By R.B. Quinn and Mindy Merrell of CheaterChef.Com.
KettlePizza offers a nice array of kits with several different options, but today we’re going to take a quick look at the difference between using the Baking Steel top vs. just the Weber dome (KettlePizza without the Baking Steel).
We’ve been making plenty of pizza with the Serious Eats KettlePizza Special Edition Kit that includes the Baking Steel. The benefit of the steel is essentially a hotter oven and a faster cooking pie that results from the extremely hot steel radiating heat down over the pizza while it cooks. The Baking Steel also creates more leopard spotting on the top and edges of the crust.
When the Baking Steel is in place under the Weber kettle lid, it is super heated by the flames coming off the burning wood chunks in the firebox at the rear of the kettle. The more the wood burns, the more the flames roll across the bottom of the Baking Steel. The pies cook very quickly in under five minutes.
Without the Baking Steel top in place, the KettlePizza works more like a domed wood-burning oven and runs at a slightly lower temperature. As a result, the pies take a little longer to cook, 3 or 4 minutes more depending on your oven temperature.
A couple of tips for making pizza without the Baking Steel:
— After the pie has been in the oven about a minute, it should be set and moveable. Gently lift it off the stone and rotate the pie with the peel, long metal tongs, or a metal spatula to expose all the edges to the burning wood in the rear firebox. Continue rotating all during the cooking for a beautiful brown and spotted edge.
— Remember, you’re creating a pizza oven, so don’t remove the Weber Kettle Lid to refuel with wood and let all the heat escape. Keep the precious heat in the oven. You won’t be adding any more charcoal, since the wood becomes the new coals as it burns.
–Keep the wood coming. One of the beauties of KettlePizza is that it truly creates a wood-burning oven, which is how it can reach temperatures much higher than straight charcoal can provide. Adding dry, seasoned wood chunks at a steady pace keeps the oven temperatures high for consistent baking. We put chunks in all three sides, creating what we call in Nashville the “half ring of fire.” When you notice the flames beginning to subside (and see the temperature gauge falling toward 600 degrees or lower), add a couple more chunks by sliding them across the stone and into the back (or firebox). Use long tongs or a small fireplace shovel, or with a little practice, you can toss them in with a flick of the wrist.
–Find a good source of fist-size wood chunks like mild-scented oak or pecan that easily slide onto the burning coals. This isn’t about smoking; it’s about cooking with fire. Smoky woods like hickory or mesquite are a little heavy for pizza.
–Finish off the pizza with the heat of the dome. When your pizza is about done, slide it onto the metal peel and lift the peel inside the oven as high as the opening allows. This hovering method lets the intense heat radiating off the kettle’s dome finish melting the cheese, cooking the toppings, and browning the crust as needed. It’s a nice finishing touch that makes for a spectacular pie.