There is a world of options for griddles, from individual-size electric models and family-size stovetop versions to griddles that use charcoal. Each type can be used for nearly anything: searing burgers, making pancakes and eggs, warming tortillas, preparing grilled cheese sandwiches and more.
Electric, Stovetop and Beyond
It’s easy to find a griddle that suits your cooking space. Rectangular stovetop versions generally use two burners as the heating element; if electric or charcoal, a rectangular shape offers a large cooking surface and can be easier to store than round versions. Round stovetop griddles use one burner, which is handy if you are using a portable single burner as the heat source. Other round griddles can be great for individual use and compact storage.
Griddles offer a large cooking surface with the ability to adjust and control cooking temperatures. However, controlling the temperature of a stovetop griddle may be less reliable than electric models, since you must wait for the griddle’s temperature to catch up with the heating element of the stove. Additionally, depending on your stovetop, having an evenly heated cooking area may be difficult to maintain. As opposed to two circular heating elements, stovetops with one long central burner work well for a griddle.
Electric griddles are less portable than stovetop models, but better achieve an evenly heated cooking area with direct temperature control. A good electric griddle should have a large cooking space that heats evenly and can be easily stored. However, it’s important to note all griddles — electric, stovetop and others — have the potential for cold spots.
There is a fine balance between size and ease of storage, so consider space limitations before making a purchase. If you’re looking for a portable griddle with its own heat source that does not require electricity, consider models that have space for charcoal. These are typically designed to cook enough food for small groups of four to six, while a standard charcoal grill is more practical for larger functions.
For camping, a stovetop or charcoal griddle is ideal. No extension cord is needed, and you can place it directly on a grate over an open fire or grill. Choose a stovetop griddle with handles that extend beyond the heat source to avoid burning yourself. Some griddles offer heat-resistant handles, but many do not. Charcoal griddles allow you to safely move your cooking space to a dry area in case of rain.
Design Can Make a Difference
Griddles come in both nonstick and cast-iron surface options. Nonstick varieties are generally made of combinations of stainless steel or metals such as aluminum or titanium with a nonstick coating, which make cleaning a breeze. A downside may be the short life span of the nonstick material depending on care, maintenance and quality. Additionally, some metal surfaces such as aluminum aren’t safe for induction stovetops; confirm which griddle model is best for your stove’s heating element. With cast-iron versions, it takes minimal care to maintain a durable and long-lasting griddle. However, cast iron can be heavy, bulky and difficult to clean without scratching the surface. For stovetop versions, cast iron is more likely to have an evenly distributed heating area compared to nonstick surfaces.
If you plan on making pancakes, a flat surface may best serve your needs. But for meats, vegetables and other foods that are often prepared on the grill, consider a griddle with ridges. While ridged surfaces may not be as versatile as a smooth surface, they allow fat to drain from food and create visually appealing score marks. Both stovetop and electric griddles can come with reversible plates: One side is flat and the other has ridges. These versatile models can be used to make pancakes in the morning and steaks in the afternoon. Keep in mind, though, that frequent use of both sides can result in the surfaces becoming unseasoned and cause food to stick.
For foods such as burgers or bacon, look for an electric griddle with a drip tray or higher sides to hold the drained fat and prevent spillover. Adjustable legs or a tilt design allow the fat to trickle toward the drip tray instead of pooling in the middle and increasing risk of smoking. Stovetop griddles do not have drip trays, since this could cause a grease fire, but many have side gutters for collecting grease and debris.
Hot Off the Press
Some electric griddles are double-sided and can open flat and close like a panini press. They have a top and bottom griddle that may have removable and reversable plates, allowing you to grill burgers on one side and make over-easy eggs on the other. Some models also have different temperature controls for each side. Other models are quite compact, with only one heat setting, and do not open flat. While these versions are typically used for single servings, they are easy to store and great for students and offices. Larger models allow for greater versatility but can be bulkier to store and heavy to transport.
Unlike with grilling, only a little oil is necessary to prevent sticking on a griddle. Excess oil can cause smoking, a big mess and even a grease fire. Shake any excess marinade or oil off food before placing it on a griddle. Then, be patient. Flipping or removing food too soon can cause the food to stick to the griddle’s surface. A good rule of thumb with meat, fish or poultry is to wait until the cooked color rises to about halfway up the side before flipping. To make flipping easier and promote user safety, use a properly sized rubber or silicone spatula to handle food on griddles. Be sure to remove excess grease using the drip tray and allow the griddle to cool completely before cleaning.
Care and Cleaning
Depending on the model and type of griddle, cleaning methods may vary. Some nonstick models are dishwasher safe, while others require hand washing. Many nonstick griddles without grill ridges can be wiped down with a damp cloth. Grill ridges generally require more cleaning, as food particles can get stuck on the ridges and be difficult to remove. Careful cleaning is required to avoid scratching the surface. Cast-iron griddles may need a post-wash seasoning to ensure long-lasting quality and durability. Clean cast iron with a damp brush and gently scrape away any particles with a pan scraper. For stubborn stuck-on food, heat the cast-iron surface with a little water to loosen the particles.
Electric griddles without removable plates require careful hand washing to avoid getting the electrical mechanisms wet. Removable plates make cleaning easier. To ensure a long life span, consult the user manual for your specific product before cleaning.
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Griddles: Versatile Cooking for Solo or Family-Sized Meals | Food & Nutrition Magazine is written by Zachari Breeding for foodandnutrition.org