04 Oct Baking Stone
A baking stone is a great addition to a boat oven. While a baking stone is most often thought of just for baking pizza and bread, with everyday use it can solve a lot of problems that can plague boat ovens. You put the stone in a cold oven, and as the oven preheats, the stone also heats up. Unlike the air in the oven, though, the stone retains the heat and evens it out throughout the stone. Hot spots are virtually eliminated, and problems with getting the oven up to temperature can be lessened.
If you do any baking at all on your boat, a baking stone will probably be one of your favorite “small luxuries” due to eliminating or lessening so many of the inherent problems with a small ovens, such as those on boats. While eliminating hot spots is a huge advantage, the heat retention every time you open the door to check on something is also significant.
Despite being called a “stone,” a baking stone is actually made of ceramic. And ceramics can crack or break. And breakage is even more of a concern on a boat, due to the motion. So there are several things to look for when buying a baking stone:
1. Thickness. The thicker the stone, the less likely it is to crack or break, not only if you drop it but also in heating it up. A thicker stone will also heat more evenly. The disadvantages of a thicker stone are that it will weigh more and take longer to heat up and thus you’ll use more propane.
Baking stones — also called pizza stones — come in a range of thicknesses from 1/4-inch to 2 inches, although the thickest ones are generally only found in commercial kitchens. For boat use, the best thickness is about 1/2-inch — it’s much less likely to break than one that’s only 1/4-inch thick, but still isn’t too heavy and doesn’t take forever to get to temperature. Most of the stones made for home kitchens are only 1/4″ thick, but it’s worth the time and slight extra expense to get one that’s thicker.
2. Size. Ideally, a baking stone should just fit your oven with about 1″ of space all around for air flow. As most boat ovens are smaller than home ovens (which the readily available stones are made for), you will probably have to buy one that’s larger than what you really need and have a tile shop cut it down to size (you can do it yourself if you have a good tile saw).
If you buy one that is substantially smaller than your oven, not only will it not work as well, but it is also more likely to break with the movement of the boat unless you use clips to keep it from shifting. See Using a Baking Stone for a simple and inexpensive way to keep the stone from moving in the oven.
3. Shape. Many stones are round, specifically for pizza, but the better ones for evening out hot spots and helping retain heat in the oven are rectangular. They’ll cover more area in the oven, your pans won’t hang over the stone (which can lead to hot or cold spots where the stone isn’t) and they are easier to keep from shifting with the motion of the boat.
A number of stones (particularly round ones designed for pizza) have handles on them. The handles make it almost impossible to put regular baking pans on the stone and I recommend staying away from any stone with handles.
4. Storage. With most things you buy for the galley, you have to think about where you will store them. No such problem for a baking stone — just leave it right in the oven! Since you’ll be using it every time you bake, there’s no reason to take it out and it’s really the safest place for it if you clip it in place.
5. Alternatives. If you can’t get a baking stone where you are, you can create the same effect by using unglazed ceramic tiles (the key being UNglazed). They can be cheaper, but they also tend to be thinner and thus easier to break or crack and also don’t hold heat as well as the thicker ones. If they’re the typical 4″ or 6″ square size, it’s hard to clip them in so that they don’t shift with the movement of the boat. However, they are definitely better than nothing.
6. My Recommendations: A good baking stone for your boat oven is likely to cost $50 to $60, including cutting it to size.
The one I have is the second one listed above but it seems to only be in stock about half the time now. The first one is very similar (the size is slightly different and the material less breakable, which makes it even better). Both baking stones are 5/8″ thick, which makes them work better than thinner ones and also it is less likely to break. Depending on your oven, both are likely to need to be cut down slightly, which any tile shop can do.
Second choice(s) — which are also good for really small (2-burner stove) ovens:
If you really don’t want to deal with having to cut down a stone, these stones designed for a toaster oven will work. In many ovens, you can place two of these side by side and pretty well fill the space. Check the measurements of your own oven to determine whether you need two or just one — if you have a 2-burner stove, you’ll probably only need one.
The big drawback to these stones are that they are only 1/4″ thick, which makes it much more susceptible to breakage.