A well-known food journalist traveled around America to find the "perfect" hamburger, and at more than 80 of the 100 restaurants he visited, a commercial griddle was used to cook the burgers. Because flat-top griddles can cook so many different foods quickly and consistently, they can be found anywhere from small concession stands to high-end steakhouses.
Selecting a Griddle Plate Thickness
One of the first items to consider when selecting a griddle is plate thickness; options are available between 3/8 and 1 inch. Generally, the thicker the plate, the more evenly it will be heated, which means it will be less likely that some spots on the surface will be hotter or cooler than the rest. Thicker plates also mean better heat retention for faster temperature recovery, so the griddle surface will return to set temperatures more quickly after you add cold food to it. One thing to remember: thicker plates will require more energy usage because it takes more fuel or electricity to keep them hot.
Models with a thinner griddle plate usually:
- Are less expensive
- Heat up and cool down quicker
- Require less energy than thicker plate models.
Thinner models are more likely to crack or warp over time when a lot of frozen food is frequently added to the griddle plate. A commercial griddle with a thin plate is best suited for lower-volume applications, while a flat-top grill with a thick plate should be used for high-volume operations. A thicker plate will hold up longer and resist warping and damage better than a thinner one.
Choosing the Best Griddle Plate Surface
Another important detail to consider is what the griddle plate is made of. Most models are either made of steel or chrome-plated steel. Steel griddle plates are:
- More durable over time
- Easier to clean.
Over time, steel plates can discolor which does not affect cooking ability, and should not be a cause for concern. Some cooks prefer chrome-plated steel because it distributes heat more evenly, and food is less likely to stick to it than to steel alone. This makes it easier to clean. However, chrome-plated models are more expensive than others.
We also have griddles with a cast iron cooking surface. In order to be effective, cast iron surfaces must retain a coat of seasoning – a baked-on layer of oil with nonstick properties that helps preserve the flavor of food. Manufacturers provide detailed guidelines on how to keep their griddles seasoned. Cast iron is ideal for cooking the same type of food over and over – if you specialize in burgers, for example – but not if you want to cook several types of food, because the seasoning can retain and transfer some of the flavors.
Aluminum surfaces are another option to consider. These are more affordable than the rest, and they heat up quickly. Aluminum isn't quite as durable as cast iron, steel, or chrome, though. This type of commercial griddle is generally recommended for light-duty applications like concession stands or venues that are only open on a seasonal basis.
A grooved surface griddle is a less common but useful alternative to a flat top surface. A grooved surface can give food those distinctive grill markings that are commonly associated with a charbroiler. They can also remove grease away from your food better than a flat surface, because it will drip between the grooves and flow into the grease chute. This can improve the taste of foods that might contain a lot of fat and make it possible to offer lower-fat options to your customers.
Choosing the Right Controls
Commercial griddle controls are either manual or thermostatic. Manual controls are the least expensive type and range in intensity from low to high. These are best-suited for experienced cooks because they require some level of knowledge to know which settings to cook with. Your chef must understand how to set and when to adjust the controls based on what foods are being cooked. Many professionals are used to cooking with manual controls and would prefer nothing else, but the learning curve might be steep for inexperienced users.
The dials on thermostatic controls are marked with specific temperatures, and a thermostat will keep the commercial griddle's surface at the temperature you set, with some degree of variation depending on the type. Thermostatic controls are good for beginners because you can set temperatures according to predetermined guidelines for different types of food. This takes away some of the guess work and room for errors. Thermostatic controls tend to be expensive, but can save money in the long run with less wasted food, especially if your business serves a diverse menu of items that need to be cooked at different temperatures. More sophisticated types of flat-top grill thermostatic controls include snap-action and solid-state. These come at a higher costs but can maintain an even more precise temperature setting and are ideal when cooking sensitive products that require very specific temperatures.
Gas griddles burn either natural gas or propane (LP) as a fuel source. Natural gas is usually provided by your municipality as a utility, and propane requires a storage tank outside your building. Your choice between the two will depend on availability and which is more affordable. A commercial electric griddle is the alternative to a gas model for places where natural gas or propane is not available. With both types, you will need an exhaust hood to be installed to vent away grease-laden vapors and fumes. The hood needs to be a good match for the size and power of the griddle.