Maintenance: Griddle Me This

Downtime on your griddle is no laughing matter. Here, technicians share some handy pointers and solutions.

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Christopher Lipka, of Gary's East Coast Service in Oxford, Conn., works on a griddle. Photo Courtesy of Gary's East Coast Service.

Grills and griddles don’t have a lot of parts that wear out. In fact, the simplicity and versatility this equipment offers makes them popular in a variety of restaurants. When a problem does happen, downtime on a grill or griddle can quickly lead to major problems for a busy kitchen.

Sidestep issues with these expert tips and tricks:

HANDLE KNOBS WITH CARE. “It is very common for the knobs and the shaft to break off and then [the cook is] down at least one zone because they can’t turn it on, or sometimes it gets stuck on so they have to shut the whole unit down,” says Christopher Lipka, a CFESA certified master technician with Gary’s East Coast Service in Oxford, Conn.

For a simple problem like a broken knob, Lipka says the kitchen can temporarily operate a griddle with one zone down. In the event of a gas leak from a broken valve stem, the entire unit would be down anywhere from a few days to more than a week before it could be properly serviced. That downtime could cost the restaurant thousands in revenue and repairs.

Lipka also says he’s seen an increase in service calls due to valve stems that are accidentally damaged after the outer knob is struck by a metal service cart. He advises kitchen managers to have a guard installed on the griddle to protect the knobs. In the event that a valve breaks and is leaking gas, a service tech can install a pipe plug to prevent a gas leak until the valve is replaced.

Cliff Kolinger, a technician with EMR in Salisbury, Md., says neglect is another cause of valve failure. He explained that improper cleaning can make the knob hard to turn.

“Over time, the grease builds up and dries out, which makes the valve hard to turn,” Kolinger says. “So, [the cook] will grab a pair of pliers and snap the valve off.” Instead of the knob turning, the gas valve breaks, which can cause a gas leak.

Kolinger says a technician can take the valve apart, clean and lubricate it, and put it back together. This takes just a few hours, while replacing a broken valve is likely to take at least two days to source the correct parts. Kitchen managers should schedule a valve cleaning when the knobs begin to get sticky.

AVOID THIS COMMON CLEANING SHORTCUT. A common method many kitchens use to clean a gas grill at the end of the night is to place a metal cookie sheet over the grates and crank the heat to high to burn off leftover food.

Kolinger says that excess heat collecting at the front of the unit can cause problems, recalling one service call where the customer said their knobs were melting.

“I just happened to be fortunate enough to see the cooks [use the sheet pan method], because otherwise there is no reason for that to happen,” Kolinger says.

He recommends using a grill brush to keep grates clean. He added that more common than melting knobs is cast iron grill grates that warp from excessive heat.

MAKE A PLANNED MAINTENANCE SCHEDULE AND STICK TO IT. Michael Harris-Warren, owner of Harris Warren Commercial Kitchen Service in Cape Cod, Mass., says operators should build a relationship with their service providers. He recommends scheduling a technician several times a year to check equipment.

He says regular services by technicians ensure that burners are clean and working efficiently, and that gas valves are clean and in good shape. This routine attention can catch early signs of significant problems.

All three technicians we spoke with say that one of the most important things a kitchen manager can do is talk to the cooks. Cooks have a tendency to work around equipment that isn’t functioning correctly, which can cause problems if left undetected for too long. The result could be equipment downtime, a major cooking fire or even injuries.

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