Foodservice Equipment Reports

FER FOCUS: Griddle Me This

The griddle is about as ubiquitous a piece of equipment in foodservice kitchens as, well, a refrigerator or stove. Practically anything you can cook in a pan—from eggs and pancakes at breakfast to grilled sandwiches and burgers at lunch to dinner entrees—you can cook on a flat top. Unlike a stove, however, once your employees fire up the griddle, it’s on all day, sending a lot of heat and wasted energy up the hood. But modern gas griddles are more energy efficient and perform better than ever before.

Nearly 25 years have passed since Pacific Gas & Electric’s Food Service Technology Center, San Ramon, Calif., developed a standardized test method for griddles. Adopted by ASTM International in 1990, test method ASTM F1275 measures not only a griddle’s energy use at idle and under full-load conditions, but also its throughput. With ASTM’s blessing, manufacturers finally could get a clear picture of how much food their models could produce and at what efficiency levels.

But although FSTC refined and revised the test method twice—in 1995 and 1999—you have to fast forward a decade before anyone cared enough to test a unit in what was considered a commodity segment. One manufacturer, AccuTemp, introduced and tested an electric steam griddle in 1998 and a gas version of it in 2002, setting a bar for efficiency that’s yet to be beat. By 2005, the California Energy Commission was pushing for an energy-efficient appliance-rebate program.

Even so, you have to jump ahead nearly another 10 years before the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star voluntary program included griddles, giving manufacturers an incentive to test broadly. Energy Star specs were released in 2009 and revised for electric griddles in 2011. To qualify as an Energy Star griddle, gas equipment must have cooking energy efficiency 38% and a normalized idle energy rate 2,650 Btu per hour per square foot. The good news is that by improving griddles’ energy efficiency to meet Energy Star specs, manufacturers also have improved their performance.

How They Did It

Manufacturers employ a number of technological and engineering approaches to reduce energy consumption in griddles.

Burners. Because the idea is to efficiently transfer heat to a flat cooking surface, manufacturers consider the heat source itself, as you might expect. Some use more efficient burners, such as venturi-style stainless burners that maximize the flow of the air and gas mixture to the burner. Burner coverage also is important; griddle makers have designed burners to spread heat to as much of the griddle plate as possible. Most use U-shaped burners and position one every 12 inches. One maker claims it has a burner for every 6 inches of griddle and controls for every 12 inches.

AccuTemp doesn’t heat the cook plate with a gas flame at all, but rather uses infrared burners to generate steam, which is injected into a hermetically sealed vacuum chamber beneath the griddle plate, heating it evenly (because vapor goes everywhere) and efficiently. The vacuum chamber superheats steam to temperatures up to 400˚F.

Griddle plates. Obviously, the faster you transfer heat to the cooking surface, the faster it transfers heat to the food. Manufacturers typically take one of two routes, using either highly reflective materials, such as polished stainless and chrome plating, or highly conductive “composite” materials in the plate.

Manufacturers fashion composite plates with two or more types of metal for quick heating and recovery, durability and cleanability. Vulcan, for example, sandwiches a plate of aluminum between two laminate sheets of stainless. Aluminum heats more quickly and evenly, and stainless is tougher and easier to clean. Anets and MagiKitch'n dot the bottom of the griddle plate on some of their models with a pattern of copper studs. The highly conductive copper transfers heat to spots not reached directly by burner flames.

Note, too, that the thicker the griddle plate, the better it retains heat. Better griddle models will sport 1-inch-thick plates; less expensive models achieve some cost savings by using a 3/4-inch plate. In the long run, you’ll end up paying the difference either in higher utility bills and/or a somewhat shorter griddle life cycle.

Thermostatic controls. Instead of only a few settings (low, medium, high) or a control knob that adjusts a flame you can’t see, many modern griddle models have controls that can be set to specific temperatures, typically for each 12-inch width of griddle. Solid-state controls more accurately monitor griddle temperature, modulating burners only when necessary, resulting in greater efficiency. Many models, however, still use less expensive “snap action” controls that turn burners on or off without modulation based on the electrical signal received from the thermostat.

Most manufacturers now use either resistance temperature detectors (RTDs) or thermocouples instead of bulb and capillary tube or bi-metallic thermometers to detect griddle plate temperature because they’re faster, more durable and more easily connected to computer chips that regulate temperature. Placement of these sensing devices also can improve performance and efficiency, so some manufacturers have not only added more RTDs or thermocouples but also have placed them strategically. Sensors embedded in the cooking plate also will be closer to the surface and provide a more accurate surface-temperature reading than those mounted on the bottom of the plate.

What To Look For

As with any piece of kitchen equipment, those made with heavy-duty materials tend to last the longest. Griddles usually have the longest life of almost any piece of cooking equipment you can own, and the more solidly constructed it is, the more likely you’ll get years of trouble-free service.

Griddle surface. Along with thickness, the type of material used for the griddle surface affects performance as well as ease of use and equipment life. Most standard and economy griddles feature mild-steel cooking plates. While durable, mild steel is relatively porous compared with other surface types; foods stick more easily, making the griddle difficult to clean.

Less common is polished stainless. More reflective and less porous than mild steel, polished stainless is easier to clean and pretty durable. 

Most manufacturers offer the option of a chrome griddle surface on many models. Chrome-plated griddles are the smoothest of all cooking surfaces, so they’re relatively nonstick and a breeze to clean at the end of the day. Chrome-plated griddles are more expensive because the chrome process is time and labor intensive, but they save on labor in taking less time to clean and last a long time.

Construction. A griddle’s front, sides, splash guards, grease trough and drawer or drip tray—the parts that come most into play during cooking and cleaning—should be fabricated from stainless. Manufacturers often use aluminized or galvanized steel for bottoms and backs. Frames should be fully welded aluminized steel, and a splash guard’s entire seam should be welded, not spot welded.

Splash guards. Heights vary from one manufacturer to another: Some range from 3-4 inches on the sides and back; one make features a 7-inch tapered back splash guard. Higher is safer and cleaner. 

Grease trough and drip drawer. Most manufacturers design griddles with a grease trough in front, although at least one make and model locates it along the side. Troughs are typically about an inch deep, but width varies dramatically from one make to another, ranging from 2-4 inches. Wider troughs may be easier to clean, but also may allow a little less surface area on which to cook. Check the specs if you’re concerned about production capacity and don’t have the space for a bigger griddle.

Drip containers should be easy to remove and have a fairly sizeable capacity able to handle excess grease produced throughout the day.

Make sure the drain or chute from the trough to the drip container is easily accessible and big enough to handle large amounts of excess grease when cooks scrape the griddle top between batches of food. If chutes are difficult to access, they take longer to clean.

Savings

The EPA estimates that a gas griddle carrying its Energy Star logo can save you more than $100 per year on utilities or about $1,100 and 12,000 Btu over its average lifespan. Manufacturers say that the payback on a slightly more expensive Energy Star-rated griddle compared with a standard griddle is about 18 months, but what you gain in performance and potential labor savings make choosing a more efficient griddle a smart choice. The life-cycle cost, they say, far outweighs the small additional upfront cost.

Note that although some griddles may not have an Energy Star rating, they may meet the specs and qualify for rebates from utilities in many locations. For a list of Energy Star-rated griddles, check out 1.usa.gov/ScrceV. For a list of griddles that qualify for rebates, see bit.ly/ScrliC.



Sidebar:

Maintain Your Investment

Griddles can last 15 or 20 years with little or no trouble if you take proper care to keep them cleaned and maintained. Service reps tell horror stories of employees pouring ice on a hot griddle to clean it at the end of the day. (In one case, the rapid change in temperature cracked the weld between the cooking plate and the back splash guard so the griddle constantly dripped grease onto the inner workings when the griddle heated up. [FER Back Story, April 2013, p. 64.])

Cleaning. For griddles with mild-steel surfaces, employees need to be taught how to use a grill brick. While the griddle is still warm, liberally coat the surface with cooking oil and scrub with the grill brick, working with the grain, until cooked-on food and carbon is loosened. Scrape the dirty oil into the grease trough and repeat until the surface is clean. Wipe away any excess with a rag. Once a week, let the griddle cool completely and clean with a food-grade degreaser.

For griddles with polished-stainless or chrome finishes, let the cook surface cool somewhat. While still warm, clean with water and a mild detergent, scrubbing with a palmetto or wood-bristle brush. Do not use metal brushes or scouring pads on chrome. Use a clean wet towel to rinse away the soap and wipe with a sanitizing rinse. Once a week, polish the surface with chrome polish provided by the manufacturer.

Clean the sides and front as you would your other stainless equipment.

Maintenance. Service as often as the manufacturer recommends to keep burners clean and working efficiently.

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