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Pizza screens


Fat Guy
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I just heard from a guy who made an impassioned plea for pizza screens. His claims:

- They are virtually nonstick

- They crisp the crust better than pizza stones

- They are cheaper and less prone to breaking than pizza stones

True or false?

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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1. You might be able to get a non-stick coating on the screen, but if the screen is mesh or perforated, any depressions or melt-throughs will be rather annoying to remove and clean.

2. Not at all. A stone has infinitely more heat to transfer quickly to the dough.

3. Yes.

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I love the things just cause they are so cheap and practical. I haven't seen nonstick screens, but i dont think that's necessary, I've never had a pizza stick, they just slid right off after putting a spatula under neath. Cleaning can be a pain, but I'm very careful now to not get any cheese on the screen, that bakes on and is tough to scrub off, but otherwise nothing really gets on it because the pizza covers the screen.

I think one of the main reasons I like them is just for the sake of making a consistent pizza. I've experimented at length with amounts of dough to the size of the screen, and I typically like 12 oz. dough for a 16 inch screen. They are very handy to have if your doing a pizza party (I did pizza for 32 this last super bowl), they are easily handled and if you have multiple screens you can crank out the pizzas.

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What style of pizza? Cracker? Chicago Thin Crust? Bar style? For these longer baked, thinner, crispier styles, then a screen might be better than a stone, although, in commercial settings, you usually see screens (and pans/disks) used in conjunction with deck ovens with stones.

For NY style, though, screens are garbage- at least for the home baker without a specialty oven. The most important ingredient in NY style pizza is heat. Just like you can't make a great Neapolitan pizza in longer than 2 minutes, you can't make a truly great NY style pizza in longer than 6 minutes. As you extend the bake time, the nature of the pizza changes completely and you get something dense and bready, rather than puffy and chewy. For the home baker, anything that extends the bake time is a recipe for disaster. And screens extend the bake time. A screen, when used in conjunction with a preheated stone, will put a layer of insulation between the pizza and the heat source and prolong bottom browning.

If you use a screen without a stone in a home oven, you're completely at a disadvantage. Without the pre-heated stone acting as a heat sink, you're at the mercy of whatever BTUs/Watts your bottom burner/element can pump out. In home ovens, a red hot element or roaring gas burner will never match the bottom browning impact of a quality baking stone, pre-heated to the oven's max temp.

In a home oven setting, conduction will always beat the pants off radiation (and a small amount of convection).

Now, in the commercial universe, there are conveyor ovens with extremely powerful bottom burners that will produce fast bakes with screens and/or disks, but that's basically just Dominos/99 cent pizza. If your friend is trying to sell you on the superiority of Dominos, then I think it's time for a new friend.

Edited by scott123 (log)
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I see them providing different functions. The screen makes having a consistent shape and makes getting the dough off your peel a breeze without extra flour or cornmeal. While the stone is going to retain the consistent heat that your dough will need to crisp up.

I have a stone that I like a lot and it is 1.5 inches thick. I bought it from these guys: http://www.californiapizzastones.com

I use it with screens with I want a result that is more finished and less rustic.

Also, when I make pizza I have take a tip from the Modernist Cuisine tome. I pre-heat my stone for at least an hour so I achieve a crisp bottom crust then I use the broiler to get my desired effect on top. I had to make at least 10 pizzas this way before I understood my oven/boiler performance.

I am still searching for the perfect pie, but I have been quite happy with the results using this approach.

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I have a stone that I like a lot and it is 1.5 inches thick. I bought it from these guys: http://www.californiapizzastones.com

Was this a special order? The thickest stone they have available on the web site is 1". While a 1.5" thick mullite stone is intriguing, and a thickness that I've never seen in a home environment, I would never pay these kinds of prices for kiln shelves.

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I use a screen with a stone. The screen helps me build more topping-heavy pizzas.

At the pizza place I worked at as a teenager, we put the pizzas in the oven (gas fired deck ovens) on screens and pulled the screen out after about 3 minutes. Total cooking time per pie was about 12 minutes.

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I have a stone that I like a lot and it is 1.5 inches thick. I bought it from these guys: http://www.californiapizzastones.com

Was this a special order? The thickest stone they have available on the web site is 1". While a 1.5" thick mullite stone is intriguing, and a thickness that I've never seen in a home environment, I would never pay these kinds of prices for kiln shelves.

I won't comment on price vs value -- I don't work for them nor am I an affiliated. However, I answer your question about it being special order . . . yes it was special order and they will cut it to fit your oven. I have not regrets.

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I just heard from a guy who made an impassioned plea for pizza screens. His claims:

- They are virtually nonstick

- They crisp the crust better than pizza stones

- They are cheaper and less prone to breaking than pizza stones

True or false?

My stones are so well seasoned they are as non-stick as they need to be.

That is an interesting claim.. An aluminum pizza screen used on a stone would tranfer a large amount of heat fast but without preheated stone it is at the mercy of the air temp in the oven to transfer heat . Air just doesn't conduct heat like stone can.

cheaper - yes

less prone to breaking. possibly although with careful use I have never found this an issue.

I have two stones, one I have had for 15 yrs and the other for 10yrs with no breakage.

Edited by Ashen (log)

"Why is the rum always gone?"

Captain Jack Sparrow

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I've never had a pizza stick to whatever it was baked on, so I'm not getting the non-stick argument for the screen.

I can't imagine that heat transfer through a screen would ever be such that you'd get those charred spots on the underside of the dough (but you may not want that). The only real advantage I can see to a screen is that, being lighter, it would be easier to remove the pizza from the oven on the baking surface, but since a peal is pretty easy to get hold of in NYC, this seems a minor advantage.

Michaela, aka "Mjx"
Manager, eG Forums
mscioscia@egstaff.org

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This guy, Billy Reisinger, in his "Ridiculously Thorough Guide to Making Your Own Pizza," argues:

Pizza stones are overrated. Use a Pizza Screen. Why?

  • The holes in the screen allow the bottom surface of the dough to cook by convection and radiation (as opposed to conduction with a pizza stone). Translation: crispier crust.
  • The screen speeds up cooking, because you don't have to heat up a stone first.
  • A screen won't shatter if dropped on the floor or heated improperly, like a pizza stone.
  • You'll find that, unlike your pizza stone, nothing sticks to the screen (as long as you don't have any big holes in your dough).
  • You can put toppings on the dough while it is on a screen, which is hard to do on a pre-heated pizza stone.

So, unless you have a brick oven, throw out your pizza stone and buy an 18" pizza screen. Food Service Direct is selling them for about $6.00.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Clearly testing is required. This discussion is filled with logical thoughts and observations about the relative merits of pans and stones. The only thing missing is actually testing the two side by side (with and without convection?) and seeing whether the superior heat conduction of a stone is actually important.

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This guy, Billy Reisinger, in his "Ridiculously Thorough Guide to Making Your Own Pizza," argues:

Steven, have you looked at his pizzas? If that's what you want to make, go buy a screen. As a New Yorker, and an Executive Director of this site, I would sincerely hope that you're striving for something better than that.

You are a New Yorker, right? As an inhabitant of our fair city, you should be thoroughly repulsed by screens/screen pizza. Every time I see a 99 cent pizza joint, I want to tear my hair out. Do you not feel the same? 99 cent pizza is made on screens. I wouldn't feed it to my worst enemy!

Edited by scott123 (log)
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I suppose another topic could be devoted to the taxonomy of New York pizza. I wouldn't argue for 99 cent pizza as the best thing in the world, but it's something I'll grab if I happen to be going to the Lincoln Tunnel. I had a slice for breakfast two Sundays ago, actually. But I'm more interested in the empirical data on screens. I guess I can buy one and test, if there's no good evidence out there.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Steven, this person here:

http://foodstuff.hubpages.com/hub/No-Stir-Risotto

feels that perfectly good risotto can be made without stirring. Do you think we need empirical data about real world no stir risotto results? Or do we see this approach for what it really is- a corner cutting shortcut that sacrifices quality?

Stones are daunting, and launching a topped skin onto a pre-heated stone for the first time can be scary, but that's how the city's greatest pizzerias have been making pizza since it reached our shores. There's no silver bullet/no magic beans here. No shortcuts. If you want the best possible pizza, you've got to follow the basics- and THE most basic component of great pizza is the direct transfer of heat from a hot stone. The physics are sound- conduction, in this setting, trumps radiation.

A screen without a stone will never give you anything better than a 10 minute bake time, and, for NY style pizza, that's a mediocre product.

Edited by scott123 (log)
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I think the "no shortcuts" theory has been disproven so many times in so many areas of cooking that it bears examination wherever it is introduced. It may be that in pizza making there are no shortcuts, but I'll have to run through all the shortcuts to see.

Our friends in Italy make risotto in the pressure cooker without stirring and claim most people they know do too.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Steven, this person here:

http://foodstuff.hubpages.com/hub/No-Stir-Risotto

feels that perfectly good risotto can be made without stirring. Do you think we need empirical data about real world no stir risotto results? Or we see this approach for what it really is- a corner cutting shortcut that sacrifices quality?

The problem here is that we assume that stirring is needed (I'd be surprised if it isn't better stirred) or that stones are best, because it makes sense and its a long held truth. But so was "searing to keep in juices" which is now clearly debunked. The only way to know what true in these situations is to test. Old assumptions are often wrong.

My bet is that in home ovens that don't get up to 700deg,a stone is the better choice.

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I think the "no shortcuts" theory has been disproven so many times in so many areas of cooking that it bears examination wherever it is introduced. It may be that in pizza making there are no shortcuts, but I'll have to run through all the shortcuts to see.

. . . .

Agreed, but using a screen doesn't seem like a shortcut so much as an alternative. Just to get an idea of your point of departure, what characteristics are you aiming for, when you make a pizza?

Michaela, aka "Mjx"
Manager, eG Forums
mscioscia@egstaff.org

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I think this all depends on what kind of pizza you want to make. Billy Reisinger (who hails from the pizza mecca of Minneapolis - Saint Paul) appears to be going for a pizza aesthetic that splits the difference between a cracker crust and a pizza-parlor deck oven crust. There doesn't appear to be much in the way of puffiness or airy lightness to his pizza crusts, and they give every appearance of being rather dry. If this is the style you're going for, then using a pizza screen might be just fine. Indeed, if you don't plan to bake the pizza on a baking stone or some other kind of stored thermal energy material, using a pizza screen might be a pretty good idea. This is not a style of pizza that interests me, so I don't see any particular reason I'd want to do it.

All that said, I do take exception with some of his claims:

The holes in the screen allow the bottom surface of the dough to cook by convection and radiation (as opposed to conduction with a pizza stone). Translation: crispier crust.

Conduction is a much more efficient way of transferring thermal energy compared to convection and radiation. To the extent that baking on a pizza screen (and to be clear: he advocates using a pizza screen just sitting on an oven rack) might result in a crisper crust, there is some question in my mind as to just how desirable this is. Because convection and radiation are so much less efficient, the baking time will be considerably longer. A longer baking time will result in a crust that is overall dryer compared to one baked on thermal material in a shorter time, and this is undoubtedly a reason his pizzas look so dessicated.

In my aesthetic, what you want is a crust that has a thin layer of crispness on the bottom but is otherwise moist and pliable. Not possible using a pizza screen this way.

The screen speeds up cooking, because you don't have to heat up a stone first.

I'm not sure how legitimate this is. The screen doesn't speed up cooking. It actually makes cooking take longer. It just means that you don't have to preheat your oven as long. Generally speaking, I have at least 60 minutes between the thought "I'd like to make pizza" and actually having everything together to make pizza. This is plenty of time to heat up a thermal baking surface.

A screen won't shatter if dropped on the floor or heated improperly, like a pizza stone.

Um. Sure, I guess, yea. But neither will a thick piece of aluminum or carbon steel. These will be a lot heavier, of course, but can also be used stovetop as griddles, flame-tamers, and as a kind of improvised French top when cooking for company.

You'll find that, unlike your pizza stone, nothing sticks to the screen (as long as you don't have any big holes in your dough).

Well, no, actually. You won't find that. You may find something like that if you make a fairly dry pizza dough, like Billy Reisinger does, but you certainly won't find that to be true if you use a wet dough.

You can put toppings on the dough while it is on a screen, which is hard to do on a pre-heated pizza stone.

Yes, you can put toppings on the dough while it is on the screen, and yes this is hard to do once the pizza is on the stone. But who does that? Who puts toppings on the dough once it's on the hot stone?

The long answer is that a pizza screen can be a good choice if that's the kind of pizza you want to make. But in my opinion it doesn't result in the kind of pizza I'd particularly want to have when going to the trouble of making pizza at home. Pizza screens tend to result in a pizza crust that is at once dry and bready. Personally, I haven't found any home technique that's comes close to being as good as the Modernist Cuisine-recommended method of baking on hot thermal material under the broiler. Sure you have to preheat for an hour or so, but on the other hand your pizza cooks in about 120 seconds.

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I usually use a stone for thin crust pizzas, and I make Chicago deep dish pizzas in a cake pan. I own but rarely use a pizza screen. That said, many swear by them.

Whenever I have a question about anything having to do with pizza, my go-to place for answers is pizzamaking.com. Imagine an eGullet-like community of people obsessed with pizza. So though I have nothing to add to the conversation itself, this is a place where you can likely read much more on the subject.

Jess

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Personally, I haven't found any home technique that's comes close to being as good as the Modernist Cuisine-recommended method of baking on hot thermal material under the broiler. Sure you have to preheat for an hour or so, but on the other hand your pizza cooks in about 120 seconds.

What he said. Sheet steel has given me superior results...count me as a convert. I have a 3/8" plate in my oven right now.

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Personally, I haven't found any home technique that's comes close to being as good as the Modernist Cuisine-recommended method of baking on hot thermal material under the broiler. Sure you have to preheat for an hour or so, but on the other hand your pizza cooks in about 120 seconds.

Sam, since you've reiterated a few of my previous points (conduction superior to radiation/convection, long bake times counterproductive to puffy crusts, screen viability having a style specific scope), I agree with you.

The 2 minute claim, though, whether it be yours or Chris Young's, is off the mark. For the last 3 years, I've been recommending 1/2" steel plate for 4 minute NY style bakes. During this time, I've come across a handful of Neapolitan enthusiasts attempting sub 2 minute bakes with 3/4" steel plate (a la MC) and the results have been pretty poor. In a typical unmodded oven, the chances of a 2 minute bake with steel plate are extremely low. 500 deg. peak oven owners are SOL. I thought that 3/4" @ 550 would break that 2 minute barrier, but from the people that have tried, it doesn't appear possible. There seems to be diminishing returns on additional thermal mass. The reduction in baking time from 1/4" to 1/2" is dramatic, but, from what we're seeing, 3/4" isn't buying the home pizza baker much- not to mention that 3/4" is so heavy that it pushes some oven shelves to their limits.

And this is all from a bottom browning perspective. 99.9% of all home ovens lack the broiler intensity to achieve good top browning in 2 minutes. Gas oven broilers are out of the question, while for electric broilers, the element has to be very high wattage- thick coil/many passes. In addition, the broiler has to stay on indefinitely or the oven owner has to be willing to trick the oven so the broiler doesn't cut out.

A two minute pizza can be done at home, but we're talking about, out of, say 600 people attempting it, 3 succeed. Those aren't the kind of numbers that would justify leading people to believe that, with steel plate, they can achieve 2 minute bakes at home.

Out of, say, 150 people that are using 1/2" steel plate, no one has had any issue of an oven shelf failing, while 3/4" is much more of a gamble. Because of this, I stick to recommending 1/2"- with a guaranteed 4 minute bake time (@550). 4 minutes isn't 2, but it still makes a kick ass pizza (some might say a 4 minute pie is superior).

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Scott, some of this may have to do with the size of the pizza the cook is trying to bake, and also the amount of the toppings. If I'm making a 12-inch diameter pizza with perhaps a quarter cup of ground San Marzanos and a few blobs of fresh mozzarella here and there, I find I can blow it up and get good results pretty fast. More toppings/larger pizza takes longer of course. I'm doing the whole works in the under-oven broiler drawer of my Crapmaster 9000 NYC apartment stove.

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I have two 16" screens so I crank'm out one after the other. Been using them for 6 years.

Below are photos of pizza made in a Bosch electric oven. Oven is preheated to set temperature (15-20 minutes) 525* convection roast mode. My previous Kenmore non convection oven yielded same results @ 550*.

All of these pizzas were cooked 7 to 8 minutes. EXIF data show approximate cooking times.

P7023802.jpg

Oven rise

P7023808.jpg

P7023827.1.jpg

Close up

P7023827.jpg

Here is another

P6032671.jpg

Oven rise

P6032672.jpg

P6032673.jpg

Another

P7292922.jpg

Oven rise

P7292924.jpg

P7292926.jpg

Again

P8180725.jpg

Oven rise

P8173046.jpg

Note the blistering on this one

P8180726.jpg

One more

P5162081.jpg

P5162082.jpg

I have hundreds more. Let's see your pizza.

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