These days when you ask most people how they prefer to grill a hamburger the debate will quickly shift to a decade’s old debate about charcoal versus gas. Yet if you were to travel back in time to the 1950s when hamburgers we’re the hottest thing on the American culinary landscape, you wouldn’t find more than a handful of places letting the meat patty kiss open flame!
In those days, hamburgers and a lot of other foods that are popular on the grill today were actually being cooked on a flat top griddle! If you were to hunt down one of the few old hamburger joints still in operation today, you would be served up a seared and juicy patty that may just make your knees weak!
So, what gives? Why do we grill meat over open flame rather than on a griddle?
The short answer is likely a mishmash of reasons. A lot of it is due to marketing messages from the 1960s through the 1980s, as well as men taking a more prominent role in cooking, yet still looking for a reason to “Get Out Of The House.” Of course, there’s also the excuse that as the only species to master fire, that we have a natural inclination toward the smoke and the fire-kissed flavors of grilled meat.
Yet in recent years more and more grill manufacturers have been pumping the market full of very high-quality griddles that are affixed to some type of grill. At the same time, we have to remember that these arguably large corporations, with their expansive marketing research departments, don’t do anything on accident. They tend to respond to consumer interests, or they anticipate consumer demand to make them profits and fill your belly with tasty meat.
What Are The Benefits Of Cooking Meat On A Griddle?
When we get down into the food science behind the growing popularity of griddles, we find that there are short-term and long-term benefits.
For starters, when you cook a piece of meat on a grill, some of the natural juices and rendered fat are simply lost to the flames. All that flavor literally goes up in a puff of smoke. You cross your fingers and hope that maybe that passing flirtation of smoke and meat will translate into the fire-kissed flavor, but really most of the natural flavor of the fat is lost.
One way to answer this problem is to use a griddle. This way the fat and natural flavors essentially refract back into the meat to maintain maximum flavor and juiciness while also creating a flavorful sear. Not to mention you can use the griddle top to do other things like fry bacon, saute vegetables, or improvise as a warmer.
Yet griddles and the confines of an indoor, residential kitchen don’t always play nicely together. It’s when we take the griddle outdoors and marry it conveniently with the grill that we open up a whole new horizon in outdoor cooking.
Now, there are some grill accessory manufactures who produce griddles that you can place on top of a direct flame grill. They will do just fine for sauteeing vegetables for fajitas or even crisping up some slices of bacon. If you go much more beyond that, you run the risk of excess fat building up and pouring over to cause a catastrophic flare-up.
A grill that has a built-in griddle or optional removable griddle top with a grease management system gives you all the flavor you enjoy, while also keeping flammable grease away from powerful flames. It also makes cleanup easier to boot!
What Is The Best Metal For A Griddle Top?
It’s also worth bearing in mind that the material of the griddle top itself can be a factor. Rolled steel, cast iron and other exposed metal griddles need to be “Seasoned.” This term doesn’t refer to herbs and spices. It’s actually a layer of clear hydrocarbon chains, which can easily be mistaken for “Grease.”
The more you cook on an exposed metal surface griddle the established this seasoning layer becomes. This translates into flavor that is directly imparted to future meals. Just bear in mind that a proper seasoning layer needs to be maintained. This calls for proper scraping down after every single cooking session, without exception.
You also shouldn’t ever clean it with water, which will break down the hydrocarbon chains and could leave the griddle top susceptible to rust! If you do happen to cook something that’s a little wet, like say vegetables that bleed juice onto the griddle top, you should rub a neutral oil on that area. A little flaxseed oil or vegetable shortening will do in a pinch.
Can I Melt Cheese On A Griddle?
Cheeseburgers are a classic grilled food that just about everyone adores. The meat patty really takes on a great seared flavor on a griddle.
When you make cheeseburgers on a grill, you flip the patty the last time add your cheese and close the lid. The ambient heat trapped inside melts the cheese for you. Unfortunately, most outdoor griddles don’t have a lid like this. If you simply add cheese to the top and let the warmth of the patty melt the cheese, it could end up burning the bottom of the meat patty before the cheese on top is properly gooey!
There are people who let this little foible turn them away from the idea of buying an outdoor griddle. Yet you shouldn’t!
In fact, melting cheese on a hamburger patty, or other meat, is as simple as putting a frying pan or saucepot lid over top, and squirting a little water, or dropping down a pat of butter. The steam will quickly build up under the lid to melt the cheese. You can then deck it out with the sautéed onions and bacon that you’ve been frying up on the other half of the griddle!
Choosing The Right Size Griddle
Size is going to be a factor with outdoor griddles. You need to think about the number of people you are most often going to be cooking for. If it’s just you and a significant other, you might be able to get away with something in the neighborhood of 300-square inches. This is enough room to sear up two steaks at the same time. You could even get away with a nice little breakfast on a hot summer morning to let your air conditioner get ahead on the day.
There are even a few electric units out there that can double as a multi-purpose clamshell griddle, sandwich maker or frying pan. If you poke around long enough you might even find one or two with interchangeable plates that lets them double as a waffle maker.
The Best Small Indoor Or Outdoor Griddles
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The Best Large Outdoor Griddles
On the other end of the spectrum, there are some truly large gas griddles that can feed a lot of hungry mouths. 500 to 700 square inches is usually more than enough to cook for a large family. There are even some outdoor griddles, with propane burners that become the beating heart of a food truck, for hosting a church social or featuring at a pop-up restaurant.
If you are in the market for a portable camping griddle, a small griddle for your back patio, or a monster outdoor gas griddle to feed a small horde, there are several options worthy of your consideration. Once you have factored in your ideal size, then you can start filtering other features and choosing the right griddle top material.