Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Product Review: Cast Iron Plate Setter by Innovations by Chance

I recently tweeted a picture of some burgers that I was grilling and Daniel Pittard's keen photographer eye caught something and he asked...

I have been testing out the cast iron plate setter from Innovations by Chance for four months.  The plate setter is one type of heat diffuser for kamado grills {e.g., Big Green Egg, Grill Dome, Primo, Kamado Joe, Vision, etc). The standard OEM plate setter is made out of ceramic but Michael Chance had an epiphany one night and decided to make a plate setter out of cast iron.  Let's take a look at this bad boy.

Innovations by Chance Cast Iron Plate Setter
Price:  $119.99 at Tasty Licks BBQ Supply
For Sale:  at certain kamado dealers - Innovations By Chance doesn't sell online at this time but you can buy online through dealers like Tasty Licks BBQ Supply.

kamado heat diffuser cast iron
Plate setter shown in the "legs down" position.

Plate setter shown in the "legs up" position

The obvious question is "Why would you want a cast iron plate setter?".  In one sentence, the answer is
  1. a cast iron plate setter is less likely to break and 
  2. it offers the additional griddle surface.
Broken Legs?  Did Someone Stiff A Loan Shark?
Ceramic plate setters are notorious for broken legs.  It is not a defect in materials but carelessness on the part of users.  They are easy stand upright on two of the legs and just as easy to knock over from that position breaking the third leg.  I have two ceramic plate setters and both bear scars of broken legs.  [Related article:  How To Repair A Broken Plate Setter].

The line is where the leg broke and then was repaired with JB Weld. 
That is not to say that you can't break a cast iron plate setter.  If you submerge a hot cast iron plate setter in cold water the thermal shock can cause it to break.  Or if you drop very cold cast iron, it can break.  But you aren't as likely to break it with just the brush of a leg or knock of the foot like how I broke both of my ceramic plate setters.

Griddle Me This
The griddle surface bonus feature is a favorite of mine and I have used it heavily.  The lines of "grill marks" are packed with flavor from the Maillard reaction caused by the hot metal on the meat surface. So if a steak with cross hatch marks tastes good, wouldn't a steak with more cross hatch marks be even better?  That is the argument from chefs like Adam Perry Lang, who feels you should move your steaks frequently, not just 1-2 times, to maximize the amount of surface that caramelizes.

Innovations By Chance, kamado burgers

Almost full contact with the griddle surface does that, maximizes the flavorful crust, and this has become my absolute favorite way to cook burgers on the kamado grill.  You still get the smoky flavor of the burning coal but you also get that even tasty crust.  I haven't cooked burgers any other way since getting this plate setter.

Sometimes it is just better not to ask what is going on...just cutting up here.

While my sister was here we did a spin on Steak au Poivre that she said was the best steak she had ever eaten.  It is a green peppercorn encrusted Manhattan filet, which will be an upcoming recipe post.

Excuse the mobile phone picture, I didn't have my camera.  Peppercorn Encrusted Manhattan Filets.

Of course I have used it extensively during this period in the "legs up" position for indirect cooks like pork butts, briskets, and these BBQ Beef Short Ribs.

Another advantage that the cast iron plate setter is these raised ridges on the "legs up" side.  These allow you to put a drip pan in without it getting conductive heat from the whole plate setter.  This helps minimize drippings burning or your liquid from evaporating as fast.

kamado cast iron heat diffuser deflector
Cast Iron Plate Setter in "legs up" in a kamado

Side By Side Comparison
The cast iron plate setter isn't the exact same dimensions of a ceramic plate setter.  It's obviously thinner in construction since cast iron is stronger and doesn't have to be as thick.

Ceramic plate setter on top, cast iron on bottom.
The cast iron plate setter is also a tiny amount bigger in diameter.  I didn't have calipers handy but a tape measure had the ceramic one at about 12 3/4 inches while the cast iron was a hair over 13 inches.

The legs of the cast iron plate setter are also slightly narrower, thinner, and a smidge taller.  A ceramic plate setter legs are 4" wide x 5/8" thick while the cast iron plate setter's are about 2 3/8" by 3/8".

Ceramic leg on the left, cast iron on the right.

Michael Chance pointed out that this narrower leg might require some specific positioning with grill grates that have open handles like below.

Arrow points at the open handle where the leg could possibly slip through.  I found that even in this position, the rib on the leg still supported the grate but I guess if you put the grate on unevenly, it could cause problems.
But Mike recommends setting such grates like this so all three legs fully contact grate bars.

The cast iron plate setter also fits the Craycort cast iron grate systems.  As usual, you need to be careful putting lateral forces on the grate, such as scrubbing with a grill brush, or you might push the grate off of one of the legs.

Craycort grate on cast iron plate setter
Craycort cast iron grate on an cast iron plate setter.

Some folks might ask if the cast iron plate setter would cause temperature fluctuations.  Mike told me that the cast iron would get a little hotter at first.  I set up two Large Big Green Eggs with equal coal loads and got them both stable at 250°F.  Then put the cast iron plate setter in one and the ceramic in the other and measured their temperature after 15 minutes.

Then I rose the Egg temperature to 350°F for 15 minutes and measured once again.

So the cast iron plate setter did get about 20% hotter at first at first.  But The Naked Whiz did a longer test than mine that showed eventually (about 30 minutes), the cast iron and ceramic plate setter temps converge to near the same.  That supports my general experience that I could not tell any difference in temperature control when using the cast iron vs ceramic plate setter.  They are pretty equal performers in that aspect.

Just like ceramic plate setters, when I use it legs up for convection baking, roasting, etc, I use some type of spacer to minimize the transference of conductive heat.

Isn't it a pain in the butt to keep a cast iron plate setter seasoned? 

To be clear, this is photo from the initial photo shoot.  Didn't want to misrepresent it as current.

You would think that, wouldn't you?  I did.  But my experience has been the opposite, I haven't reseasoned it other than to hit it with a spritz of spray oil (Pam, etc) once or twice as it cooled down after higher temp cooks.  I just kept it inside of a kamado grill outside in the weather.  After 4 months, I have had zero rust show up and it is still well seasoned.

Like my cast iron grates - I found the best maintenance for the cast iron plate setter is frequent use.

I knew I was going to like the griddle function but I was surprised that I didn't have to do a lot of work to keep the seasoning.  Ironically I re-broke one of my ceramic plate setters during testing, so I certainly appreciate the cast iron plate setter's ruggedness.  I absolutely love mine and apparently so does everyone else, they keep having to order new batches to keep dealers supplied.

So is the cast iron plate setter for you?  If you are buying a new kamado, then getting a cast iron instead of ceramic plate setter will cost you about $45-50 more.  If you already have a ceramic, you are shelling out around another $119.  So the question for you is - is having a sturdier plate setter with a griddle surface worth that extra cost to you? 

Update 7/2016
Over a year later and I still love my cast iron plate setter.  It has now become my go to indirect piece for the Big Green Egg.  I can't remember the last time that I used one of my ceramic plate setters.
The cast iron plate setter is more rugged than ceramic ones and provides a fantastic griddle surface.  Two thumbs up from me.

[Standard FTC Disclaimer]  I received my cast iron plate setter for review free of charge from Innovations By Chance but all opinions stated are my own.