Q: Every time I season a pan and it looks promising, it all comes off with the first bake. Or, if a pizza sticks to the pan, it scrapes off. I use a 65-percent dough for pan-fried pizza with oil. The pan seasoning wore off and I can’t seem to get a good seasoning again. I’ve tried running them through my oven at one hour each, upside down, and have tried both peanut oil and canola oil. It looks good but then dislodges easily. Any solid info?
A: First, make sure the pan you’re trying to season has a bright, shiny appearance. If it has any other appearance, it might be coated with some type of non-stick material, thus reducing the adhesion properties of the seasoning. To properly season a pan, first wash it thoroughly, then dry it and pass it through the oven to heat the pan and make sure it is thoroughly dry.
Now you can coat the pan with salad oil and pass it through the oven at about 425 F for 20 minutes. The pan should have a slight golden tint to it at this point. Do not wash a seasoned pan, ever! To use the newly seasoned pan, oil it again before placing the dough in the pan and bake as you normally would. Do this for the next several bakes and you should see the color of the seasoning getting darker. When the color reaches a muddy brown, the seasoning process is complete. To clean your seasoned pans, just pass them through the oven to heat them and then wipe them out with a clean towel and put them away for the next use. If your health department wants you to wash the pans, you will need to change over to a dark color anodized finish pan.
Q: Are there any differences to seasoning Detroit-style or deep-dish pans versus screens? What type of oil works best?
A: These are excellent questions and ones to which I don’t normally give much thought. Some oils are much better than others at resisting polymerization — or, to put it another way, gunking things up. We’ve all seen an old bottle of oil that has developed a sticky film on the outside of the bottle. This is polymerization, where the oil actually begins to oxidize and form something akin to varnish. I once bought a box of various pizza pans and screens at a garage sale, and every one of them was so sticky that they would make flypaper envious. In the world of fats and oils this is not a good thing. But for us it is golden.
I think the best oils to use for seasoning a pan, screen, or disk are corn oil, soybean oil or possibly canola oil. The worst choice would be to use one developed specifically as a pan release oil such as Pam or Whirl. This is because these formulated products are designed specifically to resist or show resistance to polymerization. As for seasoning different types of pans and screens, it is probably best to just say that what works well for one will work equally as well for the rest, be they pans, screens or disks.
Q: How often should I replace my pans and screens? What are some clues that they need to be replaced?
A: For those of us not baking on the deck, pans, screens or disks are an integral part of our businesses, and like so many other things we pretty well get what we pay for. Cheap aluminum wire screens or light weight pans/disks might be OK for home use, but they don’t always have the desired life expectancy for use in a pizza store where they are subjected to a significant amount of abuse on a daily basis. Wire screens are a classic example of something that doesn’t exhibit good resistance to abusive handling. Early models had the folded edges secured to the wire mesh through the use of staples, but that all came to an end when we found screens with missing pieces of those staples. Today’s screens are made with a more durable rivet that solved the problem. The issue that it didn’t address was the lightweight construction of these screens.
To this day, a major problem with screens is their rather fragile nature. With this said, they are really low-cost items so when they get damaged, usually bent, or the screen part begins to break apart, or even get clogged up with baked on/carbonized debris, they are easily replaced at minimal expense. However, you have to remember to first season any new screens prior to their first use unless you want to see your pizza literally welded to the new screen. So, screens should be replaced when they begin to show signs of cracking, especially in the screen area; become bent, crimped beyond straightening; or the screen becomes clogged with baked on debris that is not easily removed (in this case you might say that they are too cheap to mess with).
Lightweight pans also fit this same description — they’re not exceptionally durable, which leaves them prone to damage through denting. Or sometimes they end up getting so “gunked” up that when they are stacked they stick together, which typically invokes drastic measures resulting in damage to the pan(s) when trying to pry them apart. If the pans happen to have a bright finish, again you will need to season any new pans that are used to replace the damaged ones.
While re-seasoning a screen or pan may not seem like a big thing, the fact is that the re-seasoned screen/pan will be lighter in color than your other screens/pans. And if you happen to be using an air impingement oven and baking for a minimal time, that lighter screen/pan just might reflect enough heat from the bottom of your pizza to cause a color or bake issue until the seasoning matures to a darker color.
Enter the world of anodized pans and disks. Here, the dark anodized finish effectively addresses the need to season new or replacement pans, but the lighter weight materials used in some of these pans/disks are, in my opinion, only marginally acceptable to withstand the abuse that they are typically subjected to in a busy pizzeria. If you find that you must use a screen to bake your pizzas, there are some anodized, heavyweight aluminum disks available that exhibit excellent release properties, don’t need to be seasoned and hold up much better than the traditional wire screen.
Like everything else, quality and durability come at a price and you will need to expect to pay more for these specialized disks. On the plus side, the only thing that is probably going to damage these disks is folding them in half as a result. Like any of the other pans/screens/disks mentioned here, I am a firm believer that quality pays in the long run. Opting for the heavier weight material, or a specialized disk instead of a wire screen, may be more expensive up front. But after several years of use your replacement costs will be minimal and you might be enjoying a smoother running store as a result.
One thing that should be mentioned about replacing pans: if you use bright finish pans with a seasoned coating and an employee ever soaks them in hot, soapy water to clean them, you might soon experience a rapid and extensive departure of the seasoning from the pan surface. It looks a bit like a bad, peeling sunburn.
Since you don’t want your customers to be served pizza with the peeling material clinging to the bottom of them, you will find yourself in need of something to remove the carbonized seasoning post haste. Afterwards you will either need to begin re-seasoning your pans or replace them. If you are using a seasoned pan, always remember to keep the pan/screen or disk out of the water as much as possible. And if you do wash them, be sure to pass them through the oven to thoroughly dry them as this will help to extend the life of your pan seasoning.
Tom Lehmann is a director at the American Institute of Baking in Manhattan, Kansas.