A pizza stone is a thick piece of metal or ceramic designed to give your oven more heat and shorter cooking times. Reduced baking times make homemade pizza better, as scott123 noted in a recent Chowhound discussion. A pizza that bakes 12 minutes or more is denser and more breadlike than one cooked quickly at a high temperature. For New York–style pizza, the 3- to 6-minute range is where the magic happens, scott123 says. Intense heat "creates more oven spring, producing a puffier crust."
The pizza stones that facilitate a fast bake don't need to be fancy or expensive. If you're not after lightning-quick baking times (5 minutes or less), unglazed terra cotta tiles arranged on an oven rack work very well, happybaker says. After using a $10 stone from Trader Joe's for five years, escondido123 reports good results with it. Chowhound scott123 thinks the readily available Lodge pizza stone, made of 1/8-inch-thick cast iron, is fine for baking times of 12 minutes or longer, but is too thin to achieve the high temperatures necessary for shorter bakes. Depending on the heat of your oven's broiler, you might be able to get down to a very respectable 8 minutes with a kiln shelf or baking stone made from ceramic material with high levels of the mineral cordierite, scott123 says. A steel plate half an inch thick can take an efficient oven down to a 3-minute baking time, but since such a slab would weigh 40 pounds and take two people to move it, only pizza obsessives are likely to take the trouble, scott123 says.
No matter what kind of stone you use, most home ovens can't reach the 800-degree-Fahrenheit temperature necessary for Neapolitan-style pizzas. Those bake in under 2 minutes, and the crusts develop black smudges called leopard-spotting. For that level of perfection, you'll have to build a wood-fired brick oven in your backyard.
Discuss: Pizza Stone ... Which one?