Foodservice Equipment Reports

Griddle Care 101

When it comes to griddles, beware overzealous cleaning.

“We find that staffers want to take the easy way out when it comes to griddle cleaning, and they’re using oven-cleaning products that are too aggressive and not food rated,” says Joe Pierce, president and owner of Pierce Parts & Service in Macon, Ga. Keeping your griddle in good condition is a matter of cleaning
the surface properly and regularly plus monitoring grease troughs, thermostats and flame performance. That’s just about it, in a nutshell. But you’d be surprised how few people do it.

Carbon Steel Surface Maintenance

We’ll start with cleaning carbon steel surfaces because they’re the most common. “We get calls from operators saying their product is sticking too much, or there’s a burning smell that’s not from food,” Pierce says. The most common cause of these calls is cleaning techniques that are too aggressive for carbon steel.

The best carbon steel cleaning product is the simple grill brick. “Like a pumice stone, the brick lets you remove the top layers of carbon while leaving behind just enough to fill the porous surface of the steel. That layer acts as a slight insulator between food and steel and provides the nonstick properties of a well-seasoned iron cooking surface,” Pierce says.

Food sticks hard to the surface when a “griddle has been cleaned down to the bare steel, which happens when you use oven-cleaning chemicals or soap-infused steel wool pads, both of which are bad news for griddles,” Pierce says.

If your staff has overcleaned, Pierce recommends reseasoning the surface. For a 4’ griddle, “use a spatula to spread about a cup of vegetable oil and a handful of salt across the surface, then set the griddle controls for 350°F. As the griddle heats, the oil carbonizes and the salt helps make a ‘soup’ that coats the entire surface,” Pierce says. After about 10 mins., turn off the heat, scrape off excess oil and then rub the remaining oil away with a towel. A faint oily sheen will be left behind. “Examine the surface, and if you missed any areas, repeat,” Pierce says.

Cooling with ice is another common problem. “Staffers often throw ice on the hot surface to try to cool it faster,” Pierce says, “but such extreme temperature changes cause warping, which weakens the welds and leads to hairline cracks that let grease drip down the back.”

When summoned for such service calls, “We raise the surface and use mirrors and flashlights to determine the source of the leak plus a magnifying glass to show the customer the cracks,” Pierce says. Repairing this kind of avoidable problem involves expensive rewelding.

Chrome, Stainless Surfaces

Chrome and stainless steel are the higher ends of the griddle world. They feature smooth surfaces and nonstick properties that make griddling an easier job. But both surfaces are vulnerable to gouges from the wrong implements or cleaning practices. For chrome plating in particular: “If you break through the chrome surface, the griddle’s nonstick properties are ruined,” Pierce cautions.

“Food will always stick at that spot.” On the other hand, the smooth surfaces of chrome and stainless make cleaning faster. For both, “All you need is 5 mins. with soap, water and a damp rag,” Pierce says. In the event of a tough spot,
a “green scrubbing pad designed for nonstick surfaces should do
the trick.”

Checking The Undercarriage

You’ll also want to pay attention to your griddle’s grease trough, leveling, thermostat, flame and gas pressure.

Grease troughs, which should be emptied as needed throughout each shift, are probably the most abused part of the griddle. “Workers wait too long to empty them, they overflow and the grease runs underneath and causes problems,” Pierce says.

Leveling—or the lack thereof—is the second most common issue. “People complain that their grease is running off to the side. Well, grills sit atop a grill stand or refrigerated cabinet, both of which will begin to sag or drop over time,” Pierce says. The solution is as simple as re-leveling the griddle stand as needed.

Thermostats, which are subject to repeated extreme temperature shifts, will eventually fail over time. You may notice that the griddle is cooking faster or slower than it had in the past. “Nothing you can do will prevent this,” Pierce says, and you’ll need a service agent to diagnose and repair.

The flame should be eyeballed every week to make sure it’s burning “blue with a yellow tip,” Pierce says. “If it’s burning mostly yellow, you’ve got a combustion problem that can lead to soot buildup and further problems.”

Gas pressure will need to be checked from time to time too—especially if you add another gas cooking appliance to the line or change your kitchen equipment footprint. Have your service agent measure and readjust the pressure at each piece. If the gas flow is too low or too high, cooking performance will suffer.

“We get calls on this all the time,” Pierce says. “Once they’re set up, grills are one of the most reliable pieces of kitchen equipment,” Pierce says. “But they can also become one of your biggest nightmares if you fail to follow basic maintenance steps.”

FER thanks the Commercial Food Equipment Service Association for its
help with this story.

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