Envious of diner-style cooking, is a stovetop griddle worth it?
My neighborhood diner turns out some fine fried eggs, hash browns, chop steak and fried onions on their ancient carbon steel griddle. Watching the cook efficiently take orders and sling hash is like poetry in motion. I want to get good at this style of cooking so I ask, is it worth it to get a steel stovetop griddle or should I just stick to practicing with my cast iron pan?
Pros of the griddle that I can think of include: more space to flip eggs and pancakes, smoother surface means less sticking, and cooking for a crowd is much easier. Also you can have two heat zones with a hot burner and a warm burner.
Pros of sticking with the pan: I already have the pan.
So i guess I am talking myself into it. Anyone with a stovetop griddle care to weigh in with pros and cons, and buying recommendations?
I think what makes that diner griddle work so well is the even heat source underneath. When I use my large griddle it sits on top of two burners so there are two big hot spots meaning some things cook too fast, others too slow. A heavy electric griddle, on the other hand, can give you good even heat.
We have a griddle and love it. If you preheat in advance, the heat gets conducted relatively evenly, so there is no problem with hot spots. It's large enough to cook 6 slices of French Toast or 6 grilled cheese sandwiches at a time and the lack of any side wall makes it way easier to turn things with a spatula, than when cooking in a skillet. And, unlike a lot of specialty cookware, because it's a flat item, it can be stored on its side in cabinet with the cutting boards, so it takes up virtually no space when not in use.
At my old house there was a built in cast iron griddle, I loved that thing. It was so convenient. The stove top versions do not compare unless you have an even heat source. I've been trying to find a plug in version for a reasonable price but no go. The cheapest I can find is 600 dollars and that is more than I'm willing to pay for this.
I do use a stove top griddle now, but it's a round griswold cast iron pan. What I want is a nice large griddle I cook on for multiple people at once.
I've always wanted to channel my "inner-diner cook" and have the room to install one of these:
If you have the space and want the diner experience, maybe you can get one of these griddles. I have to rely on my trusty carbon steel skillets to get that same taste to my eggs and pancakes, etc. In fact, it's because I wanted to cook this way I searched for the carbon steel.
I don't know if it will let you do true "diner style" cooking but I love my 2-burner griddle. I give it ample time to preheat and usually put the smaller burner up a little hotter than the bigger one if I want it to be "even" all the way across (although the middle is still a little cooler either way).
The extra space is really convenient for pancakes, french toast, grilled cheese, etc. Even in my 12" skillet I can only do 2-3 pancakes and I barely have room to get in and flip them. On the griddle I can do 10 if I want. I don't love doing eggs in it...maybe I don't get it hot enough, but they seem to spread out a ton before they start firm up...my fried eggs end up looking like something from Dali. Plus I feel like a pro flipping the fried eggs right in the pan :-D
I was worried that it wouldn't get much use, but I am pleased to say it gets used pretty regularly now that I have it. Especially now that I have a child and not only do we do things like pancakes more frequently, there's more to cook!
Cast iron griddles are cheap - under $30 try to get quality pots for that price. Wal-mart of all places carries them. I think they are still made in the USofA so you don't have to worry about quality control issues.
The 2-burner size I have has a flat surface on one side and a ridged surface on the other - so one side can make pancakes, flatbreads (think Indian, Middle-Eastern), pizza, grilled polenta, etc.
The flip side can grill veggies, steak, entire fish.
Once seasoned, cleanup is a snap. You can just sponge it off, heat it up to dry it off & put it away. Or you can use an old diner method on the flat side; heat up the griddle a bit, add coarse salt (kosher or coarser) and a little bit of white vinegar & with a wadded up paper towel rub the crud off. Rinse, apply a little oil & heat to dry off.
[The original technique used a pumice block. That works for a commercial griddle since the next morning you are cooking bacon so the griddle is reseasoned, but for home use, this may be overkill.]
The smell of hot vinegar & fat is one that you will notice when you step into old-time diners. When I detect it - I KNOW they didn't go to the CIA!
Try a large iron crepe pan. The low sides really help for what you want to do. Let it preheat fully so the heat is consistent all the way across.
In my case, I have four crepe pans now so I can easily do 4 large pancakes at a time. Paderno/World Cuisine ~12" crepe pans are ~$25 delivered from Amazon and similar places so, it's pretty cheap to give one a "test drive".
I have a Lodge cast iron griddle that goes over two burners. It is no great prize, IMO. I do use it for pancakes and it works fine. Before I bought it I used two round griddles and they really work as well if not better. The round griddles are more versatile, they make excellent baking pans for biscuits.
If you want a stove top griddle, this is a good one.
It is steel so can be seasoned but the heat conduction is not as good. It will take a little longer to preheat and is heavy.
I also have a small griddle made of thick aluminum. It heats evenly and quickly and is able to season a little. There are some with nonstick but they wear out.
I have a two burner cast iron griddle but rarely use it. Like someone mentioned, it is good for pancakes and french toast but I never mastered eggs on it. Doing bacon on it was a nightmare - too messy. (I have since learned to do bacon in the oven on a rack and will never go back to the stove top.)
I would let it preheat for a long time and didn't have an issue with hot spots.
I have cooked on a diner-style unit at a hunting camp and the space is an advantage, it is easy to make a variety of things and feed a crowd. I don't think a stove top griddle compares when trying to do that type of cooking.