First of all, let's get one thing straight. This item, and ceramic items like it sold by some manufacturers of kamado-style cookers are called plate setters. Not place setters. Plate setters. Why? Because they are actually special items of kiln furniture used in the ceramic industry during kiln firing of items like (wait for it!) plates. Some time ago, Big Green Egg discovered that a plate setter made a great barrier for indirect cooking in their cookers, and could also be used to hold a pizza stone at the level of the cooker opening. (By the way, Big Green Egg has taken to referring to their plate setters by the somewhat obfuscatious name of "convEGGtor".)
So what's the big deal here? The big deal is that ceramic plate setters have been known to have their legs break off if you aren't careful in handling them. Obviously, a cast iron plate setter is going to be able to take quite a bit more abuse before you manage to crack or break one. The other interesting feature of a cast iron plate setter is that you can obviously use it as a cast iron cooking surface. Let's start out by showing you how it arrives when shipped to your house!
Compared To A BGE Plate Setter
Next, let's compare it to the BGE plate setter. (We would like to thank Brian at Firehouse Casual Living in Raleigh, NC for loaning us a brand new plate setter for these photos.)
You can see the differences in dimensions in the following photos. As far as the weight goes, the ceramic plate setter weighs about 9 pounds, 10 ounces. The cast iron plate setter exceeded the 11 pound limit of our scale, but we'd guess it is between 12 and 13 pounds.
A Few Words About Temperature
How does the cast iron affect the temperature of the cooker around it? We did a couple of things to see how the cast iron plate setter differed from the ceramic model.
First of all, cast iron has greater thermal conductivity than ceramic. Simply put, the cast iron plate setter heats up faster than the ceramic plate setter. But then what? Does it get hotter? What about the temperature above the plate setter on the grid when you use it feet up for an indirect cook?
We heated up the large BGE to 400 degrees and let it stabilize. We then put a cold plate setter in and measured the temperature of the plate setter at 2-minute intervals. Here's what happened:
As you can see:
Using The Plate Setter As A Cooking Surface
Although this should be obvious, if you intend to use the plate setter as a cooking surface, you will find that the ceramic plate setter will behave much like a ceramic pizza stone sitting on a grid, while the cast iron plate setter will behave like a cast iron pan or griddle sitting on a grid. Here are some photos of different foods cooking on the cast iron plate setter:
Using Plate Setter For Indirect Cooking
Next, here's our Easter dinner being prepared. We wrapped the plate setter with foil to keep it nice for now, placed it in the cooker legs up, added a grate on top of the legs, and then cooked the stuffed leg of lamb indirect. We have done this specific type of cook a number of times, and we can't say that using the cast iron plate setter was any different than using the ceramic plate setter.
And one other thing to note about using the cast iron plate setter for indirect cooking. Check out the ridges on the underside of the plate setter:
Those ridges will keep a drip elevated above the hot iron surface and help to prevent drippings from the food above from burning. This was called to our attention by Nature Boy (a.k.a. Chris Capell) of Dizzy Pig BBQ. He roasted a chicken with the plate setter legs up, a drip pan sitting on the ridges, a grate on the legs of the plate setter and finally a chicken on the grate. He reports that the drippings did not burn and would have been perfect for gravy.
Using Cast Iron In Charcoal Cookers
When we posted a teaser on our Facebook page about this item, we got some comments indicating some skepticism about using cast iron for a plate setter, and some worry about cast iron cracking under high heat. We're not exactly sure where this comes from since Big Green Egg and Primo both make cast iron grates and griddles for their cookers. Primo even has a cast iron fire divider that sits down in the fire. Posts to online forums by people using their cast iron griddles and pans in kamado-style cookers are legion. In addition, there are companies like Craycort, Camp Chef and Lodge all make cast iron items for use in grilling and outdoor cooking. We have done our share of cooking with cast iron in our Big Green Egg large cooker, including this Flank Steak Fajita dish:
We asked the manufacturer about this and he indicated that high temperatures won't hurt the plate setter. It is made from the same materials as a major brand of cast iron cookware. With over 1,200 cast iron plate setters sold, none have cracked from high heat. The only worry with cast iron should be thermal shock, i.e., rapid changes in temperature, asssuming reasonable care is taken in using the plate setter. So, do not place a cold plate setter in a very hot cooker. (We have twice placed ours into a cooker heated to 400° F without trouble.) Also, do not take a hot plate setter and try to cool it down with water or set it down in some snow.
We ran a little high temperature test to see what would happen if we were to try to use the plate setter in a high temperature pizza cook, i.e. legs down and the fire as hot as it can go. As you can see in the following photos, we got the cooker up to 680° F.
We left it there for about 10 minutes, then lifted the dome to get a quick temperature reading off the plate setter itself. As you can see, it was around 910° F. You can see the plate setter then after it cooled down in the final photo. (And just as a matter of curiosity on an unrelated topic, you can more or less see the nature of the hot spot of the fire being located towards the rear of the cooker, and not dead center.)
Frankly, we love this cast iron plate setter! Short of flinging it onto a hard surface, the odds of breaking a leg off of this plate setter are pretty remote. Show it a little respect as regards thermal shock and this plate setter should last a long time. And then, of course, there is the added benefit of a built in cast iron grilling surface. We expect that we will be using this plate setter almost exlusively from now on.
If you are interested, there is the model we reviewed for 18" cookers like the large Big Green Egg. There is also a model available for 24" cookers like the Big Green Egg XL and the Kamado Joe BigJoe. You can find them at various ceramic grill dealers, or you can buy the 18" Cast Iron Plate Setter or buy the 24" Cast Iron Plate Setter from Amazon and support our web site.
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