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Friday, March 06, 2009

Griddle of the Links

I used to think griddles were untouchable, friend. Not Kevin Costner/“Indian caste” untouchable, but Rolls Royce/High Class Stripper untouchable: the holy grail of hotcake satisfaction and breakfast bliss; a cooking accoutrement defined by luxury, elegance and performance; Jackie O, Sir Lawrence Olivier and Chris Farley in one sleek physique.

The problem was, for years our kitchen was in a narrow hallway. Only one person could stand at the stove, which had only 1 ½ working burners (the “half” the result of my attempt to fashion an intense “wok-style” flame with a hammer and pliers). So it goes in the Big Apple, where undersized dysfunctional cooking areas reign supreme.

In such an environment, the slightest additions (toaster, knife rack, etc.) seem like faraway suburban dreams. Until it hit me: griddles aren't that difficult to store – they're flat, and can rest against walls. Also, they are reasonably priced – the fanciest costs less than your average All-Clad. And they do stuff that no other pan can or will – kinky. Which is to say, griddles are affordable, functional, and easy to stash... even if you live in Brooklyn.Still, I know what you're thinking, friend: who can afford a griddle mid-recession? To which I say, Jesus didn't make excuses. Well before the Destruction of Troy: An Alliterative Romance (c. 1400) sang the praises of griddled fish, The Bible – specifically Leviticus books 2, 6 and 7 – offered detailed instructions on how best to prepare grain (in “the Holy manner,” extra crispy au griddle). So there you have it: thy MUST griddle.

Now... let's choose the right one. To help you out, we cooked pounds and pounds of hot links, bacon, fish, beef, pork, potatoes, pancakes, fat back, jowl, chops, souvlaki, and Sizzalean. And in the end we had love handles and heartburn two money griddles to recommend... to get you started on your new Swinging Griddle Lifestyle!
Do the math: non-stick + handles = corny

Before we tell you what to buy tho, here is what to ignore: the All-Clad LTD Nonstick Grande Griddle. I own my share of All-Clad, but this thing sucks. And it's not really a griddle. It's more like a glorified omelette pan with a stupid name and shiny handles. (Which make for difficult storage.) This is strictly for people who dress in Tennis Whites to cook breakfast. Also stay away from the Emerilware Cast-Iron Reversible Grill/Griddle, evidence that a reasonable price point cannot not compensate for mediocre heft and performance.

As for what to buy...
American Classic: Lodge brings the heat at a nice price

I love Lodge. This is American cookware at its finest: no-nonsense, unpretentious, immense performance at great prices. And their Logic Pro Cast Iron Grill/Griddle does not disappoint. ($48 at Amazon)

The good:
  • Terrific performance; mega-uber-solid construction; under $50.
  • Give it time, and the heat is even and strong... no matter what you throw on it.
  • Slightly bigger size (20 x 11-ish) comes in handy with things like homefries, which you can cook alongside bacon or eggs or pancakes.
The less good:
  • Solid means HEAVY. Plump “Christmas ham” heavy. It doesn't really matter once the thing is on your stove, but this is not for the faint of wrist.
  • The “grill side” grooves are relatively deep and wide, which means cooking fish or ground meat requires concentration and a relatively attentive touch.
  • Seasoning is a must (preferably with bacon fat) to avoid stickage.
  • Lodge grills have oil/grease wells, which come in slightly handy when cooking pounds and pounds of bacon. But not enough to compensate for the downside: more often than not, you want oil on a cooking surface.
Freedom Grill: Le Creuset is handsome enough for the living room, yet durable enough for the kitchen

I also love Le Creuset. Their dutch ovens and casseroles have served us well for years, whilst giving proof that tough and sexy are not mutually exclusive virtues. Or so the ladies tell me! (Cheetah purrrrrr....) Their Enameled Cast-Iron Giant Reversible Grill/Griddle is no exception. ($150 on Amazon)

The good:
  • Cast iron in a wholly manageable (19 X 9-ish) size.
  • Great performance on everything from bacon to eggs to scallops.
  • Terrific searing, and reasonably non-sticky enamled coating.
  • No grease well, which expands the griddle's utility (think: reductions, et al).
  • The grill side is relatively shallow and tight, giving great marks with versatility - everything from burgers to whole fish to steaks cook up something succulent.
  • No seasoning needed; good to go from go.
The less good:
  • Manageable size is sometimes limiting, especially if you looooove homefries.
  • Price. Weighing in at around a buck fifty, this is a product you have to want to have. But we recommend it super-highly, and use it all the time.
Head 2 Head: Le Creuset and Lodge griddles and bacon presses (pressi?)

While you're at it, pick up a bacon press. This seems like an old-timey/jokey purchase, but it's indispensable – especially to any self-respecting bacon/pork/meat/grilled cheese lover's kitchen.

Again, both companies offer quality options. The Lodge Logic Pre-Seasoned Rectangular Cast-Iron Grill Press is (predictably) cheaper ($17 at Amazon), and it comes in a smaller rectangular (6-3/4" x 4-1/2") model. It has good maneuverability, so long as you don't leave it on a hot griddle and pick it up like me an idiot with your bare hand. Le Creuset Enameled Cast-Iron 9-Inch Grill Press is (predictably) more expensive ($70 at Amazon), and comes in Satin Black, which speaks to its strengths: buttery slickness and a cool modern style. Great weight, great size, and a smooth non-stick underbelly make this far more versatile than it might seem at first glance. Again, it's on you how much you want to spend. And either way, your bacon will be that much awesomer. (Which means you will be the real winner. You won – high-five!!)

So in case you got bored and skipped to the end, here is what we learned today:
  • Everyone needs a griddle unless they hate Jesus.
  • Only communists don't own griddles, but this is not by choice.
  • Nostradamus predicted that the griddle would replace the hood of a Camaro as America's favorite “egg maker” by the year 2010.
  • All-Clad and Emeril make bad griddles.
  • Lodge and Le Creuset make great griddles.
  • The Lodge griddle is a large-and-in-charge, heavy, solid performer, and way cheap.
  • The Le Creuset griddle is a fantastic, versatile, user-friendly performer, and more expensive.
Believe that, homeskillet.

Blind Bacon Tastin' up next...

– J. Slab