Stoneware cooking utensils are made of clay and kiln-fired at extremely high temperatures. Sometimes they are glazed, ideally they are not.
These ancient cooking vessels are refinements of in-ground ovens and cooking devices that allowed early cooks to trap moisture and flavors that enhance meat, vegetables, and baked goods. Their purpose, and the basics of using stoneware, have not changed significantly but we have learned many lessons about making best use of this ancient but simple, and still sophisticated, method of cooking.
Stoneware shapes, sizes, and uses
Stoneware can be used for almost any food normally cooked in a conventional, convection, or microwave oven.
Baking stones, either small or large enough to cover the bottom of your oven, are familiar and popular. Use them to assure properly cooked pizzas, calzones, small crispy appetizers, or free-form loaves of bread.
Cake pans, muffin pans, and even shortbread pans, in many sizes, are easily available in stoneware and bring good results.
Dutch ovens and lidded bakers in convenient sizes are ideal for braising or cooking meats and vegetables in a minimum amount of liquid. Although you must never let your stoneware cook dry, it is excellent for Coq au Vin or braised beef where a rich and flavorful sauce is vital to the dish.
Choosing stoneware for your kitchen
Read the user’s guide attached to the product.
Stoneware must be made of lead-free clay and fired at a high temperature of at least 2,000 degrees F. Also, read the guarantee and be sure you understand there are circumstances under which your stoneware might not be covered.
Stoneware is fragile and, like fine China, if you take your stoneware directly from freezer to a hot oven, it will likely shatter. If you drop it on a hard surface it is likely to break. Also, never allow stoneware to come into direct contact with an open flame.
How to care for stoneware
Stoneware is porous, like clay or cast iron cooking vessels.
Before initial use rinse the cooking vessel and give it a generous coating of oil and wipe off any excess. Some good cooks use vegetable spray, others like smaltz or beef suet. If the vessel begins to stick you will need to repeat the process. In fact, some cooks use a light spritz of cooking spray whenever they use their stoneware. Keep the seasoning treatments light because just as the coating of oil enhances flavors, it can become rancid and unpleasant.
Never use soap to clean stoneware; soap will attack the seasoning, cause the vessel to stick and even leave a soapy aftertaste. Hot water and a cleaning cloth or brush recommended by the manufacturer is sufficient for cleaning. A paste of ½ cup baking soda with 3 tablespoons water will help with stains. If there are stains remaining on the stone and you are not convinced that it is clean, put the empty vessel into a 200-degree oven for a few minutes. 180-degrees kill bacteria.
If you feel that certain foods are overly aggressive and their flavors carry over to other dishes cooked in the stoneware, the best solution is to reserve certain vessels for favorite dishes. Additionally, it is wise to reserve special stoneware for food prepared for those with allergies, a high sensitivity to nuts for example. Store this stoneware apart from your regular supply.
The Pampered Chef Community has some interesting comments from frequent users. They talk about, not just recipes, but ways to cook for delicious results, as well as care and pampering of their stoneware. To a person, they like stoneware and have a motto that can only come from love: “The worse it looks, the better it cooks.”