Spec Check: Griddles

Culinary staff use griddles to prepare menu items that span all day parts. Griddles are one of the most utilized pieces of equipment in commercial kitchens.

 “More often than not, the griddle is the application that’s at the heart of an operation,” says James Whiffen, president at Fountainhead Foodservice Group, a foodservice equipment contractor based in Burlington, Mass.

Griddles typically use natural gas or electricity as their heat source, but foodservice operators can also specify a unit that uses propane. Gas griddles typically have a rating of 20,000 to 30,000 Btus per hour. Even heat distribution represents the biggest benefit of using a gas-fired griddle. Electric countertop models run from 8 to almost 33 kph and offer greater energy efficiency.

Chefs and many Mexican restaurants prefer manual griddles with gas valves across the front. When run wide open, these units can reach temperatures in excess of 800 degrees F. Units with electronic controls provide faster temperature recovery.

The type of controls helps determine how much thermal energy the griddle can store and how quickly the griddle plates transfer heat to the product for cooking. Foodservice operators can choose from manually or thermostatically controlled burners with either spark or electronic ignitions. Thermostatically controlled griddles typically feature thermostats placed every one to two feet. Burners beneath the griddle plate come in various shapes to help achieve even heating.

Griddle plate surfaces are available in cast iron, polished steel, cold-rolled steel and chrome-finished. Operators can choose from flat or grooved plates that measure from 12 to 72 inches wide and 18 to 30 inches deep. These are generally ½-, ¾- or 1-inch thick.

Cabinets can have either welded or bolted frames. Foodservice operators can elect to mount griddles on stands, refrigerated bases or other pieces of equipment. Countertop models also are available.

Specifying Considerations

  • Consider the size of the restaurant, menu, portion sizes and approximate volume to specify the correct griddle size. Weighing these factors helps ensure that the unit properly supports the production process and operators receive the highest production per square foot.
  • Address cooking surface size and type to confirm that these meet menu requirements. For example, the griddle’s plate size and thickness will help determine throughput at peak times.
  • Chrome plates tend to be easier to clean and they retain heat better than other options, which means product is less likely to stick and the kitchens should remain cooler. The downside to this material is a higher price tag. Griddles with stainless steel plates represent a viable alternative.
  • When choosing a model, operators need to keep in mind that the thicker the griddle plate, the more heat it will hold. Operations cooking at constant temperatures with high rates of production usually opt for the units with bigger plates. While thicker plates take longer to heat up and hold heat longer, thinner plates heat up more quickly and heat will dissipate faster.
  • If operators want a seared appearance on meats, grooved griddle plates will be necessary.
  • If the griddle will run only a couple of hours a day, a heavy-duty model may not be necessary. If the unit prepares more than 25 percent of an operation’s menu items, a more durable griddle is a better option.
  • Foodservice operators need to assess the type of griddle controls that will best suit them. Manual controls offer more latitude in terms of temperature control, while inexperienced cooks often find thermostatic controls easier to use.
  • Larger chains and high-volume operations looking for more exact griddle temperatures should look for griddles with solid-state controls, which have better accuracy than the snap-action type.
  • Griddles require proper ventilation, and this is a key consideration when specifying. Kitchen layouts should be planned in conjunction with HVAC professionals to make sure the appropriate system is installed.
  • Foodservice operators should determine where and how staff will use the equipment. This will help determine if a freestanding or tabletop unit is more suitable as well as if a refrigerated base is necessary. While some units require legs to deflect heat, others have built-in heat deflectors.
  • For kitchens with limited space, mounted griddles may be appropriate.
  • Consider griddle maintenance requirements, because some units require more labor for cleaning than others. While standard griddle surfaces require regular scrubbing and seasoning, staff simply scrape more costly chrome griddles, which don’t require seasoning.
  • Griddle size also should be considered. In some kitchens, a narrower griddle with more depth can save a foot of hood space.
  • When specifying, operators should look at how the griddle handles grease and product fall off. Check the grease trough location and the width of the chute to ensure it can handle the menu. Some models provide a back trough, in addition to side and front troughs, to better accommodate high-volume use.
  • One expert estimates that griddles are idle about 70 percent of the time in full-service restaurants. Griddles with snap-action-style controls only provide gas to the unit when it’s needed, saving energy.
  • Assess the physical space of the griddle’s location to make sure the proper hookups for gas or electric are in place.
  • Infrared burners provide higher energy efficiency and can drop gas utility costs by about 15 percent, but these griddles have a higher purchase price.
  • Those looking to save time, energy and utility costs should consider an induction griddle. These units heat up in slightly more than three minutes, provide consistent heating across the surface and provide greater temperature accuracy. This method also doesn’t release additional heat into the kitchen, keeping back-of-house temperatures cooler.
  • Recovery time represents an important aspect to consider when purchasing a griddle, especially for high-volume operations.
  • “Griddles are commonly used as a buffer zone between fryers and other equipment,” Whiffen says. “In this case, specifying side splashes on griddle tops can help contain grease splattering.”

Common Specifying Mistakes to Avoid

  • One common mistake operators make is not looking at the equipment size in relation to the user’s reach. Because unit heights can hinder accessibility for some users, especially when the equipment is placed on a base or counter, size needs to be taken into account.
  • Improper gas pressure is one of the most frequent causes of equipment failure and can significantly shorten a unit’s service life. In addition, unit performance is dependent on correct gas pressure and burner adjustment.
  • Chrome plates offer many benefits, but can be sensitive to high temperatures. If exposed to cold water when hot, the plate may crack. It’s recommended that this material be specified with thermostatically controlled units.
  • Griddle plates may have a coating that impacts cleanability, depending on usage. Operators should check with manufacturers on maintenance requirements prior to purchasing.
  • Solid-state thermostats have a shorter service life when compared with snap action or throttling versions.
  • Chains and other high-volume operations should consider snap-action thermostats, which turn on and off quickly, rather than manual controls that don’t provide specific temperature settings.
  • One common mistake operators make is specifying a griddle that can’t keep up with demand due to unexpected volume. Units are available with more sensitive controls that respond to cooking needs and help drive throughput.
  • It’s a common misperception that a ventilation hood isn’t necessary with electric countertop griddles. These units need the same time of venting as gas versions, because grease-laden products are being prepared with this equipment.
  • Operators should purchase a griddle with an eye towards the future, as this equipment’s service life averages about 10 years.

Energy Efficiency and Griddles

Commercial griddles that are Energy Star-rated are about 10 percent more energy efficient than standard models, according to the Department of Energy. This equates to savings of $120 per year for gas models and $100 per year for electric models or $1,100 and $1,200 over the product lifetime for gas and electric models, respectively.

Gas and electric, single- and double-sided griddles that are thermostatically controlled have the Energy Star designation. These units utilize highly conductive or reflective plate materials and thermostatic controls as well as thermocouples that are strategically placed. In addition to energy savings, these units can improve temperature consistency across the griddle plate and provide a higher production capacity.

Induction models increase energy efficiency by evenly dispersing heat across the surface and compensating for cold spots. This also increases throughput and recovery speeds. When combined with solid-state controls, infrared style burners also can improve a griddle’s energy efficiency.

A Consultant’s Point of View

Consultant James Whiffen, FCSI, president at Fountainhead Foodservice Group, shares his perspective on specifying griddles:

  • Foodservice operations don’t have to have a fryer or broiler, but griddles are a staple in most back-of-house designs. This equipment has become part of the component of what we do, which is theater.
  • Griddles have become the centerpiece of exhibition cooking and have come out on the front line, as cooking to order makes guests part of the preparation process. Mongolian round grills accentuate what is being produced in the front of house.
  • Thermostatically controlled griddles are necessary when more temperature control is needed. Otherwise, units are either on or off with cool zones and hot zones.
  • In terms of options, ingredient trays and towel bars are nice to have for added convenience.
  • For gas units, having a disconnect hose allows staff to more easily move the equipment during cleaning.
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