"A poet could write volumes about diners, because they're so beautiful."David Lynch
Have you ever noticed that “Joe’s Bar and Grill” on the corner doesn’t have a grill? It has a flattop griddle. Maybe you need one too.
The cast iron flattop griddle is the most valuable player in a diner and many high end restaurants. Think of it as a giant skillet with multiple heat zones. Chefs around the world love their griddles (aka flattops or planchas) because they can manage several orders simultaneously: burgers in one heat zone, hash browns in another, eggs in another. They also offer excellent temperature control, and boy, can they create a great brown Maillard surface. Sitting at the counter watching a griddle cook at work is like watching a ballet.
There are two ways to get into griddling, buy a dedicated griddle grill, a monotasker that does a great job of its task, or buy a griddle plat that you can toss on top of any grill and still get smoke onto the food.
The modern outdoor griddle grill
Dedicated flattop griddles are seldom seen in homes because they are large, they need a powerful venting system, they are expensive, and they require natural gas. Fortunately, manufacturers are now making flattop griddles fueled by propane that are perfect for outdoor use where venting is not an issue. I call them griddle grills. Put one in your back yard, take it to a tailgater, or take it to the beach.
Griddle grills come in sizes as small as 17” long with a single burner. The Blackstone 36” length is a great size for your backyard with four burners that can put out a combined 60,000 BTUs. And it won’t break the bank at about $250.
Since they are made of uncoated steel, they can rust, but when you use a griddle grill, the oils get into microscopic pores in the metal and bond to it forming a hard non-stick surface. Called “seasoning,” this is the same process by which cast iron pans and griddles become non-stick. Some manufacturers offer griddle grills that are seasoned right out of the box, while others require you to season them before cooking. Either way, it is important to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for getting started.
Griddle grills have several advantages over grill grates. First off, there are no gaps for food to fall between. That means smaller foods like bay scallops or asparagus have a better chance of ending up on your dinner plate than on the bottom of your grill. Plus, if the surface is well seasoned and oiled, fish doesn’t stick to a griddle. More importantly, a solid surface of hot metal browns food faster and more thoroughly than most grill grates ever will. That means more flavor. Another advantage of using dedicated griddle grills is that they typically have a gutter or grease trap where you can corral rendered fats or leftover particles of food for easy cleanup.
If you want, you can easily do griddle cooking on your existing grill with a griddle plate. This is an excellent option because you can throw wood on the grill and get smoke on the food. A variety of options achieve excellent results. You can buy cast iron, cast aluminum, and modern alloy griddle plates, and you can even griddle on salt blocks, soapstone and other stones. Many gas and charcoal grills are capable of heating a griddle to extremely high temperatures. The truth is, griddles perform best at moderate temps that hover below the smoke point of the butter or oil you are using. Many restaurants keep their flattops pegged at about 350°F.
Using a griddle plate on top of a portion of your grill is actually a great way to take advantage of both direct cooking on the grill's grates and the griddle at the same time. You can cook a sausage patty and toast an English muffin on the grill grates for a smoky flavor, while frying an egg next to them on the griddle for a quick egg sandwich. Or griddle the sausage for the ultimate Maillard reaction and browned, crispy edges. Want smoke flavor? Toss some wood on the flame and let the smoke seep into fish or other food you are cooking. Whether you decide to go with a griddle grill or a griddle plate, griddling is a fun and efficient way to cook outside. The best griddle plates have a lip to contain the oil and juices.
Cleaning Your GriddleWater, heat, scrape, and repeat. That's the short version. The details: first, use a spatula to scrape any bits of food or oil into the trash or the griddle's grease trap. Then, just use water. Avoid using soap because it can wash away your stick resistant "seasoning." Also avoid dousing a hot griddle with a bucketful of ice water. The thermal shock of ice water on a hot griddle can warp the metal. Just pour about a cup of room temperature water on the hot griddle. As the water begins to boil, use a sturdy spatula or bench scraper to encourage any bits of food or caramelized sugars to release from the cooking surface. Often just a bit of water in the area you have recently cooked on with a good scrape is enough to do the job.
When you are satisfied with the area you have cleaned, wipe it down with a clean towel that will not leave fibers on the griddle surface. The griddle will still be hot and will leave a nasty burn if you accidentally touch it, so use tongs to assist with the wiping process. When the surface is clean, allow any residual water or to stop bubbling or smoking. At this point, when the griddle is still somewhat hot, I like to turn it off completely and spread about a teaspoon of cooking oil all over the surface with a towel. A thin coating of oil helps to build up the stick resistant seasoning.
Get the book
For more detail info on this cooking method, check out my book, The Flippin’ Awesome Backyard Griddle Cookbook: Tasty Recipes, Pro Tips and Bold Ideas for Outdoor Flat Top Grillin’. It's full of tips, techniques, and 50 recipes that will inspire you to cook creatively on the griddle, just like the pros.
Here are some griddle grills we like
Blackstone 17” Tabletop Griddle
A small and portable griddle, the Blackstone 17” is great for picnics and camping. It also works well for someone who wants a dedicated griddle but does not have a lot of outdoor space. If you plan on using the 17” griddle as your primary griddle, or you're on an extended trip, consider getting an adapter hose that allows you to connect to a 20-pound propane tank. Click here to read our review.
Blackstone 36" Griddle
This AmazingRibs.com Pitmaster Award Winner has 720 square inches of cooking space and comes with a rear grease trap for easily containing rendered fats and food scraps for easy cleanup. Blackstone griddles ignite with an electronic ignitor powered by an AA battery. They are made to be transported and the legs can be removed so you can place the cooker on the back of a pickup or insert it in an outdoor kitchen.
Camp Chef Flat Top Grill 475
This three burner unit is powerful for it’s size. With a 468 square inch griddle cooking surface you can cook up to 16 burgers at the same time which should get the whole baseball team fed and a few of the coaches too. Click here to read our review of Camp Chef Flat Tops.
Camp Chef Flat Top Grill 600
Camp Chef has been offering griddles for over 25 years and their griddle grills are worth looking at. It’s the perfect size to prepare delicious entrees while not having to compromise on space. More importantly, the Flat Top 600 comes with a removable flat top griddle that exposes a hidden grill grate. Use this flat top as a griddle, grill, or a water pot heat source. Comfortably fit 24 medium-sized burger patties on this 604-square inch cooking surface. Click here to read our review of Camp Chef Flat Tops.
Camp Chef Flat Top Grill 900
With six burners and an 877 square inch cooking capacity this large griddle is perfect for cooking for a crowd, or a backyard full of teenagers. Click here to read our review of Camp Chef Flat Tops.
Here are some griddle plates you can put on your grill
Baking steel griddle 18” x 14” x 3/8”
The Baking Steel Griddle is great as a stovetop griddle, induction plate, and even as a cold plate after its been frozen. Cook with us on top of your gas, induction or electric stovetops, grills, and ovens. with 3/8" thick steel it can reach temperatures of over 700°F which makes it great for being used as a pizza stone as well. One side is perfectly flat, ideal for pizza, and the other side has gutters, ideal for catching juices and grease.
Griddle Plate by Grill Grates
This griddle plate works well both on the grill or in the oven. Made of hard anodized aluminum, it is lightweight and great for camping.
Lodge Logic Pro Cast Iron Griddle
Use the flat side for pancakes. You can even bring it indoors and it will straddle two burners. Flip it over and you get grill marks and conduction cooking from the ridges on steaks, burgers, or asparagus, and the fats and juices drip into the grooves where they vaporize and flavor the meat and cook by radiation. I have two of them and I use the ridged sides of both, one on top and one on the bottom, for making paninis. And my spatchcocked (butterflied) Cornish game hens pressed between the flat sides are unbelievably crisp and juicy in only 20 minutes. It is 20" x 10 7/16". – Meathead
Drip 'N Griddle by Slow 'N Sear
This pan is designed for fitting the contour of your kettle grill as a griddle, but does double duty as a catch pan for drippings. Drip ’N Griddle works in 22” and 26” kettles and performs best as a griddle over medium temperatures.
Camp Chef Mountain Man Grill
The Mountain Man Grill by Camp Chef is a nice addition to your arsenal if you plan on doing any campfire cooking this year. Just hammer the stake into the ground, place the griddle, grill, and charcoal box onto the stake, and you're ready to cook, or swivel the griddle and grill over a campfire to embrace your inner caveman. Since regulating temperatures over an open fire can often be tricky, I like how the Mountain Man Grill has a tray, or box for cooking with charcoal which can be raised or lowered for better temperature control.
Here are some tools that we think you will appreciate having
Thermapen IR Thermometer
The Thermapen IR thermometer is especially handy because it serves two purposes. You can take the surface temperature of the griddle with the infared measure and probe the internal temperature of your food with the probe that penetrates your food.
Blackstone Professional Quality 5 piece tool kit
This professional quality tool kit comes with two spatulas, two squirt bottles, and a scraper. The bottles are great for oil, water, or your favorite griddle sauce.
Camp Chef Professional 2 piece Spatula Set
This two pack of spatulas is great because the smaller one is very sturdy with a beveled edge perfect for getting under food or scraping scraps off of your griddle surface
OXO Bench Scraper
A quality bench scraper is a good accessory to have for the griddle because your angle of attack is different than with a spatula. It’s more like precise using a detail brush than a roller which makes corralling oils and food easier. Because it is sturdy a bench scraper works well for chopping foods on the griddle.
Blackstone 12” round basting cover
A basting cover is great for covering food and keeping heat from escaping. Food cooks quicker when covered and it is an great for melting cheese.
Parchment Paper Squares
If you savor the sizzle of a smash burger, do yourself a favor and get a brick of these parchment paper squares. Lay one down over your ground meat on the griddle and smash away with out any worries about the meat sticking to your spatula, bacon press, or favorite smashing tool.
Magnetic Paper Towel Holder
Magnetically stick your paper towels to your grill or a metal surface keeping spills and bacon grease at bay.
Lodge Pre-Seasoned Cast Iron Grill Press Makes World Class Paninis And Grilled Cheese
These flat weights are great for making grilled cheese sandwiches and other paninis, and even bacon. When I make sandwiches I preheat the press on high on the side burner, and then put the sandwich on the grill grates and the hot press on top so I can cook both sides at once. You can use them for keeping bacon from curling up on the grill with these, too. The Lodge model is preseasoned. Although the handle is supposed to provide heat protection, wear a glove. – Meathead
10 inch square cooling rack
This small cooling rack can sit on top of your griddle without taking up too much space. It fits great in the corner becomes a great way to let the grease drip off of bacon or keep foods warm.
1 Pound Propane Converter Hose
No one likes running out of propane in the middle of a cook and this connector hose will allow you to use any standard #20 propane tank instead of using the smaller #1 disposable bottles.