How to Cook on an Outdoor Griddle
Outdoor griddles are fantastic cooking appliances; they can be quite small and portable, thus perfect for camping. They’re usually gas-powered, so they’re easy enough to use, plus they generally have fairly large cooking surfaces.
That said, there are some tips you want to follow when cooking outdoors with a griddle. How to cook on an outdoor griddle is what we will be discussing in this article.
How to Cook on an Outdoor Griddle
- Even Ground and Stability
One of the things you need to do when cooking on an outdoor griddle, such as if you are camping, is to ensure that it is set up on flat and even ground. Camping griddles are often fairly small and not very heavy. Of course, these are built this way to make them more portable and easier to carry on camping trips.
However, this can also mean that camping griddles are not the most stable. Put a griddle on an incline and start cooking on it, and it may tip over, not to mention the other problems that may arise.
It’s always best to set the griddle up on flat and even ground for maximum stability. Some griddles also come with special legs or feet. To help increase stability, consider putting a bit of weight on those feet or digging very small holes in the ground to put the legs in.
- The Drip Tray
Griddles feature a flat and solid cooking surface, like a large, square, metal surface, not like a grill that has grates. This can be an issue when it comes to fat and juices coming out of your meat and other foods.
Most griddles are built with a small slope, almost unnoticeable, with the point being to direct the juices and the drippings into a drip tray. If you plan on frying food and getting a nice, crispy, brown layer on the outside, those juices need to flow away from the food, or else the food will boil more than it will fry or sear.
Therefore, always try to invest in an outdoor griddle that has a very slight slope to the cooking surface, one which leads towards the drip tray.
We talked about flat and even ground in the above point, but if your griddle does not have a very slightly sloped cooking surface, you may want to tilt the griddle ever so slightly, just enough to ensure that the juices flow into the drip tray. This will help improve your overall results.
- Set Up in Cover
One problem which many outdoor griddles face, particularly small and portable camping griddles, is that they are susceptible to wind. These griddles usually use propane or gas burners which produces a flame under the metal cooking surface; there may even be several burners.
However, camping griddles, particularly where the burner is, may be open or they may not be. This means that the flame is susceptible to weakening or to being put out by the wind. You want to set the griddle up in a place where there is cover and some protection from the wind.
Trying to use an outdoor griddle in windy conditions will greatly increase cooking times and you won’t be able to get the griddle up to a high temperature. Cover from the wind is key for outdoor griddle cooking.
- Fill Up the Tank
Needless to say, you won’t get very far if you have an empty propane tank. There is nothing worse than having your meal ready to be cooked, only to find out that there is not enough gas to turn the griddle on.
Even worse is being halfway through cooking, only to have the griddle run out of propane, or whatever gas is being used. Therefore, always make sure the propane tank is full before you embark, and maybe even bring along a spare as well.
- Season the Griddle
No matter what your griddle is made of, whether steel, cast iron, or anything else, you occasionally need to season. Seasoning a griddle is as simple as warming it up and applying some cooking oil to it.
Remember to only warm the griddle up, not heat it to full temperature. Use some sort of soft brush, cloth, or other utensils to spread the oil around.
This will provide the griddle with a protective layer for the cooking surface. Not only will this increase the overall lifespan of the griddle, but it will also help produce a nonstick cooking surface to ensure that whatever food you make on it does not stick.
- Cleaning the Griddle
One big mistake which many novices make is to let the griddle cool down before cleaning it, or just not cleaning it at all; you always want to clean the griddle while it is still warm. This will make it easier to remove food particles before they stick on, and it helps protect the cooking surface.
Wash the griddle with warm water, and if possible, a bit of mild dish soap. If you are camping and unable to do so, an alternative would be to use a warm and wet cloth to wipe it down as best you can. Never let food cool down on the griddle, especially greasy and burnt foods, as they will stick on when they get cold.
- Temperature Management
Something which most people won’t tell you about griddles, in general, is that although they have various heat settings, particularly high heat settings should not be used. Never turn your griddle up to the maximum temperature, especially thinner camping griddles.
The low and medium temperatures are usually more than enough to cook any kind of food, and quite well too. However, the high heat settings, if the cooking surface gets too hot for too long, it may crack, bend, or warp.
It’s like with cars and their speedometers; the speedometer on your Honda may go up to 240 miles per hour, but chances are that it will overheat and break down before you ever get it going that fast.
Most griddles are decently durable, but such high temperatures for prolonged periods of time will damage even the best of them. This is especially true if you have a griddle with multiple burners. For most foods, the medium setting is more than hot enough to get a good crisp going.
- Using the Right Utensils
The last tip is to always use the right utensils, which pretty much boils down to flat spatulas. Griddles can be scratched, so using knives on them to cut foods or very abrasive utensils, or even abrasive scouring pads is not recommended.
Outdoor Griddle Buyer’s Guide
Before you purchase any old outdoor griddle, you should take time to look at the various factors and features. Here are the most important things to look for when buying an outdoor griddle.
- Cooking Space
One of the main things to consider when purchasing an outdoor griddle is how much space it actually has for cooking. Of course, these things come in various shapes and sizes. If you are a single person, then a small griddle will do just fine. As long as you can fit a few slices of bacon, a couple of eggs, and maybe a couple handfuls of hash browns on it (just as an example), you should be pretty well off.
However, if you need to cook for multiple people, such as if you plan on going camping with the family, then you will want to go for something that has substantial surface area for cooking. Simply put, pay attention to the size of the cooking platform, and the more people you are and the hungrier you are, the more space you will need.
- Versatility – Griddle Types
Some outdoor griddles are designed as solo acts, or in other words, you have a sheet of metal that acts as the cooking surface — and that’s it. Dome griddles come with flat tops, so just a flat sheet of metal that is ideal for cooking a variety of foods from veggies to meats, and more.
There are also griddles which come with a grill grate-style top. These are sealed, but they feature that grill pattern, just like an electric indoor grill (think of a George Foreman Grill), that makes those awesome grill marks on food. These are great for BBQ-type cooking and grilling.
There are then also those which come with interchangeable surfaces, so you can switch from the flat sheet to the grill grate.
Even better are those griddles which allow you to take the surfaces off altogether, thus exposing the burner or burners underneath. Many will then allow you to place an adapter on top which you can then put pots and pans on. If you don’t want just a flat top or a grill grate style griddle, and you want to be able to do things like boil water or heat canned food, one of these is beneficial.
- Fuel Type
The next thing to look at when purchasing an outdoor griddle is what type of fuel the model in question uses. Generally speaking, this will boil down to two options, these being propane and butane, both of which have their advantages and disadvantages.
On one hand you have propane, which burns hot, it burns steady, it’s reliable, and usually the fan favorite, plus it lasts a long time. However, propane canisters, even the small and portable ones, tend to be chunky, heavy, and quite costly.
On the other hand, you have butane, which is a lower quality fuel that is not nearly as efficient, effective, or long lasting, but it tends to be less expensive and not as heavy or space consuming. Personally, we would go for a dual fuel griddle that lets you use either propane or butane, depending on the circumstances.
- Number of Burners
When buying an outdoor griddle check how many burners it has under the cooking surface. How many burners these things have will usually coincide with their size. The bigger the cooking surface, the more burners are needed to heat it up fast and to heat it up evenly.
Small griddles usually feature a single burner right under the center of the cooking surface. Medium size griddles will usually have two burners, one on the right and one on the left.
And the largest of them will have 3 burners evenly space from one side to the other. Of course, the more burners a griddle has, the faster it will heat up and the easier it is to maintain a high cooking temperature. That said, be aware that more burners also means more fuel consumption.
- Ease of Cleaning
The next thing to take into account is how easy the griddle in question is to clean. A good griddle will have a slightly sloped surface to allow grease to drain off, and there will then also be a grease and liquids collection cup. The combination of these two features helps make cleaning up easier.
In terms of the easiest to clean materials, you are best going with a stainless steel cooking surface. Although cast iron cooking surfaces are extremely durable, they are much harder to clean, to maintain, and they weigh a lot.
- Materials and Quality
Of course, you want to look at the quality of the materials used in the manufacturing process. For one, you should look at the cooking surface itself. You want the metal cooking surface to be relatively thick and made of a material that can easily withstand plenty of heat. You don’t want it to warp or bend due to getting too hot, and you don’t want something that easily scratches.
Moreover, you also want to take a closer look at the frame of the griddle and the other components. If the frame has some decent thickness to it, you are on the right track. Excessively thin griddle frames, while great for lightweight portability, are susceptible to overheating, and thus to bending, warping, and cracking.
Yes, there are some tradeoffs to think about. A lighter and small griddle is going to be better in terms of portability. However, as you can probably tell, a cooking appliance like this, if it is too thin and lightweight, probably is not going to be overly durable.
Therefore, we recommend going for something right in the middle. To make life easier, you should go for a griddle that comes with a convenient carrying case.
- The Legs and Base
Some griddles are designed to be used on top of a table. These usually just have short and stubby nubs that serve as the base. They are fine for flat and even surfaces, and they work well if you have something like a picnic table to cook on.
However, if you don’t have a table, you will want to go for a griddle that has its own legs. This way, you don’t have to bend down or sit on the ground to cook. Make sure that the legs are sturdy, that they don’t wobble, and they should preferably be adjustable for length, so you can adjust the legs based on the ground below.
- Wind Guard
A good griddle needs to have a decent wind guard; there need to be some decent walls surrounding the burners. If the burners are totally exposed, even small gusts of wind can put out your flame. The worst case scenario is that you cannot get the griddle lit, or due to wind, you can never get your cooking surface hot enough.
Finally, as unfortunate as it is, you do need to pay attention to how much money you are spending on your outdoor griddle, because with this kind of thing, the cost usually says something about the quality. You don’t have to go for a restaurant quality appliance, but we wouldn’t go for the cheapest option either.
Outdoor cooking is fun, and if you can manage to find a nice outdoor griddle for your next camping trip, you’re on the right track. These are versatile appliances and you can cook pretty much any kind of food on them. Just be sure to set up your griddle right and treat it right too.