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So you think you know about… grills and griddles

10 November 2005
So you think you know about… grills and griddles

Grills and griddles have a unique feature among kitchen equipment: they are the only items of prime cooking equipment that require nothing else before cooking begins. Even a fryer needs a basket. While sometimes thought of by chefs as a one-dimensional form of cooking, there is far more versatility to be had from a grill or a griddle than appears at first glance. These are the options:

Salamander grills Salamander grills cook using heat radiated downwards on to food from either gas or electric radiants. There are two designs to choose from. The most popular is with the overhead radiants in a fixed position and cooking controlled by a combination of heat setting and position of the grill tray. The other method sees the grill tray kept in a fixed position and the radiant head assembly pulled down to control the level of heat applied to the food. These are called pull-down grills.

A popular accessory for meat grilling is a branding plate. This is a ridged cast-iron plate that sits on the grill pan. As the meat cooks, it will char in the lines typical of chargrilled meat, but without the barbecue aroma of meat cooked on a chargrill.

Chargrills Chargrills are popular for the barbecue look and taste they bring to meat, fish and vegetables. The heat almost always comes from gas, but electric chargrills are available.

Lava rock gives a traditional barbecue taste and smell, but it can become impregnated with food and fat which, when it burns off, creates a lot of smoke in the kitchen. Distribution of the lava rock must also be level to give even cooking when the chargrill is full of food. Lava rock also takes time to heat up and continues to remain hot after the gas has been turned off.

The newer system of chargrilling is not to use lava rock at all but to have upward-facing gas jets that are shielded by a protective steel shroud to prevent fat falling into the jets and clogging them. As the fat falls on to the hot protective shrouds, it will fire and carbonise to give off the smoke that brings the barbecue flavour. This heating system is also easier to clean and, without lava rock, heat-up is instant and cool-down is quick after the gas is lowered or turned off, giving the chef greater control.

Chargrills often have a dual heat facility, allowing just one half of the chargrill to be used in quiet periods, and adjustable-height grill irons allow for more cooking control. Because chargrilling is a dry method of cooking, basting can be used to keep the meat moist.

Regular cleaning of the chargrill is essential, with stiff wire brushes the preferred way. Specialist chargrill-cleaning brushes are sometimes available as an optional extra, but whatever the type and source of the brush, it must not lose strands during vigorous cleaning. To do so could risk a strand of wire ending up on food. Using sheets of tinfoil underneath the grill to catch larger pieces of food debris and drips of fat can ease cleaning. A full strip-down and cleaning of the burners and drip trays must be done at the end of every shift.

Contact grills A contact grill achieves its results by cooking food between two heated surfaces.

This has many benefits over the conventional griddle: it cooks much more quickly, seals the food more effectively and locks in more of the juices, improving the flavour and reducing shrinkage. Because the food is being cooked simultaneously on both sides, cook times can be as short as three minutes for steaks, chops and chicken fillets.

The top and bottom grilling plates are connected by a floating hinge which, by swivelling upwards as well as outwards, allows food of varying thickness to stay in contact with both grill plates. Contact grills can come as single grills or side-by-side double grills, each operating independently. There can be a locking facility on the hinge so the top plate is close to the food but not pressing on to it, a feature useful for contact-grilling fish. Power supply is usually 13amp single-phase, so professional rewiring is not required.

There will be a timer for the heating cycle which can deliver consistency in cooking for items such as steaks from rare through to well done.

It is good practice to continually wipe the grill plates to remove food debris, which will become baked on and harder to remove if left. A wipe-down is also needed between fish and meat, and meat and vegetarian items, such as vegetable brochettes, which cook well on a contact grill.

Griddles Griddles are popular for breakfast preparation in small catering operations and for burger cooking. Eggs can be a challenge for griddle cooking because of the risk of sticking and the need for basting to finish the top of the egg. A way round this is to use greased metal cutters placed on the griddle surface into which the raw egg is dropped. This builds up the bulk of the egg, and the heat from the sides of the metal cutter helps in cooking it. A flip of the egg using a soft metal scraper will firm and darken the surface unless a "sunny side up" finish is required.

Griddles can also cook thicker protein items such as chicken fillets, chops, steaks and fillets of firm fish such as salmon. On items such as chicken, which carry a food safety risk, cooking should not only be controlled by visual inspection, but by a predetermined timing. A specialist use of griddles is for light bakery goods, such as pancakes and drop scones.

Griddles are available powered by gas or electricity. Those with a larger grilling area may have a dual-heat facility with just one half of the grill taking power for low-demand times of the day. The whole griddling area will remain very warm, so cooked food can be held on it without direct heat.

The griddle surface is made of steel and is available in four forms: cast iron and carbon steel are cheaper, but need careful cleaning and oiling to prevent corrosion; stainless steel is more expensive, but easier to keep clean; chrome-coated griddles, sometimes called mirror griddles, tend to be less prone to food sticking and are easier to keep clean, but need far greater care during cooking and cleaning.

While cast iron and steel griddle surfaces will withstand rough use with a spatula or scraper, a chrome griddle will get a scored surface, which will hinder its non-stick property and risk corrosion. Heat-resistant plastic spatulas that will not damage the surface of a chrome griddle are available. Cleaning of chrome griddles should be with a cloth, not abrasive scrubbers, which will damage the surface.

Because griddles need constant scraping while food is being cooked to clear away fat and food debris, there should be a grease channel around the rim of the griddle plate or a metal wall to prevent debris from falling onto the floor. There should be a chute in one corner, down which food debris and fat can be pushed into a collection box. Cleaning down at the end of shift is messy, but is essential for food safety and hygiene.

Keith Warren is director of CESA, the Catering Equipment Suppliers' Association. For more information on every aspect of catering equipment, visit www.cesa.org.uk.

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