Was going to pick up the Baking Steel griddle/pizza stone that seriouseats was flogging, then I realized that it’s too small to fit over 2 burners on my range. I still want to pick up a griddle of sorts, mostly for making big breakfasts or large cuts of meat.
So my question is - is there any different in conduction between the two? I can’t find an exact answer online, but I think the answer is “not really.”
I am not in a position to research the specific offerings mentioned, but can give my experience and thoughts on the materials in general.
First and foremost you should consider total mass. Generally speaking the greater the mass the better. More mass means greater thermal stability. Greater thermal stability is good because when you place the food on the surface the temperature drop is less, so you get a better cook/sear. It also means a shorter time to get back to the optimal cooking temp after the food is placed on it.
Again, in general this means that cast iron will outperform stainless steel. But that is only a generality. If the SS version has more mass than the cast iron version, then the SS would arguably perform better. In most cases you will find that SS both heats and cools faster (thus the thermal drop when adding food to the surface). Cast iron takes longer to get to temp, but will hold that temp better.
Second is cleanup. SS is generally easier to clean than cast iron. At least in the early stages. Once cast iron gets deeply and properly seasoned, it is damned near non-stick and is easily cleaned with salt (to both absorb excess oil and serve as a harmless abrasive to scour with) and hot water (never use soap on seasoned cast iron!) Cast iron is not pretty, either. The longer it gets used, the uglier it gets. But the better it performs so it balances out.
Isn’t the issue with cast iron though that it doesn’t conduct heat very well, so the area between the burners (esp if I don’t have the burners blasting) will be much cooler? I know heating in the oven first can sort of fix this, but my Thermadors take forever to heat up, so this isn’t really an option.
I’ve had one for about two years. Seven gauge carbon steel, heats very even, covers two burners on my 48" Capital Culinarian. Seasoning was a breeze and it is completely non-stick (and black as coal after many uses). Easily fits 12 pancakes or a pound of bacon. Fits in my oven for storage, but if you have a 30" range it may not fit inside the oven.
If your primary application is traditional breakfast griddle (eggs, pancakes, bacon, etc.) then a conventional griddle is probably your best bet, and forgiving non-stick surfaces are key, especially since non of those items require the intense heat that often wreaks havoc on non-stick surfaces. There are a ton of options that range in size. Typically the more massive the device the more even the heat distribution/retention.
That being said, if you are looking to broaden the application to pizzas or smashburgers, the baking steels and baking steel griddles are really, really useful pieces of equipment. They kill cast iron in terms of mass (my steel is 1/2 thick and pushing 40 pounds) and heat conductivity. Cast iron has a high thermal capacity, but isn’t great at transferring it quickly to foods, which is why the baking steels excel (you can read on the web why it is better than pizza stones; same logic applies here). However, the baking steel griddle isn’t as big as other griddles and isn’t a true 2 burner option. But it cooks really nicely. I’ve never had more even and nice looking pancakes.
Stainless conducts heat worse than cast iron because of the significant amount of chromium (20%+) and other impurities that are added make it stainless. IIRC, cast iron is slightly less conductive than carbon steel (which is in turn slightly less conductive than pure iron, which isn’t usable in cookware), because the graphite in grey cast iron, which is what cookware is made of, reduces conductivity.
chromium and nickel is what makes stainless steel stainless, and by itself is indeed a poor conductor. but in the context of cooking, it’s irrelevant because stainless pans, typically, have a copper and/or aluminum layer inside or on the bottom. that combo results in the best/easiest all around cooking surface because it conducts well and evenly, non-reactive, non-corrosive, doesn’t chip, etc.
Well there is no such thing as a “pizza steel” per se. Stoughton markets their “bakers steel”, which is not stainless (actually, they don’t specifiy what it is, but it looks like it’s some sort of ordinary carbon steel . . .) but the pizza boards generally advocate buying scrap steel plates and using those. God knows what kind of steel that ends up being - hell, I bet that half the time the pizza “steel” is really cast iron anyways, or a high-carbon steel that might as well be.