Monday, October 15, 2012

Deep dish pans, accessories, & how to season DD pans

I received a small delivery of deep dish pans a few days ago. To the best of my knowledge, these American Metalcraft 8000 series pans are either identical or functionally identical to the pans used at Malnati's and other major players in the Chicago deep dish scene, specifically because they are made of tin-plated steel. The 6", 9", and 12" pans are each 1-1/2" deep, and the 14" pan is 2" deep. The picture below shows the pans in their arrival condition, only minutes after the UPS guy delivered them (on Friday, October 12, 2012).

Unseasoned American Metalcraft tin-plated steel pans in 6", 9", 12", and 14".

Most of the pans in this series are available in depths of either 1-1/2" or 2". However, 13", 14", and 16" pans are only available in depths of 2". I chose to order the shallower pans (for the applicable sizes) because I've been able to tell by watching Marc Malnati on TV that his pans are 1-1/2" deep. Also, since I had been using a 2" deep aluminum pan for my deep dish pizzas, I've already known for a while that the extra 1/2" depth makes it kinda difficult to judge the appropriate height to pull up the sides of deep dish dough.

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The picture below shows my 12" pan (left) and my 14" pan side-by-side, to demonstrate the difference between a 1-1/2" pan and a 2" pan.

The 14" pan (right) is 2" deep, while the smaller pans are 1-1/2" deep.

The next picture shows my two pan grippers. I've had the one on the left for a couple years, but I've never liked it because it's difficult to open with one hand (even though the whole point of using a pan gripper is to make pan retrieval a one-handed process). Also, when I use this one, I don't feel confident that I won't end up dropping the pizza. Thankfully it hasn't happened yet.

The gripper on the right arrived with my pans the other day. I've wanted one like this for a long time because I've used them before (when I worked at Pizza Hut). Unfortunately, this kind of pan gripper seems to be less commonly available than the one on the left, at least locally. So I finally ordered one from a restaurant supply vendor on the internet. And I'm glad I did because this gripper is much easier to use than the other one. In addition to completely surrounding your fingers (which makes the gripper easier to open), the red gripper also springs open if you don't apply enough pressure to keep it closed. Another bonus is that this gripper makes it very easy to securely pick up pans holding considerably more weight than an average deep dish pizza.

Pan grippers in a 12" deep dish pan.

Even though I've already written a post specifically about seasoning pans, I'm going to talk a little more about seasoning because these pans are considerably different than the cutter pan I seasoned in the other post.

Before beginning the seasoning process with my new deep dish pans, I washed and rinsed the pans. After rinsing, I dried the pans with paper towels and placed the pans in a heated oven to vaporize whatever water remained.

To keep from getting unwanted kitchen debris on my pans as I prepared to season them, I placed a couple paper towels on the island counter in my kitchen. I placed my 6" pan and my 9" pan on the paper towels and dripped a small amount of corn oil on the inside of each pan. I used my fingers to coat the inside of each pan, including the sides, very lightly with the oil. Next I flipped the pans so they were upside down, and I coated the bottom and outer sides of the pan. Again, very lightly.

If you want to see how little oil I used, take a look at the fourth pic in my original post about how to season a pan. The following pic shows my 9" pan before beginning this process.

9" pan before seasoning.

After coating the two pans very lightly with oil, I went outside to the grill, which was still unlit. I placed each pan on the grill with the top side down, then lit the grill with the burners on high and closed the grill's lid. Since I hadn't preheated the grill before bringing out the pans, I stayed beside the grill for a few minutes, until the thermometer indicated that the grill was over 350 degrees. At this point I turned the burners down to almost their lowest position, then went inside and set a timer for 20 minutes.

After a couple more minutes, I went back outside to make sure the temperature of the grill had increased to a little over 400 degrees, which it had. 400 to 500 is a good temperature window for seasoning pans. The grill needs to be over 400 so it can burn the oil on the pan(s), but if you allow it to get too hot (600?), it will vaporize the new layer of seasoning, leaving you with a like-new pan.

After my 20-minute timer went off, I went outside and flipped the pans so the bottom side was down. The pans were already pretty well seasoned at this point, both inside and out, but I wanted to give the bottom of the pans some exposure to the flame. So after flipping the pans, I set a timer for 10 minutes. When this timer went off, I turned off the grill and kept the pans inside the grill while the grill cooled down.

The next pic shows my 6" pan and my 9" pan after I retrieved them from the grill.

6" and 9" pans after seasoning once.

As you can probably tell by looking at the picture above, the pans were dark after the first seasoning session, but they weren't nearly black. So I oiled them up and put them in the grill again. And again. And again. If you lost track, I ended up seasoning these pans four times.

While I was seasoning the pans over and over, I began to wonder what would happen if I applied a slightly heavier coat of oil to the pans.

The first time I ever tried to season a pan, maybe ten years ago, I used exponentially more oil than I've instructed you to use (and only on the inside of the pan) because that's what the geniuses on Food Network told me to do. However, it didn't work. Yes, the oil did eventually burn and darken the pan. But this "seasoning" was a thick, icky coating on the pan, and small pieces of the coating soon began to flake off (or break off).

At the time, I didn't know anything about what I was doing, or even why I was doing it. I just figured Emeril knew what he was doing, and I figured he gave me perfectly fine instructions, which I somehow screwed up.

It wasn't until years later that I began to have any idea that: 1) The procedures I used to season my pan were horribly wrong, and 2) I did it horribly wrong because I was given horrible instructions. In fact, it was less than two years ago (shortly after I joined that I finally had the first clue about why people even bother seasoning pizza pans. And here's that lesson. (Prior to two years ago, I never really used pizza pans because the only kind of pizza I ever made didn't require a pan.)

As you can see from reading Peter's (Pete-zza's) quick intervention (and then my response), sometimes all it takes to trigger a vast learning spurt is a small foundation, or an idea. Just by asking me if the bottom of my pan was all carboned up, Peter somehow made me reassess everything I thought I knew about seasoning pans. Unintentionally, he forced me to start thinking about the purpose of seasoning a pan, which I had never done before.

That one little question was all I needed to teach myself how to season pizza pans, then how to get better at seasoning pizza pans, and how to mop up after myself if I've seasoned a pan wrong, and to better understand the whole concept of seasoning pizza pans. Pretty cool, huh?

And that's what led me to prefer using as little oil as possible when I season pizza pans. Because if you only use enough oil to barely coat the surface of the pan, you end up with very thin layers of seasoning, which don't break off or flake off. (For a perfect example of flaky seasoning, check out this picture of my poorly seasoned pan, which is what led Peter to explain seasoning to me. Also, check out how bad my Tommy's clone looked back then.)

[End digression.]

The other day, as I slowly worked on seasoning these deep dish pans, using an extremely small quantity of oil each time I put the pans in the grill, I began to wonder what would happen if I used a little more oil to season the pans. Not a lot of oil, but noticeably more than I've instructed you to use.

So I tried it. But I only did it on the inside of the pans because I didn't really care if I ended up with less than perfect results on the inside. The results: It seems to have worked just fine, and it may have saved me from having to go through a few extra seasoning sessions. Consequently, for the final two seasoning sessions, I went ahead and used a little more oil on the outside of the pans, as well as the inside. This seems to have been a good decision.

Considering what I learned while seasoning my pans the other day, I'm now gonna tell you to do something I have twice told you not to do:

Go ahead and use a little more than the bare minimum amount of oil if you want. Just don't use a ton of oil. And remember that even though I know a lot about making pizza, as well as things related to making pizza, there's a lot I don't know. I'm learning a lot of this stuff just by doing it. So even though I'm always learning better ways of doing things, it doesn't mean everything I instruct you to do is the best way to do it. (Hey, it happens.) So I encourage you to question my instructions, either to yourself or to me.

(In case you've wondered, I don't enjoy talking shit about Emeril or any other celebrity chef. Surely they know a ton more than I know about cooking, and surely they're all nice people who truly want to help others become better cooks. Regardless, they don't know crap about pizza. Still, they all pretend to know what they're talking about whenever they deal with pizza, which not only keeps people from advancing as pizzamakers but also sets them back and holds them back, often for years. Yes, that happened to me. Yes, it pisses me off. And yes, you do need to know this to keep it from happening to you, too.)

Here are a couple more pictures, showing one of the pans after four seasoning sessions.

9" pan after more than one seasoning session in the grill.

Well-seasoned 9" pan inside an unseasoned 12" pan to show contrast.

Having used the 9" pan twice so far, one thing that has surprised me is that both of the pizzas stuck to the pan and have been very difficult to remove. The second pizza even ended up half upside down on my cutting peel because a large chunk of the crust basically merged with the pan, even though I oiled the pan pretty liberally.

I don't get this. This has never happened to deep dish pizzas I've baked in the aluminum pan. And interestingly, I've never oiled my aluminum pan when I've used it to bake deep dish pizza. Rather, I hypothesized that there was enough oil in the dough to keep the crust from sticking. And until now, I've never had any reason to question this hypothesis.

Since I seasoned this pan so well before I ever used it, one unintended result of this sticking problem is that I have sorta proved (at least to myself) that seasoning a pan has absolutely nothing to do with creating a nonstick surface.

Update (8/23/13): The sticking problem has never really happened again since I mentioned it last year.

And one more thing, which is sorta related to the rest of this post's content: From what I understand, cast iron skillets are also supposed to be seasoned. However, seasoning cast iron skillets (and possibly frying pans) is an entirely different concept than seasoning pizza pans. What I'm sharing with you here does not apply to cast iron skillets or frying pans. In fact, I don't know anything about cast iron skillets or frying pans, because I'm a pizza guy, not a chef. Like I've said elsewhere, there's a big difference between "pizza guy" and "chef." However, most chefs still seem to think they know everything about pizza, even though most of them know essentially nothing. I don't play that game.


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  3. This is a really old post, and my not be monitored anymore, but I'm just now trying to make Lou's pizza. Thoughts/questions: 1) do you still follow the recipe as updated in 2013? 2) I noticed you don't like puree in your sauce, but is listed as an ingredient in Lou's. Any reason? 3) do you have thoughts on why Olive Oil is listed in Lou's ingredients since you don't use it? do you think they are only using it to oil the pan and not in the actual making of the dough? 4) any idea how much salt Lou's might be adding to their sauce; again didn't look like you used it for your sauce. 5) what brand/type of mozz cheese are you using? 6) Lou's sells their 9" pan which is aluminized steel. You use tin plated steel. Is the tin plated steel working as you thought it would? Does it come out the same? Thx.