They’re not just for breakfast anymore
Griddles come in all shapes and sizes (oblong, small and round, large and square) and are made of either heavy-duty aluminum or cast-iron.
Aluminum vs. cast-iron
An aluminum griddle is a great item to take along on a camping trip: it’s lightweight, easy to clean, and may be placed directly on hot coals. But among cooking connoisseurs, aluminum loses out to cast-iron, a “miracle” material that gets better and better the more you use it. I knew someone who used a cast-iron skillet when he camped and who refused to clean it–ever. (He called it the “flavor pan.”) Cast-iron is definitely heavier and sturdier, is nearly impossible to scratch or dent, will last several lifetimes if properly cared for, and heats more evenly than aluminum.
But aluminum griddles do have definite pros. They’re much lighter than cast-iron and may be thrown in the dishwasher and cleaned with detergents. Aluminum is cheaper than cast-iron, and some varieties are electric, which adds extra value–you can use them on your table for warming food (these types should have a drawer underneath to collect the grease and a stay-cool exterior to keep your table or counter free from burns).
Some griddles are ribbed and work like a barbecue grill to allow fat to drip from food and away from your tummy and thighs. Griddles usually come with either one long handle or two shorter side ones (like a wok). Others will simply have a raised lip on either end for gripping–but they’ll get hot to the touch, so use hot pads.
There are many great griddles available. Lodge makes cast-iron griddles in a wide range of shapes and size. Calphalon also makes a variety of griddles, as does Circulon and a host of other reputable kitchenware providers. But before purchasing a griddle, you’ll need to ask a few questions.
Where do I intend to use this griddle? Camping? Only at home? Or both?
Am I willing to spend a few minutes seasoning a cast-iron griddle after every use, or do I just want to throw an aluminum griddle in the dishwasher and be done with it?
Does the griddle have a deep enough channel around the edges to collect grease and keep it away from food?
If it doesn’t have a channel, does it have a sloping edge to collect grease?
Usage and Care
While aluminum griddles are fairly easy to take care of and most are dishwasher-safe, the secret to keeping a cast-iron griddle as your flavor pan of choice is to season it prior to first use and periodically thereafter, because its pores will absorb oil and keep the finish nonstick. To season cast-iron cookware, follow the following four steps.
1. Wash and rinse the new griddle with hot water and a brush (never detergents), then dry over a low flame to remove moisture.
2. Using a paper towel, coat the entire griddle surface with Crisco, lard, soybean oil, or another oil (avoid butter or margarine).
3. Bake the griddle upside down at 350 degrees for one hour in a preheated stove, putting aluminum foil underneath to catch the drips. Allow the pan to completely cool in the oven.
4. Remove from oven and wipe clean.
To increase the seasoning of a new pan, don’t cook acidic foods with a lot of water content, such as tomatoes, for the first several uses.
For general cleanup, wash with hot water, dry on the stove at low heat, coat thinly with vegetable oil, then wipe clean. If your griddle gets rusty or you notice a metallic taste, wash thoroughly with steel wool and season again. You’ll want to store your griddle in a warm, dry place. For extra protection, place a paper towel over the surface to absorb any moisture and prevent rusting.
Griddles Add Flavor to All Your Cooking
A quick perusal of recipes shows that you can griddle just about anything you want to, except maybe a whole chicken. Mexican food screams for a good griddle, especially fajitas and tortillas, and griddles are perfect for cooking flatbreads, such as Indian naan. For great griddled fish, coat fresh trout with soft butter mixed with rosemary, thyme, salt, and black pepper, then cook four to five minutes on each side until the flesh flakes off the bone. As you can see, a well-used griddle goes a long way.