Griddles (and their close cousin flat-tops) are a surprisingly misunderstood kitchen tool. People think of griddles as only for pancakes but they are great for a number of foods from veggies to burgers and are also great for keeping numerous pots and pans of things warm or hot.
The key attribute of a griddle is that it maintains very even heat over time and across its surface.
For maintaining heat over time it must have fast and accurate temperature recovery. When you place food or a pan on the griddle, the griddle will begin to cool down rather quickly. You want it to then to maintain the temp or quickly recover back to the set temp and do so without over-shooting and getting too hot.
Evenness across it’s surface requires a thick piece of steel and burners spread evenly below. (some better commercial griddles have the steel in a water bath that results in perfectly even temps across the surface at all times.)
Thermostatic vs Burner Top
There’s a huge difference in a good built-in thermostatic griddle / flat-top and one placed on top of burners. Built-in Thermostatic griddles have more even heat across their surface, maintain temps better over time and have faster and more accurate recovery time.
Burner top or induction top griddles have greater temp variance across their surface, huge temp swings over time and usually a very slow recovery time. (However, if you have a large thick flat burner top griddle or baking steel and powerful enough burners then you can treat it kind of like a Plancha which is great for veggies and other things.)
For example, I know that my thermostatic griddle is 360°f ± 30° and that it is maintaining that for me. On a burner top the temp will drop down significantly when any food or a pan is placed on it so I either have to continuously make manual adjustments to the burners underneath or put up with the temp dropping and then extremely slow recovery time. While that may be OK for some things (veggies can do well that way on very high heat) it’s not so good for other things like crepés or pancakes and it’s quite awful for delicate sauces.
So overall a good thermostatic griddle results in much greater versatility, capability and massively less stress for the cook.
Gas vs Electric vs Induction
Electric griddles are great in being portable but are quite awful performance. Topping the awful list is extremely slow recovery time. A griddle needs to maintain as even a temp as possible. When you place food on a gas griddle it will recover back to set temp quickly, often in seconds. An electric griddle can take 5-10 minutes (or longer) to recover and often over-shoots by 100°f or more which isn’t good for anything that you’d normally use it for. So pancakes will be rubbery, overdone on the outside and underdone on the inside.
The one place where slow recovery is beneficial is high-heat plancha style cooking but non-commercial electric griddles don’t have anywhere near the power to do that – think 240v/40a for a 12”x18” (about 6x a standard household outlet or the same as an electric dryer).
Thermostatic Induction griddles are another story and work exceptionally well but these start at about $4k and most require industrial 3-phase power.
Griddles vs Burners (and Countertop Induction Hobs)
Why give up burners for a griddle? Much greater versatility! A good thermostatic gas griddle can do multiple duties and in many ways is better and much more versatile than burners.
– More pans can fit in the same space vs individual burners.
– A griddle maintains more even heat over time than a burner (critical for many things, but particularly sauces)
– A griddle can provide lower heat than any simmer burner can (and because of the above can do so without getting the pan too hot which no constant flame burner can do effectively).
Above is a thermal image of our griddle with only the left side heated to about 150°f. Similar to a french top we have several heat zones that work well for various sauces or other things. We can also fit a many more than the 4 pans that the same amount of space in burners would allow.
We currently have a 48″ Bluestar RNB w/ 4 burners + 24″ griddle (that replaced a 36” Wolf w/ 4 burners + 12” griddle) and do a lot of intricate cooking, baking, entertaining and host local chef’s. We’ve rarely needed more than the 4 burners but it’s also not unusual to have a half dozen or more pans on the griddle doing sauces or keeping something warm. With half of the griddle turned on (typically for us to 200°f) and the other half off it’s kind of like a linear French Top that you can move stuff around on for whatever temp is needed. It’s a hugely versatile cooking surface.
A thermostatic griddle is a much improved version of what Sasha is doing here: Hack Your Way to a Bigger Stovetop, No Renovation Required
When we do need more actual burners we use portable countertop induction hobs. While we prefer gas burners for most tasks there are some instances where these portable induction hobs have some advantages (besides easily adding extra burners when and where necessary). They can be placed anywhere so they can keep fondue or chili hot on the kitchen island or the bar in the rec room. A few (Control Freak, Max Burton, Avantco) have highly accurate temp & probe capabilities so can be more accurate for some tasks than gas, especially when you’d like to leave something unattended for a bit.
So we have the best of all worlds; gas burners, induction burners, and a griddle/flat-top.
(BTW, induction does not necessarily heat water faster. A good induction can heat it faster than a low-end gas but a more powerful gas burner, such as on our RNB, will beat most induction.)
A well loved griddle will develop a patina that some people find unappealing in their kitchen. Personally I much prefer the look of something that’s used often to something that looks like it’s only for show but that’s just me. If the look bothers you then get a stainless cover to keep over it and protect it between uses.
My typical clean-up is to scrap excess food off the griddle with a flat blade spatula and then leave it hot for about 10 minutes before turning off the burners. I may scrape it a second time but rarely. When the griddle has cooled to about 150°f I’ll wipe on a very thin layer of oil (high smoke point) and it’s ready for next time.
I will occasionally ‘brick’ my griddle but this only about once every 10-20 uses. FWIW, I still debate if it’s better after being bricked or not and if I should brick it more often or less often.
Over time the griddle will become seasoned and naturally non-stick.