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February 2002 [updated March 2003]
By Candy Townsend with Jennifer Hicks
SPECIAL REPORT: Honing Your Approach To Griddles

There’s more to spec’ing gas griddles than meets the eye. Anybody know how many burner options are out there? How about thermostat sensors—know where they go? Read on.

Hold up now; don’t turn this page, thinking you already know pretty much all you need to know about griddles. They may be found in nearly every operation, and their straightforward functionality may not turn heads, but what griddles lack in pizzazz they far exceed in versatility. Eggs, hash, burgers, tortillas, veggies—you can griddle it all, and much more.

More importantly, there’s more to understand when you’re spec’ing griddles than you might suspect. Sure, you can buy an off-the-shelf model with, say, a 1” polished steel plate and thermostatic control. But do you know most suppliers offer either a 1” or a 3/4” plate, and do you know why? And how many types of thermostatic control are there, anyway?

That’s where this story comes in, and we’ll get to those finer details in a moment. The typical griddle comes in gas or electric, of course, but here we’ve focused on gas units alone. (Electric griddles will get their turn in the spotlight in a future story.)

And whether you’re looking for freestanding or countertop gas models, there’s a huge field of suppliers. We found 20 U.S. manufacturers of the gas versions and listed them all in the “For More Information” box at the end of the story. But practical matters forced us to pare specs and photos to 15 of the leading lines.

So our supplier lineup for this story includes, alphabetically, American Range, Anetsberger Bros., APW Wyott Foodservice Equipment, Bakers Pride, Garland Group, Imperial Commercial Cooking Equipment, Keating of Chicago, Lang Mfg., Montague Co., Rankin-Delux, Southbend, Star Mfg., Vulcan-Hart Co., Wells Mfg. and Wolf Range Co. We feature photos and specs for all, although the story itself only covers the basic spec issues. We also briefly review two unique griddle alternatives that generate steam to cook. You’ll find steam griddles from AccuTemp Products and Thermodyne Foodservice Products referenced on page 36.

If you’re purchasing replacement griddles, you’ve already got a good idea of what size units you need for your stores. If not, keep in mind that griddles typically come in widths of 24”, 36”, 48”, 60” and 72”, and even 84”, and that size plays a part in determining price. You can expect to pay anywhere from $700 to $1,100—that’s actual street price—for a freestanding 24” basic griddle sporting manual heat control. Countertop models will cost a bit less.

Meanwhile, upgrades, such as a chrome-plated surface or thermostatic controls, and options—griddle stand, extra-deep troughs, cutting boards, plate shelves, belly bars and any customization—will run you extra. Thus a fully loaded 72” model might run in the $4,000 to $5,000 range.

One Foot, Two Foot, Three Foot, Blue Foot
So what size griddle should you be looking for? That’s a tough one, and you’ll need more than Seussian computations to figure the answer. Start by identifying your peak business hour. During that period, what volume of menu items do you have to produce? If you want to go after this like a mad scientist, you can get into some very complicated calculations, figuring ratios of pancakes to bacon, burgers and so on, and figuring cook cycles per hour for each.

Or you can do a rough estimate. Here’s one foodservice consultant’s rule-of-thumb formula: Take whichever product you’ll be cooking most. Estimate how many per hour you’ll need at peak. Then figure out how many cook cycles per hour for that item, which will tell you how many loads you can produce per hour. Once you know how many pieces and how many loads, you’ll know how big each load has to be. Then just figure out how much space that load will require, and you’ve got a rough answer.

For example, say your most-commonly needed griddled item is the time-honored hamburger. In round numbers, say you’ll need 300 per hour, at an average cook time of maybe five minutes, including load and unload.

Doing the math, that works out to 12 loads per hour of 25 burgers each. If each burger is 4” in diameter, that’s nine per square foot (if you space them perfectly, which won’t happen). So 25 burgers divided by nine per square foot is 2.77 sq. ft. Add in a margin for error, so make it a minimum of 3 sq. ft., maybe a little more. A 24” model that’s 22” or 24” deep should do it. If your stores feature more complicated and varied menus, your supplier should be able to guide you through the spec process.

Bone Up On Burners
With the sizing question settled, turn your focus to burner type and placement, as well as heat controls. Griddle burners come in two broad categories, atmospheric and infrared. Ordinarily burners are placed one per foot of griddle surface. The atmospheric burner is by far the most common type sold, and this style can be made of cast iron, aluminized steel or stainless steel.

While cast iron is the cheapest material in the bunch, its weight makes it the least used metal for griddle burners. Aluminized steel, which costs more than cast iron, appears in most standard, off-the-shelf griddles in the form of U-shaped burners. Finally, stainless steel burners usually come custom ordered in a straight burner style. (Note: The exception to this rule, American Range, offers stainless U burners.)

And why would you opt for a customized straight burner style? By design, a single straight burner provides heat for half the area that a U-shaped burner does. Your standard 24” griddle will offer two U-shaped burners, or one burner every 12”, while your customized 24” griddle will boast four straight burners. The advantage? Four straight burners give you four independently controlled heat zones for more precise targeting of different surface areas for different food products. Hence the higher price.

Meanwhile, the up-and-coming infrared burner is designed so that combustion takes place within a ceramic housing, so you only see a red glow, not a flame. Infrareds offer energy advantages, and there’s another plus as well: By eliminating the flame from burning up against the bottom of the griddle plate, you’ll put the kibosh on carbonizing, a culprit in diminished plate efficiency.

Burner Btu options vary by manufacturer, of course. Going back to a basic 24” model with U-shaped burners, you can find Btu ranges from 20,000 to 30,000 per burner. How much you’ll need is determined in part by what you’re cooking. Tossing frozen product on the griddle plate, for example, will kill your surface temp regardless of Btu rating, but all other things being equal, more Btu power should help cut your recovery time.

Who Turned Up The Heat?
When it comes to controlling heat, you’ve got several options. You can start, of course, with basic manual control, which allows you to adjust your flame and heat within an infinite range of temperatures as you work. Manual control is ideal for ops that need immediate control over the flame—for example, in Mexican restaurants where light grilling of tortillas and veggies requires careful monitoring.

If you want consistent heat and you don’t want to worry about monitoring it yourself, spring for thermostatic control. Thermostats can be more complicated than we’re detailing here, but these are the basics:

First, there’s the hydraulic modulating thermostat. You set your temp at a certain level—say, 350
ºF—and the thermostat monitors the griddle plate temps and adjusts the burner flame to maintain 350ºF within ±15ºF to ±20 ºF.

Moving on up, there’s the snap-action thermostat, which is an electronic analog thermostat. The thermostat turns on and maintains the flame, but within an even smaller variance, perhaps ±7ºF to ±10ºF. This is where the term “snap action” comes into play, as this type snaps into action more quickly than the hydraulic modulating thermostat.

Beyond that, there’s the more expensive solid-state thermostat, which maintains within ±2
º;F to ±5 ºF, on average.

Now, thermostats need sensors to do their jobs, so think about sensor placement. The basic thermostat’s sensors typically rest within V-shaped plates that are mounted to the underside of the griddle plate. Thus with this design the sensors do not touch the griddle plate but do sense heat coming off of it.

Snap-action griddles feature machined channels running through the plate itself. These channels house sensors that are placed so they can be easily removed if necessary. This design places the sensors up higher than those nestled below in V plates. Thus, when cold products hit the plate and temps drop from the top down, the sensors within the plate will be able to react more quickly than the sensors mounted beneath the plate.

Also, look into the number of thermostats your supplier offers compared with the number of burners in the griddle. For example, you might see one 48” griddle sold with four standard thermostats, one per foot of griddle, while another 48” model sells three standard thermostats with a paid option to add a fourth. A ratio of one thermostat per burner will give you the best sensor coverage and thus the best heat control.

Griddle Surfaces That Make Sense
Next, you’ll need to think about your griddle plate. Since plates typically come in 3/4” and 1” thicknesses, you’d be right to ask how thick your griddling surface actually needs to be. The thicker the plate, the more heat it retains, providing more consistent heat over the whole surface. So plates that are 1” thick hold heat well and thus are better able to efficiently handle frozen product. But 1” plates also take longer to heat up in the first place, and they take longer to get back up to temperature.

More than half the suppliers here offer a 1”-thick plate as standard, while the others offer a standard 3/4” plate and a 1” as optional. Among griddles for more snack-oriented menus, you may even find plates of 1/2” thickness, but you’ll likely encounter greater temp fluctuations with these thinner versions.

Perhaps even more important than thickness is the actual material of the plate. Suppliers offer several types of uncoated steel as well as an optional chrome-plated surface. For standard plates, your choices are low-carbon steel, nickel steel and stainless steel. Low-carbon steel offers heat capacity that’s technically higher than stainless (although experts debate whether the advantage is measurable in griddle recovery). Nickel steel, with its high nickel content, more readily resists rusting and other corrosion. Stainless steel is specified least often.

Skipping over to chrome, this uptown option provides several benefits. Chrome retains heat well, so your kitchen may be cooler with less heat migrating off the griddle. Chrome also prevents sticking and makes cleaning easier. And it’s a pricey option for this reason: To apply chrome manufacturers must grind the steel plate to an even smoother surface than they would with a standard plate, and then liquid chrome is electrostatically applied. So more attention to plate prep boosts your cost.

Also important: You need to train staffers to be careful with chrome. You can use steel utensils, but if you’ve got a cook who loves to dice and chop on the surface, chrome’s not for you. Chip it and you’re done for. And you must clean chrome with non-abrasive products.

Evenness Is Everything
Cold spots are the enemy of your food, and you’ll get them if your Btu power isn’t up to snuff—remember to go higher with a lot of frozen product—or your unit isn’t deep enough to withstand normal drafts. But remember that a perfectly designed griddle can develop cold spots due to non-mechanical factors.

If a hood fan draws too much heat out of the back of the unit your plate won’t heat evenly. And if you place your griddle near receiving, the constant opening and closing of the door can suck the heat right out of your plate. Suppliers handle such difficulties by adding internal baffles or draft averters.

And that brings us to maintenance. Manufacturers recommend using water or ice to clean your plate’s surface between loads, plus a good quality scraper to remove excess product. Be sure your grease trough is large enough for the capacity of the griddle so there’s no overflow, and check often for spills and leaks.

At the end of the day, use a good commercial cleaner to get down to the metal on griddle plates without a chrome surface, then re-season the surface by applying a light coating of oil and running the griddle at 350ºF for about 20 minutes before wiping down. For chrome, remember to use non-abrasive cleaners.

While we’ve touched on the basics here, there’s plenty more to learn about griddles before you buy. Be sure to carefully compare specs from all of the manufacturers, and request results from field or third-party tests.

Looking for more info on griddles? Check out these companies.
AccuTemp Products
American Range
Anetsberger Bros.
APW Wyott Foodservice Equipment
Baker's Pride Oven Co.
Dynamic Cooking Systems
Garland Group/Enodis
Imperial Commercial Cooking Equipment
Jade Range/Maytag
Keating of Chicago
Lang Mfg.
Montague Co.
Rankin-Delux
Southbend/Middleby
Star Mfg.
Taylor Co.
Thermodyne Foodservice Products
Vulcan-Hart Co.
Wells Mfg.
Wolf Range Co.

 

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