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By Tamera Bastiaans
Here are the answers to some commonly asked questions regarding stoneware.
What is stoneware?
Stoneware, or cooking stones are dishes made from clay and Kiln-fired at a high temperature (over 2000 degrees F) which enhances baking results in a regular oven. Most professional ovens are brick lined which causes even heat distribution throughout the oven and thus eliminates the frustration of a brownie with burned edges and an underdone center, cookies with darkened bottoms, and bread with one side higher than the other. Baked goods are lighter, crisper and more evenly browned. Meats are juicier as lidded stoneware allows even the toughest cuts to baste in their own juices and tenderize as they cook. Stoneware retains heat for a longer period of time, allowing you more flexibility when serving. As most of us can't afford our own brick-lined oven, stoneware solves that problem, and at quite an affordable price.
Is stoneware only good for baking pizzas?
No. Actually the beauty of stoneware is that it can be used for anything you would bake in an oven or microwave (check your user guide to be sure). Stones come in a variety of sizes and styles. You can purchase flat stones, circular and rectangular; stones with sides, such as 9x13 and 9x9 bakers, (some even have lids for roasting meats) and even stoneware muffin pans, bundt pans, loaf pans and shortbread pans. Stoneware is so versatile, you can get the same incredible results when baking cakes, cookies, pizzas, casseroles, main dishes, poultry, roasts, breads, french fries, chicken nuggets and more!
What should I look for when purchasing a stone?
1. Look for quality. Red clay versus white. Make sure it has been fired at a very high temperature (over 2000 degrees F). What is the manufacturer's guarantee on the product? Is the product made from lead-free clay?
2. Check the User's Guide for Care and Handling. If the user guide promotes the product as "dishwasher safe," be suspicious! Good stoneware should be "seasoned" like a good cast-iron pan. The use of any soap on the product should not only ruin the seasoning, but the taste of items baked on the product later. A good piece of stoneware should never be put in the dish washer.
3. Reputation of the manufacturer. I have purchased stones from four different manufacturers. All but one was white clay. All made claims of inhanced baking results, but only one actually proved its claims to be true. All but one became rancid after six months of use and became completely useless. Only one could be returned if I didn't like it, and that was the only stone that did everything that was promised.
How do I season my stoneware?
Quality stoneware should not only promote even heating and cooking, but it also should be seasoned. You can season a stone by spraying vegetable oil on it or baking high-fat foods (crescent rools, cookies, a chicken, etc.) on it or in it the first few times. After this, your stoneware will begin to season and you will notice that I has developed a non-stick surface and doesn't require non-stick sprays anymore. A good motto to remember is "The worse it looks, the better is cooks!" Seasoned stoneware will become darkened and look "ugly" (although that is in the eye of the beholder! I think a seasoned stone is beautiful!)
I really can't use soap on my stoneware?
No. Because stoneware is seasoned, and soap is used to attack and cling to grease, if you try to clean your stoneware with soap, it will end up clinging to the oil and leaving a soapy tasting residue behind. The next few items prepared in the stone will probably taste like soap. Soap will also cause a break down of the seasoning process which is essential to the baking performance of your stone. A well seasoned stone should be a "cinch" to clean. Simply run HOT water over the stone (after is has cooled to room temperature!) and scrape off stubborn pieces with a nylon scraper, or brush the surface with a clean (no soap) nylon kitchen brush.
**It is the HOT water that kills the germs and bacteria when cleaning dishes, not the soap. Antibacterial kitchen soap only kills the bacteria on your hands (it says so on the label). The soap's job is to loosen the food from the item so you can get it cleaned. A seasoned stone is easy to clean as foods wipe right off with the hot water. No need for soap. If you still aren't convinced, you can put the clean, empty stone in the oven at a 200 degree F temperature, since heat above 180 degrees F kills any bacteria.
Can stoneware be cleaned in my self-cleaning oven cycle?
No, as it may not be a safe procedure and it will probably ruin the seasoning on your stone, which is what enhances the stone's performance and increases the easy clean-up.
Reader Testimonial: "You can and should re-finish old or cruddy stoneware for an hour in a self clean oven. i did. from a thrift store find. and it turned out beautifully. the odds of cracking during high heat is offset by the gradual temp increase and decrease." - Elizabeth K. (Oven Cleaning Stoneware)
Can I use oven cleaners to deep clean my stoneware?
No. Follow the user guide that should be included with each piece of stoneware you purchase. It includes details as to how to safely deep clean your stones. Basically prepare a paste of 1/2 cup baking soda and 3 tablespoons water. Allow paste to remain on baking stone for 15-20 minutes. Scrub the stone with a nylon scraper or kitchen brush. Rinse thoroughly and dry. This will not return the stone to its original color, but will remove any sticky build up from non-stick sprays.
Do I need a separate baking stone for people with allergies?
Yes. It is recommended that separate baking stones be used for people with food allergies, especially those who are highly sensitive to nuts. It is probably wise to store the stones separately as well.
Can a baking stone that has plastic melted on it (i.e. grocery bags, food containers, etc.) still be used for baking?
If such and accident occurs, wait for the stone to cool and then peel (do not wipe!) the plastic off. If the plastic, or any colored dye or ink adheres, you probably shouldn't use the stone as some dyes and plastics are not safe for consumption.
Can I use my baking stone in a wood stove or under a broiler?
No. Stoneware should not come into direct contact with flames as it could cause the stoneware to crack.
Can I put the stones in the microwave?
Yes! (Check manufactuer's instructions) However, items cooked in the microwave may not become crisp or brown when you cook them. Good stoneware can be placed in refrigerators, freezers, microwaves and ovens. Be sure however, when transferring from one element to the next that you allow the stoneware to adjust to the temperature change. Going immediately from a cold freezer to a hot oven could cause your stone to crack. Put a frozen cassarole in the refrigerator to thaw before baking it. Bring a stone to room temperature before you add any water, immerse in water, or rinse in water. Frozen prepared foods (french fries, breaded meats, pizzas) may be placed directly on stoneware and cooked. Frozen meats (unbreaded), entrees, etc. should be thawed before baking.
About the Author
Tamera is a stay-at-home-wife who loves to cook, read, write, garden and craft. She has a free email newsletter called Tamera's Tea Time Talk and Culinary Chatter. If you would like to sign up for her newsletter click here.