Griddle me this

The griddle—long the workhorse of interstate truck stops and fast-food burger stands—is quietly finding its way into more restaurants up and down the luxury scale. Precise temperature controls, the elimination of additional pots and pans to scrub and newer heavy-duty materials have broken the chains that held it back as a diner mainstay and made it into a must-have piece of equipment for every kitchen. Today’s griddles are more than a simple piece of flat metal placed over high heat.

Vulcan’s new RRG series (rapid recovery) of griddles boasts higher productivity through the use of a composite griddle plate. This material allows the griddle to draw heat from below up through the plate and transfer to food at the surface much faster than traditional 1-inch carbon-steel plates that are used in most griddles. “A 36-inch RRG griddle matches the output of our 48-inch standard griddle,” says Tim Welsh, marketing manager for the griddle and charbroiler division of Vulcan Hart. Since heat is transferred as quickly as possible to the food and not stored as long in the griddle plate, the equipment uses less energy as well and, says Welsh, “ticket times are dropping. An item that was once in the 7½-minute range is down to the 6-minute range.” The RRG’s composite plate has a stainless steel cooking surface that is easier to clean because it’s non-porous (compared to the typical carbon steel) and doesn’t need to be seasoned.

For several years, Lang Manufacturing has been offering a clam-shell griddle to help speed up cooking. As its name suggests, a clam-shell griddle has a top heating element that closes over food on the surface to simultaneously cook the bottom and the top. “Protein is cooked in half the time,” says Dale Chalker, director of sales for Lang Manufacturing. “Since juices tend to flow away from heat, the clam-shell griddle drives them towards the center of the item being cooked, giving a more appetizing and moister finished product.” Lang’s clam-shell griddle, available in gas or electric, uses infrared burners to create a non-contact cooking surface. This allows products with differing thickness to be cooked at the same time because the griddle plate doesn’t actually have to come into contact with the food to cook.

As they prepare for the upcoming release of their own high-performance electric and gas griddles at the end of this year, MagiKitch’n continues to offer its chrome-plated griddles with solid-state thermostats. Solid-state controls offer microprocessor precision to the temperature controls with little lag above or below the thermostat setting. The chrome plating, which is chemically bonded to the griddle plate, offers a reflective surface that helps trap heat in the griddle and prevents it from escaping into the kitchen. It also creates a similar non-porous, smooth surface that more easily releases cooked foods and makes for simpler cleanup. “Another benefit of the chrome plating is reduced flavor migration from one product to the next,” adds Mark Lang, vice president of sales. The non-porous coating doesn’t absorb flavors or residuals, so different types of food can be cooked, one after the other, without worry of flavor transfer. Lang also says that the time saved in cleaning the griddle more than covers the added cost of the chrome-plated option.

What to look for when purchasing a griddle

Plate thickness: Thinner plates tend to have a faster recovery time—a plus when cooking frozen product. However, thinner pieces of steel will distort over time because of the effect of repeated thermal shock on thinner metal. This daily expansion and contraction doesn’t have as much of an effect on thicker, 1-inch griddle plates.

Thermostatic controls: Modulating and snap-action thermostats use mechanical controls to adjust the temperature; these tend to be less precise. Opt for electronic or solid-state controls for more exact and even temperatures across the surface. The advantage is more consistency in the finished product—whether cooking light loads or heavy loads.

Know your product: Fresh product will cook very differently on a griddle as opposed to frozen product. The same goes for proteins over other types of food, such as pancakes or onions. Knowing how components on your menu will respond to being cooked on a griddle will help you select the right one.

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