Cooking in vessels made of different types of earth and clay dates to the Native Americans who first inhabited the United States. Stoneware replaced more porous types of clay cooking vessels. Do not let its ancient history lead you to believe this is an old-fashioned and therefore less convenient way to cook, however. Stoneware, such as pizza stones and baking pans, offer busy moms a convenient, durable and efficient cooking vessel when used correctly.
Before first use, wash the stoneware with hot water only, no soap. Manufacturers suggest that owners cook something slightly greasy such as cookies or oven fries the first use so that the seasoning process begins. After a few uses and with proper care, the stoneware becomes seasoned and naturally nonstick, so that no-stick spray or grease is no longer necessary.
The advantage to stoneware is the even-cooking, nonburning surface it provides. Fill as much of the surface with food as possible before cooking to take full advantage of this effect. Cook with stoneware using the same times and temperatures that you would any other cooking dish. The only usual restrictions are to never use it under a broiler or near open flames, as it may crack. Stoneware can be used in the microwave.
Because manufacturers and potters fire stoneware at such a high temperature, it is extremely strong and opaque. Stoneware does, however, require a few special considerations to maintain it and prevent cracks. Because its temperature rises quite high during cooking, never place it directly on a cold surface or fill it with anything cold while it is still hot, to prevent cracks from forming. Use caution when removing the stoneware from a heat source because of the amount of heat the stoneware retains, and keep children away from stoneware that you've just removed from the oven.
The surface of stoneware develops a nonstick seasoning much like a cast iron cooking utensil. Hand-wash stoneware with hot water only, no soap, to retain the seasoning. Move stoneware carefully so that it does not drop or bump into things and break, chip or crack. Use caution cleaning up sharp, broken stoneware pieces. Never use cracked stoneware, as it can break during cooking.
Be sure to check labels for assurance that the stoneware is lead-free. Inexpensive brands may not be. Thaw frozen foods before cooking them in stoneware to prevent cracks from forming. Because stoneware is porous, a separate stone for family members with severe allergies may be necessary so allergens are not transferred through the stoneware.
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Elizabeth Stover, an 18 year veteran teacher and author, has a Bachelor of Science in psychology from the University of Maryland with a minor in sociology/writing. Stover earned a masters degree in education curriculum and instruction from the University of Texas, Arlington and continues to work on a masters in Educational Leadership from University of North Texas. Stover was published by Creative Teaching Press with the books "Science Tub Topics" and "Math Tub Topics."