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SHORT REPORT: Griddle Me This!

Four things to know about griddles.

By: Janice Cha

08/01/2011

When you’re shopping for a new griddle, it pays to know what’s what in griddle-land. As with cars, you can end up with an econo-type griddle, a more comfy midscale, or a top of the line Ferrari-type griddle for when you require both speed and efficiency.

 We grilled three manufacturers to help you make a more educated choice. This being a “short” report, we’ve limited the scope to conventional gas and electric griddles, which saves units powered by infrared or steam for another, more specific article.

Researching the best griddle for your operation should include size, surface type and temperature-control considerations.

Size The Day

Griddles range from 18” to 84” in width, depending on supplier. The top selling widths tend to be 36” and 48”, say the suppliers we checked with. Of course, the ideal griddle size depends on your menu, number of seats and estimated volume. If griddles are central to your menu, consider whether a single large griddle or two smaller griddles might work best.

“Some chain restaurants buy griddles in pairs in order to optimize work flow—say, for appetizers on one side, entrees on the other,” says one maker.

Energy efficiency is another reason for buying two griddles. “Say an operator needs 6’ of griddle to keep up with demand, but traffic flow ranges from slow to crazy. If he buys a 4’ unit and a 2’ unit and only fires up the smaller griddle at peak times, he’ll save a lot of money on the gas bill,” says another of our griddle gurus.

If your floorplan permits only one large griddle, consider models that feature temperature zones.

Carbon, Stainless Or Chrome—Oh My!

After size, the type of surface is the next big decision. The leading contenders are carbon steel, which accounts for some 95% of the griddle market; chrome, at about 4% of the market; and stainless steel, about 1% of the market. Griddle-surface thickness ranges from ½” to ¾” to 1”. In general, the thicker the surface, the better the heat transfer and retention.

Carbon steel griddles are relatively inexpensive and readily available. Their drawbacks lie in carbon steel’s natural “porosity.” Microscopic holes in the surface make these griddles time-consuming to keep clean and properly seasoned. If they’re not handled right, you end up with a dirty-looking surface that transfers flavor between foods.

Chrome-surfaced griddles can be considered the Ferraris of the market. They feature a crowd-pleasing mirrored surface so smooth that it’s naturally non-stick. They also tend to heat more evenly and retain heat better while radiating less energy into the air. Chrome’s non-stick properties also mean your kitchen clean-up crew will finish significantly more quickly each evening—a labor-saving aspect that will help offset the higher purchase price.

As with any fancy car, however, chrome griddles must be treated with care. If the chrome surface gets gouged to the steel below, “it’s trashed—there’s no recovery,” our experts say. Chrome griddles demand the use of manufacturer-approved tools and cleaning methods to protect your investment.

Stainless steel-surfaced griddles, typically made of 304-grade steel, feature the low porosity, the polished finish, the even heating and almost the same cleanability of chrome surfaces, but at a lower price than chrome. And since stainless steel resists impact and scratches, surface damage is less of an issue.

Heat Controls, Thermostats, Energy

Griddle controls come in three flavors (not including manual): modulating, snap-action and solid-state. And all are partnered with thermostats to control temperatures and energy input.

Modulating controls, a.k.a. throttling thermostatic controls, provide the least temperature precision of the three. When the griddle hits set temperature, the flame in a gas model, for example, is reduced to a “low bypass setting,” at about 4,000 Btu. “In these systems we often see temperature ‘creep’ (when there’s no load on the griddle) of up to 75°F to 100°F/hour since the burner can only be turned down, not off,” one of our factory contacts says.   

Snap-action controls, in which burners are either on or off, offer ±15ºF variance from set point for higher precision. Solid state controls are the Ferrari of the bunch. With these, an electronic probe sends signals to a circuit board to maintain temps within 2ºF of set point.

All controls work in conjunction with thermostats, which can be mounted to the bottom of the grill plate (as with modulating or snap-action controls), or for better accuracy, embedded into the grill plate (as with some snap-action and all solid-state controls). Speaking of thermostats, remember that you’ll get more precise temperature control when the griddle’s thermostats are placed every 12” as opposed to every 18” or 24”.

Finally, avoid comparing griddles by firepower. Not only does the total Btu input depend on the number of burners-per-foot, the unit’s heating efficiency will differ based on the surface thickness and material. If you want to compare more accurately, ask manufacturers about the unit’s efficiency, or how much energy it takes to keep the surface at temperature. Most griddles are about 35% efficient, while the high-end models push past 40% efficiency. Look for Energy Star-rated models.

“Don’t buy a Hummer-type gas-guzzler when a Prius-type griddle will get the job done,” our experts advise.

And as you browse spec sheets, remember that information NOT stated on the pages is as important as what IS stated. “Do your homework, talk to manufacturers and equipment reps and understand exactly what you are purchasing,” our experts agree. “You are the one that will have to live with your griddle decision.”

 


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