There are 3 different types of griddles available to the foodservice operator. They are:
The griddle is the workhorse of the fast food industry. Nearly every commercial cooking operation uses griddles of some type.
A griddle is simply a flat metal plate which cooks food by conducting heat directly from the griddle surface to the food product. A thin layer of cooking oil or grease from the cooked item usually separates the food from the griddle surface to keep the food from sticking. Griddles are used to cook a variety of foods including: bacon, eggs, chicken, hamburgers and steak. Some also like to use the hot griddle surface to heat food in a small pan, like melting butter.
Some griddles are equipped with a platen placed a few inches above the griddle surface to provide additional cooking from above. This add-on cooks the top surface of the food by exposing it to radiant heat energy, cooking the food faster and sealing in the juices for improved taste and reduced shrinkage.
Griddles can operate between 200° and 550°F, however, cooking temperatures normally fall between 225° and 375°F. Most units reach their thermostatically controlled cooking temperature in 15 to 30 minutes.
Griddles are usually turned on at the beginning of the cooking day and left on all day. This arrangement wastes significant energy when the unit is only used a small part of the time. This practice is common because griddles take a relatively long time to preheat; it can be impractical to turn off the unit when its not being used. In addition, food service operators like to have the griddle cooking capacity in reserve and so they will rarely turn it off until the end of the cooking period.
Griddle surfaces often develop hot spots and cold spots. Hot spots usually occur near the heat source while cold zones occur in areas on the griddle surface farthest from the heat source. Clearly, food cooks faster in hot zones and may be difficult to control because of the higher heat. Some griddles develop a cold zone around the perimeter, about two inches wide, which while useless for cooking can be used to keep cooked food warm.
An experienced chef knows where the hot and cold zones are and can adjust the cooking approach accordingly. Most griddle operators, especially in fast food restaurants, are not this experienced, and, instead of adjusting cooking times to account for the hot zones and cold zones, they cook everything for the same amount of time. This results in inconsistent quality -- some food is under-cooked while some is over-cooked.
Good griddle design can minimize changes in surface temperature across the griddle and help maintain consistent food quality. These units also reduce the amount of training needed for new griddle operators.
Griddle surfaces should be cleaned regularly. A clean griddle surface offers the most uniform distribution of heat across the griddle surface and operates more efficiently. Plus, a clean griddle keeps the bitter taste of charred food out of the final food product.
The griddle operator should:
- Scrape excess food and fat particles from the surface with a flexible spatula, grill brick or other device after each cooking load.
- Clean and wipe out the grease troughs, remove any stuck-on food and clean the surface with a soft cloth, rubbing with the grain of the metal while the surface is still warm. This should be done at least once a day and more often if the cooking load is heavy.
- The platen on a two-sided griddle can often be much harder to clean. Some models have stainless steel platens which makes cleaning easy. Other designs apply a special coating to the platen surface, like Teflon, to prevent food from sticking. Still other models use disposable, non-stick paper to prevent sticking.
Electric vs. Gas
There are many factors to consider when selecting a griddle: first cost, food preparation productivity, ease of operation and heat generation in the kitchen, as well as the energy source used, electricity or gas. Energy only accounts for 3 to 5 percent of a food service establishment's total costs. While one fuel may be less expensive in a BTU to BTU comparison, the best choice in cooking equipment is the one which minimizes total operating costs, not just energy costs. Features that reduce labor costs or result in higher food-product yield will nearly always outweigh any energy considerations. Make sure that you include all of these factors in any equipment evaluation.
Let's take a closer look at the energy-use issues remembering that comparisons should be made on the basis of similar equipment where only the energy input is being changed. Electric griddles generally offer these benefits:
- More uniform temperature across the surface of the griddle. This uniform temperature distribution makes them easier to operate and produces consistent food quality.
- Thinner griddle plates that use less energy to preheat and preheat in about half the time.
- More efficient operation, that means less heat loss into the kitchen and therefore reduced kitchen cooling costs, and reduced maintenance.
There are essentially two types of griddles, single-sided and double-sided. Single-sided griddles cook food on the bottom only. Double-sided griddles cook food on both sides simultaneously. A griddle can be part of a range top, installed in combination with an oven unit or part of a service counter drop-in unit.
A single-sided griddle can be installed as:
- a built-in unit
- part of a range or cooking center
- a free-standing unit that sits on tubular steel legs
- or mounted on a stainless steel mobile stand.
Heavy duty griddles are usually free-standing. Heavy duty cooking surfaces typically range from 30 to 36 inches deep and up to 72 inches wide. Often, two or more free-standing units are installed side-by-side, or back-to-back.
Counter-top griddles are small, free-standing units, normally located on a countertop or in a counter base. They range from 15 to 24 inches deep, and from 15 to 72 inches in width.
Double-sided griddles grill food from the top and bottom at the same time. They have a large bottom griddle plate and at least one platen on top. Platens press on the food, "sandwiching" it between two hot pieces of metal. This makes it possible to cook food on both sides simultaneously. Stop devices on the platen prevent the food from being crushed. A counter-balanced lift serves to hold each platen in place when raised.
A double-sided, non-contact griddle has a plate on the bottom and at least one platen on top. The difference in a non-contact griddle is that the top platens do not actually contact the food. The "hood" stays about one inch above the food, heating like a broiler. The heat source may be a gas burner, conventional electric elements, quartz lights, or a ceramic infrared burner.
A double-sided griddle cooks food very quickly. For example, 8 to 12 hamburgers cook in roughly 3 minutes. The double-sided, non-contact design eliminates the need to turn food for uniform cooking, which can reduce labor costs.
Griddles come in a wide variety of sizes and may be freestanding or incorporated into a range body with ovens below. Generally, the griddle surface is divided into 12-inch sections, each with its own heating unit and control mechanism. This design lets different sections operate at different temperatures, allowing the chef to cook different kinds of food at the same time. Griddles normally have a metal splash guard surrounding all but the front of the cooking surface. The splash guard prevents food from sliding off and minimizes grease splatter.
Griddle burners or heating elements normally heat only one section of the cooking surface. Gas griddles have slotted vents for each burner for the intake of combustion air. All griddles have at least one thermostat dial that controls the cooking temperature. Some griddles have surface temperature indicator lights, which are typically located on the control panel.
A grease trough, usually running along each side of the griddle plate, drains grease and residual food particles, depositing these wastes into a collecting pan. Grease troughs may also be located on the front or back of the griddle. Some griddles have a pitched griddle plate that tilts to allow grease to run-off. These units usually produce less smoke while cooking.
The cooking surface of a single-sided griddle is called a plate and its design will usually drive the performance of the griddle. High quality plates distribute heat uniformly across the griddle. The most common griddle plate is made of flat steel or cast iron and ranges in thickness from one-half to one inch.
Griddle surfaces are usually smooth and flat. However, some types of griddles have ribbed or grooved surfaces. Grooved surfaces are designed to emboss food with charred grid marks, characteristic of broiled and grilled foods. Also, they allow the fat to run off and away from the product.
Ribbed surfaces cook somewhat slower than flat surfaces because only the parts of the food in direct contact with the edges of the raised grooves are immediately exposed to full heat. Manufacturers usually install a grooved surface on a single section of the griddle surface only, while the remaining sections are equipped for the total direct-contact cooking of a flat plate.
Single-sided electric griddles normally consume 3 to 25 kW of power. The average preheat time can be anywhere from 7 to 20 minutes, depending on the plate configuration and BTU input. Energy consumption for gas single-sided griddles normally approaches 20,000 to 30,000 BTUs per 12-inch section, and preheat times vary from 15 to 23 minutes. Again, these figures depend on plate configuration and BTU input. A low energy input figure generally implies slow pre-heat and recovery time. Typical kW consumption for the electric double-sided griddle ranges from 21 to 35 kW, with a preheat interval of about 18 minutes. Typical ratings for gas powered double-sided griddles range from 90,000 to 140,000 BTUs, with preheat times of roughly 18 to 23 minutes.
One of the newer electric technologies available today is the vacuum griddle. With this unit, the griddle surface is heated by steam under a vacuum chamber and electric elements. This produces a more uniform surface temperature and brings the griddle surface up to cooking temperature very quickly, saving money, rejecting less heat to the kitchen, and producing a more consistent food product. It has the unique feature of holding plate temperature uniformity to within 1°F of anywhere on the plate.
This technology has fast recovery and uses only 1/2 of the energy conventional griddles use.
Griddles are among the largest energy consumers in the food service industry and energy efficient operation is an important way of reducing their operating costs. Most of a griddle's operating costs result from heat loss from its six sides: the bottom, the top, and all four edges of the cooking surface. These losses are amplified because of the relatively small quantities of food cooked on a large surface most of the day.
Heat lost from a griddle warms the kitchen making it uncomfortable for workers unless the cooling system removes the excess heat. These losses can add significantly to overall cooling costs, which is an important factor favoring electric griddles over gas units. Even in un-air conditioned kitchens, where cooling costs are not an issue, worker productivity and morale suffer as the room temperatures rises, which ultimately increases total costs through lower worker performance and increased turnover.
Many higher quality griddles are designed for enhanced energy efficiency. Manufacturers increase griddle efficiency with newly developed griddle plate surfacing. These improved surfaces restrict the griddle's normally excessive radiation of energy. In full-load cooking tests, griddles achieve anywhere from 31% to 71% efficiency. Griddle inefficiency is most evident in light-load cooking operations, where efficiency generally ranges from 13% to 50%.
It takes 77 BTUs to heat a pound of ground beef from 40°F Fahrenheit to 140°F. Interestingly, 196 BTUs are required to heat the same pound of beef from 0°F to 140°F. Therefore, simply thawing food before cooking can have a major impact on energy savings.
Tips on Use
Here are simple tips on how to save money when using a griddle:
- Heat only the griddle sections necessary for a task.
- Pre-heat only until the griddle surface has achieved the correct cooking temperature.
- Set the temperature for each section no higher than that required to cook the food.
- Turn the griddle down or off during slow production times.
- Use pre-cooked foods and avoid frozen products where possible.
- Use a cover while cooking where it will not adversely affect the cooking process.
- Scrape the cooking surface between production intervals.
- Clean the griddle frequently, and always re-season the griddle afterwards.
- Inspect each section of the griddle periodically, searching for hot or cold spots.
- On gas units, make sure each gas flame burns blue and adjust the gas-to-air ratio when necessary.