Is Steel for Me?
Contrary to what you might read in different online publications or in advertisements, steel is not for everyone
. Steel is, for the most part, only advantageous for the home baker
1. seeking faster NY style bakes
2. who owns an oven that can reach 525 degrees, with a broiler in the main compartment
Steel may, in certain oven setups, be beneficial for Neapolitan pizza, but Neapolitan pizza requires an abnormally strong broiler- something that the vast majority of people don’t possess. If you’re interested in Neapolitan in a home oven, it’s certainly worth seeing if you have a freakishly hot broiler, but do not buy steel without looking at your broiler first, because it’s almost a certainty that your broiler will be too weak, and, if it is, for Neapolitan purposes, in your oven, steel will be worthless.
The only way that steel works in all home ovens for Neapolitan pizza is if you pervert the definition of Neapolitan style pizza to include pale, flavorless, stale, cardboard textured 00 flour dough baked for 3-5 minutes. While there are those outside of the forum who are comfortable misrepresenting Italian culture while they advocate crappy pizza, in this forum, we know better. Certainly, if Neapolitan is your goal, check the specs on your broiler, but, until you’ve thoroughly confirmed the broiler can cut it, do not buy steel for Neapolitan.
American, Chicago, Detroit, Sicilian, and Cracker styles are all generally much less dependent on fast bakes. If you don’t need a fast bake, you don’t need steel. Steel will work perfectly fine for these styles (at lower temps), but if you don’t ever see yourself venturing into NY style territory, steel is not for you. Cordierite kiln shelves are cheaper and easier to source (Axner, etc.)
When you reduce the bake time for NY style, the end result is puffier, but it’s also a bit floppier and less crisp. Some people simply prefer a crispier NY style pizza. If you fall into this group, steel may not be ideal for you. In my experience, almost everyone that’s taken the time to create an oven that can do 4 minute bakes has preferred the results to their previously longer bakes. If you’ve never had a fast baked NY style pizza, I highly recommend at least trying it.
Steel accelerates bottom browning. In order for the top of the pizza to bake at the same rate as the bottom , you have to have a broiler in the main compartment, not in a separate drawer like some older ovens have. You might be able to utilize the steel in the broiler drawer, but, working that close to the floor is awkward, and, so far, no one’s posted any results from a steel/broiler drawer technique. If you have a broilerless setup, I suggest something like this