The Food Lab: The New Reversible Baking Steel/Griddle is Not Just for Pizzas
The new reversible Baking Steel with a baking surface on one side and a flat griddle on the other is one of my favorite bits of kitchen gear. About a year and a half ago, I wrote about the Baking Steel, a product I called "the most impressive home pizza product I've ever tested." That claim still stands, and I've had one pretty much permanently sitting in my oven since that time. But a few weeks into playing around with it, a thought struck me: why can't I use this thing on the stovetop as a griddle?
I tried it, and quickly discovered the reason: searing on a rimless surface = grease dripping all over your stovetop and into your burners.
I chatted a bit with Andris Langsdin, the creator of the Baking Steel, about my issue, and he's finally come back with some exciting news. Meet the Baking Steel 2.0: a 16- by 14- by 3/8ths-inch slab of steel that functions exactly like the original Baking Steel on one side, with a polished finished and grease channel on the other to convert it into a fully functional stovetop (or grill-top!) griddle. I ran it through its paces, and man oh man, does this sucker make the grade. Let me talk you through it.
How it Works
We all know why steel makes a superior surface for baking pizza, right? The key is a material with a high volumetric heat capacity and high conductivity.
High volumetric heat capacity means that if you take two solid materials of equal shape and size—say, a steel slab a 3/8ths of an inch thick and a piece of quarry stone a 3/8ths of an inch thick—and heat them to the exact same temperature—say, 500°F—the one with the higher volumetric heat capacity will contain more energy, despite being at the same temperature. Differences in heat capacity is what gives you burns when you stick your hand into 212° F boiling water, but lets you stick your hand into a 212° F oven with no problem.
And it's the same thing that lets that steel slab cook a pizza in less than half the time it takes to cook on a stone at the same temperature. (You can read up more about the science of that here.)
Here's the thing: what makes it such a superior surface for baking pizzas also makes it a superior surface for searing foods. Thick- gauge and high volumetric heat capacity means that you can sear to your heart's content: Provided you've pre-heated it well, your slab will be able to maintain its temperature for a long, long time. I've preheated the slab to 550° over a burner (it took about 15 minutes to get there), let it sit off-heat for 5 minutes, and it still contained enough energy to put a sear on a steak better than you'd ever get with a cast iron skillet on a burner.
That heat retention means that if you preheat the slab on the burner, you can then throw it under the broiler to sear from both sides simultaneously. Boom, instant steakhouse at home.
I mean, you see that char? Let me show you again. Here you go:
And ok, the money shot. How about this?
This steak was cooked in the style of an old-school New York steakhouse, which means blasting it with heat the whole time to create maximum crusty char. For those who prefer their steak with less of the crusty gray band around the edges, you could always cook it sous-vide and finish it off with a better sear than you could possibly get with any other pan in your kitchen.
I cooked up a bunch of jumbo prawns in the shell and managed to get the kind of smoky char and plump, succulent center that you only get at the best tapas restaurants—the ones that use a thick, metal plancha for searing.
That's because this is essentially a plancha.
It's the kind of sear that just accents the natural sweet flavor of the shrimp. All you need is a dash of great olive oil, a squeeze of lemon, a sprinkle or parsley, and some messy fingers to enjoy.
Back to more red meat:
Remember those Ultra-Smashed Cheeseburgers we made last month? Those ones you smash down with a trowel and scrape up with a razor-sharp deck scraper? Those ones with the crazy crisp, deeply browned, beefiest-tasting crust you've ever had? You can make them in a skillet just fine, but it's a heck of a lot easier on a flat, rimless griddle where you have plenty of space to smash and even more space to give you leverage for scraping.
Yes, you're gonna have to unplug your smoke alarms and yes, your kitchen, dining room, curtains, cushions, sheets, and even all your hard, non-porous surfaces are going to smell like a burger joint indefinitely, but, well, is that hefty price to pay for something that looks like this?
In all seriousness, open the windows and get yourself a couple of strong fans and you'll be in good shape (just make sure your significant other is gone for the weekend before you fire it up for a batch).
Will it Stick?
Straight out of the box, the surface is polished steel—not a non-stick surface. Try and cook eggs or pancakes on it, and you'll be scraping them off with that deck scraper. But just like a good cast iron pan, after a couple of high temp cooks, it develops a black, non-stick patina that gets better with each use.
I tried frying a couple of eggs and a whole mess of diner-style hash brown potatoes (some simple par-boiled potatoes fried with onions in clarified butter) after I'd broken it in with a couple batches of burgers and a steak or two, and the eggs lifted off cleanly, no issues. Pancakes made the grade as well.
Compared to most cast iron griddles, it's far heavier, which means that it's got better heat retention and thus more even cooking. Batch after batch of pancakes and burger after burger, it'll hold steady with very little fiddling around on the gas dials to tune it in. You ever get annoyed with the fact that your round skillets are just slightly too small and completely the wrong shape to fit more than a couple slices of french toast at a time? You can get a full nine at a time on this sucker, with no high ridge, making flipping with a spatula easy.
I wrapped up my testing with vegetables. Searing off an entire bunch of asparagus in one fell swoop was no problem at all, and the stalks turned bright, tender green with nicely charred edges in moments. Big king oyster mushrooms split in half and griddled in butter were one of the tastiest things I've made all month. I've toasted batches of hamburger buns on here with no sticking, and it obviously makes grilled cheese for a crowd a snap.
Dammit, I didn't want to come off sounding like a late night infomercial, but, well, I like this thing. A lot. It doesn't slice, dice, or make dozens of julienne fries, but I'll be damned if it ain't the finest home pizza-baking surface I've seen, and knockout griddle to boot.
Now the bad news: That weight can be a problem. It's heavy; there's no two ways about it. You'll want some sturdy oven mitts or a heavy duty folded kitchen towel to lug it around, and you'll have to be careful—especially if you're moving it while hot—you could easily crush your toe with a little slip. And remember: lift with your knees. (Or is it your back? I can never remember.)
The first couple times I used it, it took a bit of scrubbing and scraping to get the excess browning off the smooth surface, but after I broke it in, it became as non-stick as my trusty cast iron pans. Like any seasoned metal surface, you want to heat it up and rub some oil into it after each use in order to protect it from rust and pitting. You have to remember to take care of it. I made the piss-poor mistake of leaving one of my steels sitting out on my deck near my KettlePizza, fully exposed to the elements for the winter. Suffice it to say, it's not currently in usable condition.
There's no definitive word on price point and distribution yet, but we're most likely looking at sales made through BakingSteel.com and Sur la Table for around $159. It ain't cheap, I'll give you that, and yeah, I can hear those folks in the louder corners of the internet now: I could make this myself for $40, or you could find a slab of metal for free at the scrap heap, and both those things may be true, but I personally don't have access to machining tools and I don't really feel like cooking eggs on something I found at the scrap yard. Besides, this is the kind of sucker that your kids are going to be giving to their kids down the line.