Author Topic: The Steel Plate Buying Guide  (Read 4612 times)

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scott123

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Re: The Steel Plate Buying Guide
« Reply #1 on: April 06, 2014, 08:26:48 PM »
Acknowledgements/Disclaimers

Thanks to Mark (communist) for being the first member to take the plunge and try steel plate, to take what was largely theoretical and put it into practice.  Thanks, also, to Josh (JD), who came up with the idea of splitting the plate in half for easier handling.  Thanks to Mary Ann (mbrulato) for her willingness to raise the plate above the lip on her shelf. Thank you, Barry (bfguilford) for the plate you so kindly gave me.  Lastly, thanks, everyone who’s bought and baked with steel and had the courage to turn a relatively untested hearth material into the bonafide hearth of choice for NY style in most home ovens.

I have three disclaimers.  One, the knowledge on this subject is constantly evolving.  Most of what we know on steel we didn’t know 3 years ago, and, in 3 more years, the landscape might not be as dramatically altered, but things will have changed.

Second, while I tried to be impartial and scientific as much as possible,  it’s impossible for me to write this guide without some bias, especially from the context of faster baked NY style pizza being better pizza.

Third, the purpose of this guide is to aid home bakers trying to source steel locally, not online. If you google 'steel' plenty of online retailers will show up.
« Last Edit: April 06, 2014, 08:58:32 PM by scott123 »

scott123

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Re: The Steel Plate Buying Guide
« Reply #2 on: April 06, 2014, 08:26:58 PM »
Why Steel?

For some styles of pizza, bake time is the most important ingredient.  As a pizza bakes, heat both causes the water in the dough to boil, creating rapidly expanding steam, and heat expands the gas already present in the dough that was previously formed during fermentation. The greater amount of heat that can be applied, the faster the steam/gas expands, the greater the oven spring, the puffier the texture.  Steel’s superior conductivity to traditional ceramic materials allows it to transfer heat at a faster rate for a quicker bottom bake. At typical home oven temps, ceramic materials can’t bake pizzas much faster than around 8 minutes.  With thick enough steel plate, at those same temps, the bake time can be cut to as little as 3 minutes- with dramatically superior results.
« Last Edit: April 06, 2014, 08:58:45 PM by scott123 »

scott123

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Re: The Steel Plate Buying Guide
« Reply #3 on: April 06, 2014, 08:27:23 PM »
Is Steel Safe?

Yes. The type of steel used for pizza, A36 or ‘mild’ steel is the material of choice for restaurant griddles the world over.  When you have a burger, a fried egg or bacon from a restaurant, it was most likely cooked on A36 steel plate.
« Last Edit: April 06, 2014, 08:58:55 PM by scott123 »

scott123

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Re: The Steel Plate Buying Guide
« Reply #4 on: April 06, 2014, 08:27:49 PM »
Is Steel for Me?

Contrary to what you might read in different online publications or in advertisements, steel is not for everyone. Steel is, for the most part, only advantageous for the home baker

1. seeking faster NY style bakes
2. who owns an oven that can reach 525 degrees, with a broiler in the main compartment

Steel may, in certain oven setups, be beneficial for Neapolitan pizza, but Neapolitan pizza requires an abnormally strong broiler- something that the vast majority of people don’t possess.  If you’re interested in Neapolitan in a home oven, it’s certainly worth seeing if you have a freakishly hot broiler, but do not buy steel without looking at your broiler first, because it’s almost a certainty that your broiler will be too weak, and, if it is, for Neapolitan purposes, in your oven, steel will be worthless.

The only way that steel works in all home ovens for Neapolitan pizza is if you pervert the definition of Neapolitan style pizza to include pale, flavorless, stale, cardboard textured 00 flour dough baked for 3-5 minutes.  While there are those outside of the forum who are comfortable misrepresenting Italian culture while they advocate crappy pizza, in this forum, we know better. Certainly, if Neapolitan is your goal, check the specs on your broiler, but, until you’ve thoroughly confirmed the broiler can cut it, do not buy steel for Neapolitan.

American, Chicago, Detroit, Sicilian, and Cracker styles are all generally much less dependent on fast bakes.  If you don’t need a fast bake, you don’t need steel.  Steel will work perfectly fine for these styles (at lower temps), but if you don’t ever see yourself venturing into NY style territory, steel is not for you. Cordierite kiln shelves are cheaper and easier to source (Axner, etc.)

When you reduce the bake time for NY style, the end result is puffier, but it’s also a bit floppier and less crisp.  Some people simply prefer a crispier NY style pizza.  If you fall into this group, steel may not be ideal for you. In my experience, almost everyone that’s taken the time to create an oven that can do 4 minute bakes has preferred the results to their previously longer bakes. If you’ve never had a fast baked NY style pizza, I highly recommend at least trying it.

Steel accelerates bottom browning.  In order for the top of the pizza to bake at the same rate as the bottom , you have to have a broiler in the main compartment, not in a separate drawer like some older ovens have.  You might be able to utilize the steel in the broiler drawer, but, working that close to the floor is awkward, and, so far, no one’s posted any results from a steel/broiler drawer technique.  If you have a broilerless setup, I suggest something like this.
« Last Edit: April 06, 2014, 08:59:05 PM by scott123 »

scott123

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Re: The Steel Plate Buying Guide
« Reply #5 on: April 06, 2014, 08:28:19 PM »
Oven Temperature Confirmation/Calibration

As I said before, for steel, 525 degrees is the temperature you need to be able to reach.  Even if your oven dial only goes to 500, though, there’s hope, as many 500 degree dialed ovens run hot and will reach 525.  To confirm this, you’ll need to take the temperature.  Even though there are a few different types of oven thermometers with some being quite inexpensive, you’ll want to spend a little more money and get a (usually) $20ish infrared thermometer.  Not only will you be able to use this to confirm the oven’s temp, but, once you start baking with the steel plate, you’ll be able to take readings of that as well. IR thermometers are indispensable to the home pizza baker.

IR thermometers are all made in China out of cheap materials, but, they generally all work, regardless of price.  There’s no specific brand to look for. Just shop around for the cheapest unit that goes to the temp you’ll need.  For steel plate in a home oven purposes, you’ll need a thermometer that will reach 380C/716F.  If you think you’ll ever invest in a wood fired oven, for taking dome temps, you’ll want a unit that can go up to 1300F.  As of the date of this writing, Amazon has the best IR thermometer deals, but the marketplace is fairly volatile.  Your best bet is to do a search here by date, since IR thermometer deals are posted at fairly regular intervals.

Beyond confirming your oven’s peak temp, you’ll want to track down your oven manual and see if your particular model can be calibrated.  Many of the keypad entry type of modern ovens offer this feature.  If your oven can be calibrated, set it to the highest temp it will go.  Be aware, though, that if you alter the calibration, everything else you bake in the oven will bake faster, so you’ll need to compensate for those non pizza foods by lowering the temp on the dial.
« Last Edit: April 06, 2014, 10:16:01 PM by scott123 »

scott123

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Re: The Steel Plate Buying Guide
« Reply #6 on: April 06, 2014, 08:29:04 PM »
Sizing Steel

Size Matters

Bigger NY style pizzas are better. Period.

Perceived Value

It's important to keep in mind that the average NYer's first exposure to pizza is purchasing a slice, not making it themselves.  If you're buying a slice, it doesn't really matter if the price per sq. inch is the same for a large or a small slice, a larger slice just feels like you're getting more.  It's substantial.  It's supersized. It's American :) It feels more psychologically as well as physically.  Many members have talked about how a larger slice feels in your hand.  It has heft. It droops around your fingers and your palm a bit. It envelopes.  Once you get used to that, smaller slices never provide the same handfeel.

Aesthetic

If you're going to match the real estate of 1/6th of an 18" pie (the archetype slice), with a 12" pie, you're basically talking a quarter of a pizza.  NY Pizza should be a narrow graceful wedge, not a wide, squat, fat assed quarter pie.  There's no grace to eating a quarter of a 12" pie. And you'd never serve someone 1/6th of a 12" pie- unless you're giving a tea party for toddlers  ;D

Tradition

Close your eyes and think of NY pizza. No matter where you were born, because of the influence of movies and television, there's an excellent chance you're picturing 1/6th of an 18" pizza (or maybe a 16" pizza).  I guarantee that you're not picturing fat quarter pies or doll house sized 1/6th of a 12" pie slices. And that's the perception of non NYers. For NY, forget about it!  ;D

NY Pizzerias frequently have smaller pies on the menu, but absolutely no one ever buys them.  If you're hungry enough, you get a whole pie, and, if you want less, you get slices.  That's how it's been since the arrival of slices about a half a century ago.

For the ~30 million New Yorkers, past and present, that own the right to define this style, the thin graceful wedge is how they've always perceived NY style pizza to be.  It's a little like the Chicagoans that take their party cut seriously, but with an exponentially larger population and zero dissension.  A 12" NY style pizza should be, for a true NYer (or anyone aspiring towards authenticity), like fingernails on a chalkboard.

Balanced Components

To prevent boilover, the rim pretty much has to stay the same size, regardless of the size of the pizza. As the pizza diameter shrinks, the ratio of rim to cheese/sauce area increases. This makes smaller pizzas pretty much all rim..  The members of this forum pride themselves on making the best crusts in the universe, but just because we're masters at dough, doesn't mean that all sense of proportion should go out the window.  No one here would dare ever through away a rim/bone, but, at the same time, we don't necessarily have to strive towards pizzas that are pretty much all rim.  We can certainly enjoy our wonderful crusts just as much under the cheese and sauce as in the rim- with a sense of balance.


Neapolitan is generally served as a whole pie (or quarters) and Chicago, Detroit, and other midwestern styles all have their own approach to cutting/sizing. For NY, though, it isn't a case of bigger being better, it's a case of smaller being painful  ;D
« Last Edit: April 06, 2014, 08:59:47 PM by scott123 »

scott123

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Re: The Steel Plate Buying Guide
« Reply #7 on: April 06, 2014, 08:29:34 PM »
Measure 20 Times, Cut Once

Based upon the previously discussed premise that you’ll want to be baking the biggest sized pizzas that you possibly can, you’ll want the biggest steel plate that your oven can accommodate.  Since ovens are generally wider than they are deep, you want the plate to touch the back wall (or back shelf lip) and almost touch the door when it’s closed.  You want to measure this back to front dimension with tremendous care. If you get it wrong, you either get too small of a plate and rob yourself of precious pizza real estate, or you get a plate so big that the door doesn’t close and it’s back to the fabricator for another costly cut.

Make a cardboard dummy, put it in place and see if the door closes. Be acutely aware of lips on the back of the shelf, the position of the convection fan (if present), along with protrusions on the door. Put a piece of paper on the cardboard, extending out the oven a bit and, when you close the door, see how far it pushes back. You'll want to size the plate so that the door, when closed, just clears it, with absolutely no additional space.

Measure that back and front dimension as precisely as you possibly can, and, once you have that number, subtract 1/16” (but no more) to play it safe.

Side to side dimensions have a little more leeway.  The side is where the hot air flows from bottom to top, so you need at least an inch clearance on each side between the plate and the wall. While there's nothing wrong with matching your front to back dimension and having a square plate, a little extra on the side helps provide a larger target to hit when launching from a peel.  Weight is a concern, so you don’t want to go too crazy on the side dimension, but an extra inch or two on the side to side dimension can be nice. If, say your back to front dimension is 18”, then a side to side of 20”, as long as the oven is wider than 22”, should work well.

scott123

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Re: The Steel Plate Buying Guide
« Reply #8 on: April 06, 2014, 08:30:10 PM »
What Thickness of Steel Should I Buy?

Much like depth, the thicker the steel plate, the more thermal mass, the better- to a point.  Thermal mass plays a role in recovery.  The thicker the plate, the more successive pizzas you can bake at once before having to wait for the oven to replenish the heat. Thickness also plays a role in bake time. Up to about ˝”, the thicker the plate, the shorter the bake.   The downside to thickness, though, is weight, but there’s a workaround to help with weight (see below). If your oven runs hotter than 600, then you can get every possible NY bake time from cordierite, making steel unnecessary, but if you’re in the 575 range, 3/8” sufficient. Lees than that, though, you want to ˝”.

scott123

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Re: The Steel Plate Buying Guide
« Reply #9 on: April 06, 2014, 08:30:27 PM »
Can My Oven Shelf Handle the Weight of Steel?

Domestic oven shelves have been made to handle large Thanksgiving turkeys, that, when combined with vegetables and large roasting pans, have a comparable weight to the plates being discussed here.  If your shelf seems especially flimsy, remove the shelf entirely, run square steel tubing from shelf lip to shelf lip and rest the steel plate on that.

It is normal for oven shelves to bow a bit when the plate is in place- up to about a ˝” in the center.  This is perfectly fine, and, when the plate is removed, the bow disappears.


scott123

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Re: The Steel Plate Buying Guide
« Reply #10 on: April 06, 2014, 08:31:12 PM »
Plate Suspension Lip Workaround

Sometimes the lips on the back of shelves can protrude considerably and rob you of precious plate depth.  If that happens, raise the plate above the lip with square steel tubing, like Mary Ann did with her plate here.

The fabricator you purchase your plate from should have tubing, or you can get tubing from Home Depot.  Square steel tubing will fit the bill, as will aluminum square tubing.  Just make sure the tubing is just large enough to get the plate above the lip, as too thick tubing will rob precious heat and add even more weight to the equation.
« Last Edit: April 06, 2014, 08:54:48 PM by scott123 »

scott123

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Re: The Steel Plate Buying Guide
« Reply #11 on: April 06, 2014, 08:31:38 PM »
The Crucial Extra Cut

Member JD came up with the concept of cutting your plate in half. It’s incredibly difficult to get a 40 lb-ish plate in and out of an oven. If you cut it in half, though, working with two 20 lb. plates becomes so much easier. Once you have your final plate dimension, then you want to add one more cut (see photo below- courtesy of Mary Ann). Make sure the cut goes side to side. If you put the cut in going from the back wall to the door, the shelf bow will cause the plates to tilt towards the center and your toppings will slide.

Also, it’s incredibly easy to think that an 18” x 18” plate cut in half will be two pieces that are 9” by 9” each. Don’t make this mistake. An 18 x 18 plate cut into two pieces gives you two 9” x 18” pieces.

JD and others have been splitting the plate right down the middle, but I've been thinking about this, and I believe an offset allows a bit better flexibility further down the line. For instance, if you think you might be bringing the plate to someone else's home, 3 partial plates of different sizes could give you depths of 16, 17 and 18, whereas if the main plates are cut down the middle, an additional plate would only give you two sizes. Having 3 different sized plates might also be useful if you plan on using the plate as a griddle. It takes some number crunching to hit the right depths, but once you have your back to front dimension, let me know and I'll give you my suggestion of where to make the cut.
« Last Edit: April 06, 2014, 09:04:02 PM by scott123 »

scott123

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Re: The Steel Plate Buying Guide
« Reply #12 on: April 06, 2014, 08:32:18 PM »
Sourcing Steel

Once you have your final dimensions, it’s time to start googling.

https://maps.google.com/

You’ll want to use the results from two searches:

‘steel near yourtown, yourstate’ and ‘metal near yourtown, yourstate’ (see photo below)

These will give you geographical based results with steel/metal places in your vicinity.  The lettered pins n the map will correspond to the lettered entries on the list.  If you move the map, the list will change. Page through all the entries and put together a master list.  Some will be obviously wholesale and others will be recycling. Skip those. Once you have a master list, start making calls.

"Hi, do you sell a36 steel plate to the public?" If the answer is yes, then
"Is it recycled/salvaged and/or heavily rusted?" If no, then
"I'd like a quote on two ___" x ___" x .5" plates"

Expect to see a pretty big range of quotes, but one should fall in the $35 to $65 realm. Bear in mind, for a lot of these places, pieces this size will most likely be scrap that's left over from another job and that will take them very little time to cut (in other words, no skin off their back). If you're dealing with a corporate structure, that tends to drive the price up, but if it's just one person or a small company you're dealing with, when they quote you a price they're usually not thinking "okay, what's the steel and my time worth?" but, rather, "what can I get out of this person?" Because of this, I probably wouldn't mention pizza and to maintain a no nonsense attitude. There also seems to be a sad and unfortunate gender bias in these kinds of industries:

http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2013/06/27/study-auto-repair-shops-really-do-charge-women-more-sometimes

I've witnessed this sexism myself in metal shops.  I'm in no way saying that all metal workers are sexist, but that gender bias exists when it comes to pricing, and to be aware of it and act accordingly.

Steel plate, depending on how it’s cut, can have sharp edges, so I’d bring a piece of sandpaper or a sanding sponge to run along the edges. It can also be pretty grimy, so, when picking up, bring gloves and a sturdy bag to keep the car clean.
« Last Edit: April 07, 2014, 12:45:20 AM by scott123 »

scott123

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Re: The Steel Plate Buying Guide
« Reply #13 on: April 06, 2014, 08:32:53 PM »
Steel Prep

Steel, unless it’s been sandblasted, is usually covered with a dark layer of mill scale. This is just a form of rust, and is perfectly safe to bake on (I do), but if you want to take the mill scale off, the method that involves the least hassle is to soak it in vinegar a couple days. After a long vinegar soak, some light scrubbing will take the steel down to the bare metal.

Pizza oven hearths, by their nature, don’t require the non stick benefits of seasoning, but a very light layer of seasoning for easier  infrared thermometer readings and for protection from the elements isn’t a bad idea.  Wipe a very thin layer of oil on it (any kind is fine) and use at you normally would, pre-heating it for about an hour.
« Last Edit: April 06, 2014, 09:00:16 PM by scott123 »

scott123

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Re: The Steel Plate Buying Guide
« Reply #14 on: April 06, 2014, 08:33:15 PM »
Use/Care

Since you’re going to want to use the broiler during the bake, you’ll want to place the steel on a shelf that’s relatively close to the broiler- 5-6” away.

Depending on how powerful your oven is, you might be able to fully pre-heat the steel in as little as 40 minutes, but an hour is a safe bet. When cheese bubbles over, let the plate cool and try scraping if off with a metal scraper.  Fine sandpaper or a sanding sponge will take stuck on food off as well. After you sand, though, wipe it down with a damp towel to take off any powder.

If you’re looking for a recipe using steel plate, mine can be found here.
« Last Edit: April 06, 2014, 09:00:27 PM by scott123 »

Offline mbrulato

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Re: The Steel Plate Buying Guide
« Reply #15 on: April 06, 2014, 09:54:03 PM »
Great write-up, Scott.  I think this thread will be extremely useful for those members who would like to take their NY style pies to the next level.  Perhaps our moderators can make this thread a "sticky"  ;D
Mary Ann

Offline JD

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Re: The Steel Plate Buying Guide
« Reply #16 on: April 07, 2014, 08:26:44 AM »
Excellent write-up Scott, thank you again for all your help.
Josh

Offline Tampa

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Re: The Steel Plate Buying Guide
« Reply #17 on: April 07, 2014, 08:51:05 AM »
YOU ROCK SCOTT!   :chef: :chef: :chef: :chef:

This will be a big help for many in this community.  Thanks for your hard work and sharing.

Dave

Offline quixoteQ

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Re: The Steel Plate Buying Guide
« Reply #18 on: April 08, 2014, 09:53:15 AM »
I can't be the only guy here who wishes he'd read this a few months ago  :'( .  Very informative.
Josh

Offline communist

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Re: The Steel Plate Buying Guide
« Reply #19 on: April 08, 2014, 07:37:00 PM »
Very nice Scott.  And even though I have used my Blackstone for NY pizza, my 1/2 steel in my home oven with broiler assist still bakes the best NY pie.   Mark :)


 

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