Haha, let me just say I don't know whats necessarily "wrong" with steel, although my oven and is not equipped to handle a steel cooking surface...I will say that from what I have been reading on the forum, Scott, you are quite the steel proponent. I think its very funny. I will look into Soapstone -- thanks for the tip. I feel like I was just starting to get the hang of using my stone, and then it broke.
I have to change my profile, I actually live in Southern CT. My fav. pizza place was in Jersey near where my GF lives, maybe thats why you thought northern NJ?
I'm curious, in what way is your oven 'not equipped to handle a steel cooking surface?' If the shelf can support a pampered chef stone, it should be able to support a comparably sized steel plate.
I saw Livingston in your profile and jumped the gun. If you're in CT, unless you want to pick up soapstone when you're visiting your GF, then it will most likely be very expensive for you. Remnants are $10/sq foot in Hackensack, but that's only because they're importing the stone directly from Brazil. Everywhere else, it's going to be at least triple that. A $25 stone at Teixeira will cost a minimum of $80 elsewhere. Considering you can buy steel plate for around $20 and it will slightly outperform soapstone, it's, imo, a no brainer.
As a retired Art Teacher I can tell that some of you are trying to push the ceramic stones beyond their limits by heating them too high/too fast. Can you spell THERMAL SHOCK? If you would just try to ramp up your burners at a slightly slower rate you might never see a crack.
Cordierite can be manufactured to tolerate a tremendous amount of thermal shock.FibraMent vs. Cordierite (Engineering Data)
Maryland Ceramic & Steatite Company Inc. is quoted as saying, "corderite has excellent thermal shock resistance, withstanding red heat to ice water quench, and then returned to red heat. Our high fire corderite body will withstand a temperature rise from 70° to 1800° in 80 seconds, followed by an immediate room-temperature air quench."
Unfortunately, cordierite isn't always manufactured the same way. It can be dry pressed or extruded. As an art teacher I'm sure you're aware of the disc shaped molecular structure of clay, and, when the discs are out of alignment, such as in slipware, the end product is exceptionally weak. Air pockets (either in the wet clay or created when water evaporates) are also the kiss of death for strong ceramics. Extrusion allows for some molecular alignment/air removal, but it pales in comparison to the kind of molecular alignment/air removal/structural strength one finds in dry pressed cordierite. Structural strength is directly proportional to resistance to thermal shock, so, the sturdier the cordierite, the better it stands up to extreme changes in heat.
The hard part is determining whether or not the stone is dry pressed (strong) or extruded (weaker). Dry pressing involves thousands of pounds of pressure, so the equipment is more expensive. Since most baking stones/kiln shelves are made in China, and, since Chinese manufacturers tend to gravitate towards less expensive manufacturing approaches I think it's safe to assume that a large number of the commercial cordierite baking stones are extruded. At least that's my gut feeling.
Dry pressed cordierite, in theory, should be considerably denser than extruded, so it might be possible to look at the density of retail stones and determine if they're pressed, but I haven't had a chance to test this.