I also built a barrel stove and started with steam pans.
Partly because of the reasons you cite in your OP, I had a custom flat pan built. See below:
stove 2.jpg pan 1.jpg
The custom pan cost me about $240 I think. I only used it for a year and bought a 2X4 evaporator the next year.
If I had to do it again, I'd probably not have a custom pan made and should have just stuck with the steam pans. I did sell the barrel stove and pan, but didn't get anywhere near my money back. Would have been better to put the $240 into a new evaporator and/or sugar shack expense.
Just my 2 cents.
2013 - 1 tap, one pot on gas stove, a pint of syrup
2014 - 2 taps, 2 pints of syrup
2015 - 4 taps, turkey fryer, 1 gallon of syrup
2016 - 10 taps, new 8x12 sap house, barrel stove, and custom flat pan - 2 gallons of syrup
2017 - Mason 2x4 w/raised flue pan, 240 gal. sap tank, 80 Reds on 5/16 tubing and Lunchbox releaser/pump, 20 sugars on buckets