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Can You make Authentic Neapolitan Pizzas at Home?


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#1 scott123

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Posted 25 February 2011 - 07:40 AM

The thicker the metal, the more heat capacity, but also the longer it will take for it to heat up. You can use anything from 1/4" thick up to 1" thick. Concievably you could even use something thicker. The page in MC says 3/4" but you could use something thinner. In fact, I might change the text to say that for the next edition.


Neapolitan pizza has two defining properties. Oven spring and char. Without char, it's NY style pizza, not Neapolitan. Here is a photo of the kind of char I'm referring to

neo upskirt.JPG

The high heat that produces char also generates oven spring- you can't have one without the other.

I've tested this extensively and 1/4" steel plate at temperatures of 550 and below will not produce anything close to this amount of undercrust char/oven spring in 2 minutes. 1/2" won't either. 3/4" should, but that's only for homeowners with ovens that actually go to 550. You'd be amazed by the number of ovens that can't go too far above 500.

3/4" steel plate, cut to the 'size of the oven shelf' will weigh upwards of 90 pounds. Cut to a comfortable size for launching a traditional 14" pizza onto (16"), it still clocks in at 50 lbs. Oven shelf integrity varies considerably from model to model. I've seen shelves that can handle considerable amounts of weight and I've seen others that started bowing at well below 50 lbs. 3/4" steel plate is going to break a few oven shelves.

If you want to tell your readers that they can make NY style pizza at home with 1/2" steel plate, that would be accurate, as would telling them they can make Neapolitan, with the right oven, at the right temp, with 3/4" steel. But Neapolitan with 1/4" plate? Not in a million years.

And aluminum, seriously? Come on, Nathan, you have to be aware of the aluminum's conductivity. You can pre-heat it for as long as you want and the moment you open the door, the temperature will plummet. Aluminum will not store heat- and for pizza, stored heat is critical.

Edited by scott123, 25 February 2011 - 07:44 AM.


#2 nathanm

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Posted 25 February 2011 - 09:58 AM


The thicker the metal, the more heat capacity, but also the longer it will take for it to heat up. You can use anything from 1/4" thick up to 1" thick. Concievably you could even use something thicker. The page in MC says 3/4" but you could use something thinner. In fact, I might change the text to say that for the next edition.


Neapolitan pizza has two defining properties. Oven spring and char. Without char, it's NY style pizza, not Neapolitan. Here is a photo of the kind of char I'm referring to

neo upskirt.JPG

The high heat that produces char also generates oven spring- you can't have one without the other.

I've tested this extensively and 1/4" steel plate at temperatures of 550 and below will not produce anything close to this amount of undercrust char/oven spring in 2 minutes. 1/2" won't either. 3/4" should, but that's only for homeowners with ovens that actually go to 550. You'd be amazed by the number of ovens that can't go too far above 500.

3/4" steel plate, cut to the 'size of the oven shelf' will weigh upwards of 90 pounds. Cut to a comfortable size for launching a traditional 14" pizza onto (16"), it still clocks in at 50 lbs. Oven shelf integrity varies considerably from model to model. I've seen shelves that can handle considerable amounts of weight and I've seen others that started bowing at well below 50 lbs. 3/4" steel plate is going to break a few oven shelves.

If you want to tell your readers that they can make NY style pizza at home with 1/2" steel plate, that would be accurate, as would telling them they can make Neapolitan, with the right oven, at the right temp, with 3/4" steel. But Neapolitan with 1/4" plate? Not in a million years.

And aluminum, seriously? Come on, Nathan, you have to be aware of the aluminum's conductivity. You can pre-heat it for as long as you want and the moment you open the door, the temperature will plummet. Aluminum will not store heat- and for pizza, stored heat is critical.


You clearly don't have the actual book recipe, so you are making some bad assumptions.

We recommend having the oven at high AND having the top broiler element on. Most electric ovens have this feature. Some gas ovens do, but they don't all have it. With the broiler on in it will get very hot indeed. Without the broiler you would be right, but that isn't what the recipe actually calls for, so your comments are not revelant to the actual recipe.

1/4" steel plate heated this way will make a much better pizza crust than you could do with a normal pan. It will not be the same as you would get with a thicker plate, but for people who don't want to buy (or lift!) a thicker plate, it is definitely worth doing.

Your comments on aluminum are completely off the mark. I am very aware of the thermal conductivity, indeed we count on it. As another post points out the low heat transfer coefficient of air means that the temperature of the plate will not plummet just because you open the oven door to put the pizza in. The high thermal conductivity is why the plate will put a lot of heat into the pizza quickly, which is the whole point.

As to the issue of char on the bottom of the pizza, that is something that some people want, and some people don't. Your opinion about Naples vs New York style pizza is just that - your opinion. Not everybody wants or needs the bottom of the pizza charred. If you do want char, the only way to get it is to have high heat transfer to the bottom of the pan, which is what a metal plate helps you achieve.

In the tests we did for the book we used several different home ovens, with a 3/4" aluminum plate. If you look at the picture that is exactly what it shows. It does work.

Finally, I will point out that this is an improvised way to get high bottom heat. It really makes a difference. But the "right" way to do this is with professional baking oven with a heated ceramic floor. I know, because I have two of them at home. They are great but very expensive. The metal plate method is an inexpensive way to approximate that kind of oven. The metal plate isn't perfect, but it lets you achieve pretty good results.
Nathan

#3 dcarch

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Posted 25 February 2011 - 10:19 AM

Posted by Scott123 “---And aluminum, seriously? Come on, Nathan, you have to be aware of the aluminum's conductivity. You can pre-heat it for as long as you want and the moment you open the door, the temperature will plummet. Aluminum will not store heat- and for pizza, stored heat is critical.---

Three points:
1. How much heat a metal stores is based on the metal’s specific heat characteristics. If I remember, Aluminum hold more heat than steel.

2. Aluminum is indeed a better thermal conductor than steel, it gives up heat faster, OTOH, it will regain heat much faster. In any case, the opening of the oven door for a few seconds will not plumet the heat by any significant amount, considering the heat capacity of air relative to the masses within the oven.

3. What I believe should be considered in the total thermal dynamics thinking of the oven is the black body/radiation characteristics of all materials. For instance, Bright Aluminum can be close to 95% reflectivity. This can make a huge difference.


dcarch

#4 scott123

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Posted 25 February 2011 - 11:43 AM



The thicker the metal, the more heat capacity, but also the longer it will take for it to heat up. You can use anything from 1/4" thick up to 1" thick. Concievably you could even use something thicker. The page in MC says 3/4" but you could use something thinner. In fact, I might change the text to say that for the next edition.


Neapolitan pizza has two defining properties. Oven spring and char. Without char, it's NY style pizza, not Neapolitan. Here is a photo of the kind of char I'm referring to

neo upskirt.JPG

The high heat that produces char also generates oven spring- you can't have one without the other.

I've tested this extensively and 1/4" steel plate at temperatures of 550 and below will not produce anything close to this amount of undercrust char/oven spring in 2 minutes. 1/2" won't either. 3/4" should, but that's only for homeowners with ovens that actually go to 550. You'd be amazed by the number of ovens that can't go too far above 500.

3/4" steel plate, cut to the 'size of the oven shelf' will weigh upwards of 90 pounds. Cut to a comfortable size for launching a traditional 14" pizza onto (16"), it still clocks in at 50 lbs. Oven shelf integrity varies considerably from model to model. I've seen shelves that can handle considerable amounts of weight and I've seen others that started bowing at well below 50 lbs. 3/4" steel plate is going to break a few oven shelves.

If you want to tell your readers that they can make NY style pizza at home with 1/2" steel plate, that would be accurate, as would telling them they can make Neapolitan, with the right oven, at the right temp, with 3/4" steel. But Neapolitan with 1/4" plate? Not in a million years.

And aluminum, seriously? Come on, Nathan, you have to be aware of the aluminum's conductivity. You can pre-heat it for as long as you want and the moment you open the door, the temperature will plummet. Aluminum will not store heat- and for pizza, stored heat is critical.


You clearly don't have the actual book recipe, so you are making some bad assumptions.

We recommend having the oven at high AND having the top broiler element on. Most electric ovens have this feature. Some gas ovens do, but they don't all have it. With the broiler on in it will get very hot indeed. Without the broiler you would be right, but that isn't what the recipe actually calls for, so your comments are not revelant to the actual recipe.

1/4" steel plate heated this way will make a much better pizza crust than you could do with a normal pan. It will not be the same as you would get with a thicker plate, but for people who don't want to buy (or lift!) a thicker plate, it is definitely worth doing.

Your comments on aluminum are completely off the mark. I am very aware of the thermal conductivity, indeed we count on it. As another post points out the low heat transfer coefficient of air means that the temperature of the plate will not plummet just because you open the oven door to put the pizza in. The high thermal conductivity is why the plate will put a lot of heat into the pizza quickly, which is the whole point.

As to the issue of char on the bottom of the pizza, that is something that some people want, and some people don't. Your opinion about Naples vs New York style pizza is just that - your opinion. Not everybody wants or needs the bottom of the pizza charred. If you do want char, the only way to get it is to have high heat transfer to the bottom of the pan, which is what a metal plate helps you achieve.

In the tests we did for the book we used several different home ovens, with a 3/4" aluminum plate. If you look at the picture that is exactly what it shows. It does work.

Finally, I will point out that this is an improvised way to get high bottom heat. It really makes a difference. But the "right" way to do this is with professional baking oven with a heated ceramic floor. I know, because I have two of them at home. They are great but very expensive. The metal plate method is an inexpensive way to approximate that kind of oven. The metal plate isn't perfect, but it lets you achieve pretty good results.


Show me a photo of any Neapolitan pizzeria, in Naples or the US, that has less char than the photo I provided. Keste, Motorino, UPN, A16, Da Michelle, De Matteo, Sorbillo- This is not my opinion, it's an industry standard. If someone doesn't like char, they don't like Neapolitan pizza, plain and simple. Writing a book, even if it's the most comprehensive and informative work the food world has ever witnessed, doesn't give you the right to redefine a product with centuries of history. 1/4" steel plate @550 cannot produce undercrust char in 2 minutes.

2. I just preheated my oven until the bottom element turned red hot and then put a 1/4" steel plate with a cup covering the top on the top shelf. I left it there, with the bottom element on full blast for 2 minutes. After that time I measured the change in temp of the top of the plate. 5 degrees. In pizza terms, that's meaningless. Having an oven with the ability to have both top and bottom elements on at the same time has no bearing on whether or not 1/4" steel plate can produce a Neapolitan pizza.

#5 vice

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Posted 25 February 2011 - 11:53 AM

I just preheated my oven until the bottom element turned red hot and then put a 1/4" steel plate with a cup covering the top on the top shelf. I left it there, with the bottom element on full blast for 2 minutes. After that time I measured the change in temp of the top of the plate. 5 degrees. In pizza terms, that's meaningless. Having an oven with the ability to have both top and bottom elements on at the same time has no bearing on whether or not 1/4" steel plate can produce a Neapolitan pizza.

I don't think I understand what this experiment was meant to test. Can you clarify the rationale?
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#6 bmdaniel

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Posted 25 February 2011 - 12:05 PM

How did you expect an inanimate steel plate would make your oven any hotter? Did you try pressing your hand against the heated plate? That may have been instructive.

#7 scott123

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Posted 25 February 2011 - 12:11 PM


I just preheated my oven until the bottom element turned red hot and then put a 1/4" steel plate with a cup covering the top on the top shelf. I left it there, with the bottom element on full blast for 2 minutes. After that time I measured the change in temp of the top of the plate. 5 degrees. In pizza terms, that's meaningless. Having an oven with the ability to have both top and bottom elements on at the same time has no bearing on whether or not 1/4" steel plate can produce a Neapolitan pizza.

I don't think I understand what this experiment was meant to test. Can you clarify the rationale?


That 1/4" steel plate isn't conductive enough for the heat radiating upward from a red hot bottom element to reach the bottom of the pizza in 2 minutes. Hearth wise, pizza has always relied on the stored heat in the stone, not the heat coming from the bottom element/bake feature.

#8 Chris Hennes

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Posted 25 February 2011 - 12:13 PM

Try preheating the plate for an hour, like you do with a stone. I suspect you'll find that it holds and transfers heat quite well when it is up to temp.

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#9 dcarch

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Posted 25 February 2011 - 12:15 PM

There is always something to to learn.

I have been unable to find information that charring is part of the definition of an authentic Neapolitan pizza.

To me char is carbon. Carbon is by definition totally chemically stable, nonreactive and tasteless. It can happen if you are not careful when you are trying to develop a nice crust. Most people want nice crust, I didn't know people also like carbon. I can't imagine the mouth feel of chewing on carbon.

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#10 DaveJes1979

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Posted 25 February 2011 - 12:16 PM

As soon as my copy of the book comes in I'll try the pizza recipe since I have easy access to aluminum plate at work. My home oven doesn't go above 500 degrees, so I'm going to see if putting the aluminum sheet on top of my BBQ grill will do the trick.

As for the price of aluminum, I did check McMaster Carr and, yes, 2' X 1' .75" thick aluminum is indeed above $200, but that is for 6061. Unfortunately they do not carry cheaper alloys in this thickness. I'll search around for other online outlets that might be a better bet for aluminum sheets.

#11 Chris Hennes

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Posted 25 February 2011 - 12:21 PM

In my experience McMaster is always more expensive than a local source: I'd check the Yellow Pages first and rely on McM for the weird stuff you can't find anyplace else.

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#12 emannths

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Posted 25 February 2011 - 12:23 PM

That 1/4" steel plate isn't conductive enough for the heat radiating upward from a red hot bottom element to reach the bottom of the pizza in 2 minutes. Hearth wise, pizza has always relied on the stored heat in the stone, not the heat coming from the bottom element/bake feature.


MC/Nathan is saying that the plate is an analogue for the stone--as Chris says, try using it like you'd use a stone. The main idea, at least for pizza, is that the plate stores heat and conducts it to the bottom crust of the pizza. Aluminum can store more heat per unit volume than stone, so for retrofitting an standard oven, it's more convenient to use. Could you line your oven with bricks? Sure. But a pizza "stone" made out of aluminum will be more effective than an equivalently-sized pizza stone made out of stone. Without a copy of the book, I can't tell you how the added conductivity of Al affects pizza baking, however, though presumably it can only help in replicating high-temperature cooking.

#13 roygon

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Posted 25 February 2011 - 12:24 PM

I'm really looking forward to seeing results from this. I doubt that anything in the book is written without substantial testing but at the same time this plate isn't meant to replace a wood burning oven - it's meant to bridge the gap a bit and in the process produce much better pizzas than you could normally do in your oven.

BadRabbit, the price I received was based on 2cm x 38cm x 28cm (apx 3/4 inch x 3 feet x 2 1/3 feet) slab of aluminum with edges deburred and it was $95 although it was from a friend so not sure if he's charging much or maybe any markup in that. You might want to look for a local CNC shop - probably get decent prices from them.

rg

Edited by roygon, 25 February 2011 - 12:28 PM.


#14 scott123

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Posted 25 February 2011 - 12:25 PM

Try preheating the plate for an hour, like you do with a stone. I suspect you'll find that it holds and transfers heat quite well when it is up to temp.


Actually, steel has a slight drop in conductivity as its temperature rises.

My experiment was obviously quite crude/spur of the moment, but it does give a glimpse of the time it takes for energy to conduct it's way through that 1/4" of metal. Even if the change in temp is 15 deg. during that time, it's still not consequential enough to have that much impact on the undercrust of the pizza.

Edited by scott123, 25 February 2011 - 12:26 PM.


#15 vice

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Posted 25 February 2011 - 12:27 PM

Do you think that stone would have had a greater or lesser temperature change in 5 min of heating?
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#16 Chris Hennes

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Posted 25 February 2011 - 12:29 PM


Try preheating the plate for an hour, like you do with a stone. I suspect you'll find that it holds and transfers heat quite well when it is up to temp.

My experiment was obviously quite crude/spur of the moment, but it does give a glimpse of the time it takes for energy to conduct it's way through that 1/4" of metal. Even if the change in temp is 15 deg. during that time, it's still not consequential enough to have that much impact on the undercrust of the pizza.

What you were testing was the ability of air to transfer heat to the metal plate: I will grant you it's quite poor indeed! However, place a pizza in contact with a sheet of steel that is 550°F and I think you'll find that the steel-to-pizza heat transfer rate is a touch higher.

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#17 bmdaniel

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Posted 25 February 2011 - 12:30 PM

Scott -

It's not clear what you are trying to say or do at all. Here is the idea of the plate in case there is confusion - you should be waiting until the plate is the same temperature as oven ambient (however long it takes). Then you should put the pizza directly onto the plate. It will take advantage of the ability of the steel plate to dump heat quickly into the pizza (much more quickly than the ambient oven air could). This should generate a nice pizza.

I can't think of any easy test with a thermometer in an oven that would cast any light on this issue. Maybe putting a metal pan of water on top of the steel plate and measuring it's temp after 5 minutes vs putting a metal plate on the rack and measuring it's temp in 5 minutes and comparing would be the best way to compare heat (although having the cold pan intermediate is not a perfect analog for the pizza directly on the plate).

#18 scott123

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Posted 25 February 2011 - 12:34 PM



Try preheating the plate for an hour, like you do with a stone. I suspect you'll find that it holds and transfers heat quite well when it is up to temp.

My experiment was obviously quite crude/spur of the moment, but it does give a glimpse of the time it takes for energy to conduct it's way through that 1/4" of metal. Even if the change in temp is 15 deg. during that time, it's still not consequential enough to have that much impact on the undercrust of the pizza.

What you were testing was the ability of air to transfer heat to the metal plate: I will grant you it's quite poor indeed! However, place a pizza in contact with a sheet of steel that is 550°F and I think you'll find that the steel-to-pizza heat transfer rate is a touch higher.



Chris, I think you missed my point. Nathan made the claim that, because the oven he uses in the book has the ability to have both top and bottom burners in use at the same time, that's one of the reasons why 1/4" steel plate can produce a Neapolitan pie. I countered that argument by showing that, during those 2 minutes, the heat rising from the bottom element is taking time to travel through the steel plate and isn't actually impacting the bottom of the crust.

Edited by scott123, 25 February 2011 - 12:36 PM.


#19 dcarch

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Posted 25 February 2011 - 12:36 PM

Let's carry this outrageous pizza discussion a little further. LOL!

1. I have a bunch of heat pipes in my collection. I think they can carry/transfer more BTUs then plain metal.

2. With high power laser diodes available, a scanning IR laser pizza oven can char the bottom of any pizza in a fraction of a second.

dcarch :-)

#20 scott123

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Posted 25 February 2011 - 12:42 PM

This is Neapolitan dough, made by a professional that sells Neapolitan pizzas for a living, baked at 650 on 1/4" steel plate for 3 minutes.
Neo NY.jpg

This may look a little like the photo I posted, but in no way could this ever classify as Neapolitan pizza, and it's 100 deg. higher than Nathan's instructions and an extra minute.

Edited by scott123, 25 February 2011 - 12:47 PM.


#21 Chris Hennes

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Posted 25 February 2011 - 12:42 PM

Chris, I think you missed my point. Nathan made the claim that, because the oven he uses in the book has the ability to have both top and bottom burners in use at the same time, that's one of the reasons why 1/4" steel plate can produce a Neapolitan pie. I countered that argument by showing that, during those 2 minutes, the heat rising from the bottom element is taking time to travel through the steel plate and isn't actually impacting the bottom of the crust.

Quite right, I didn't understand you. So: that's not what the book says (or to my reading what Nathan says above).

I suspect that the bottom element is indeed more or less inconsequential to the result: if you have a broiler element cranked all the way up and a 550°F 3/4" thick steel plate in direct contact with your pie, you will probably achieve good results. As you decrease plate thickness the result gets worse, but pretty much ANY thick-ish plate is better than a sheet pan.

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#22 DaveJes1979

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Posted 25 February 2011 - 12:43 PM

Actually, steel has a slight drop in conductivity as its temperature rises.

My experiment was obviously quite crude/spur of the moment, but it does give a glimpse of the time it takes for energy to conduct it's way through that 1/4" of metal.


There is no shame in simply being wrong about something, but it is another thing to be so critical of Nathan and Chris when this statement and "experiment" demonstrate a lack of basic understanding of heat transfer/thermodynamics. Think about the heat gradient you have set up by putting a cold metal sheet into a hot oven. Where is the heat going to go?

#23 Guy MovingOn

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Posted 25 February 2011 - 12:48 PM

2. I just preheated my oven until the bottom element turned red hot and then put a 1/4" steel plate with a cup covering the top on the top shelf. I left it there, with the bottom element on full blast for 2 minutes. After that time I measured the change in temp of the top of the plate. 5 degrees. In pizza terms, that's meaningless. Having an oven with the ability to have both top and bottom elements on at the same time has no bearing on whether or not 1/4" steel plate can produce a Neapolitan pizza.

You should put the metal plate in first while you are preheating the oven. Then when it is up to temperature, with the grill/broiler on, slide in your dough.

That would be the best test. Then you can see if it makes your "charred" crust. Everything else is meaningless unless you try what was actually suggested in the recipe.

#24 Dave the Cook

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Posted 25 February 2011 - 12:54 PM

You should put the metal plate in first while you are preheating the oven. Then when it is up to temperature, with the grill/broiler on, slide in your dough.

That would be the best test. Then you can see if it makes your "charred" crust. Everything else is meaningless unless you try what was actually suggested in the recipe.

Specifically, the recipe says to wait half an hour, which will be, in most cases, a lot longer than the time it will take a home oven to tell you it's up to temperature. Domestic ovens are notorious liars.

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#25 jmolinari

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Posted 25 February 2011 - 01:00 PM

how is this ridiculous discussion of the non-experiment still going on?

Scott, your experiment is meaningless and doesn't prove or disprove anything.

Can we move along?

#26 Guy MovingOn

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Posted 25 February 2011 - 01:00 PM


You should put the metal plate in first while you are preheating the oven. Then when it is up to temperature, with the grill/broiler on, slide in your dough.

That would be the best test. Then you can see if it makes your "charred" crust. Everything else is meaningless unless you try what was actually suggested in the recipe.

Specifically, the recipe says to wait half an hour, which will be, in most cases, a lot longer than the time it will take a home oven to tell you it's up to temperature. Domestic ovens are notorious liars.

lol ok, my point was that just putting the metal plate/sheet into the oven for 2 minutes is meaningless. So yeh, what you are saying is to wait even longer, which was what I meant to say :)

#27 cbread

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Posted 25 February 2011 - 01:08 PM

I don't think most people have any idea of just how very much more heat energy a slab of aluminum contains at any heat than the same mass slab of steel. The aluminum holds almost twice as much heat. It's not particularly intuitive. I would think that of all the posters on this thread, Scott might be the one most wanting to get hold of a big big aluminum slab.

I think that's it for me here on this subject. I don't want to beat this dead horse any further.

Best that actual tests determine what properties make the best of each style pizza.

#28 dcarch

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Posted 25 February 2011 - 01:09 PM

"This is Neapolitan dough, made by a professional that sells Neapolitan pizzas for a living, baked at 650 on 1/4" steel plate for 3 minutes"

I could be wrong, that does not look like 1/4" to me, more like 1/8" or less. Further more, it has 25% perforations, which mean a lot less thermal mass.

If it is used on a rack, not in direct contact with heat source, it may not have enough BTUs to bake a Neapolitan pizza.

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#29 scott123

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Posted 25 February 2011 - 01:13 PM

I could be wrong, that does not look like 1/4" to me, more like 1/8" or less. Further more, it has 25% perforations, which mean a lot less thermal mass.


That, my friend, is a pizza peel. :smile:

#30 emannths

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Posted 25 February 2011 - 01:19 PM

I don't think most people have any idea of just how very much more heat energy a slab of aluminum contains at any heat than the same mass slab of steel.


But on a volume basis, steel holds 1.5x that of aluminum, so a 1/2" steel plate has the same thermal mass as a 3/4" aluminum plate. A 1/4" steel plate is equivalent to a .375" thick Al plate.