake many people make is preparing the pizza on the stone and then placing it in the oven, therefore the top of the pizza is done long before the stone has had adequate time to heat up. Doing it that way guarantees you'll never get a crispy crust.
The second mistake is that some people have issue with the pizza sticking to the stone. There are one of two methods to prevent this: cornmeal or seasoning. When I bought my pizza stone, I wasn't aware of the seasoning method, and I knew from my years working local pizzerias that a little cornmeal underneath the pizza prevented it from sticking, so that's what I did. After a while, just the normal oils from the pizzas I cooked seasoned the stone very nicely and eliminated the need for cornmeal in the future. What I also could have done when I first purchased the stone was to rub some sort of vegetable or olive oil over the surface and allow the stone to absorb it. I then could have heated it, allowed it to cool, and repeated the process. This is a similar method many use with cast-iron skillets, and as far as the appearance of the stone, it gives it a darker, more uniform color - as opposed to mine which has multiple colors from the various oils that it has absorbed over my cooking endeavors.
The third mistake I've observed is that people misunderstand the cleaning directions. You should clean your stone with plain water and some elbow grease, never using soap since the stone may absorb the soap. Some people, though, interpret this to mean that they should never wash the stone at all. It's akin to that false belief that a grill caked in char somehow produces more flavorful food than a clean grill. Not cleaning off the chunkies of any previous pizza can have the opposite effect of what you want to achieve because it keeps parts of the stone and crust from touching, resulting in uneven crispness.
Basically, if follow the simple instructions and don't overthink it, there's no reason why a pizza stone shouldn't give you crisp crusts every time. And if you still seem to struggle with little or no results, don't give up. It's like the old adage, Practice Makes Perfect, and while you're on your way to perfection, you're probably still seasoning the stone with each use.
Cooking pizza is fun, just stick with it, you'll be a old pro in no time.
Until Next Time...
Here's a short educational video on how to season a stone.