People change and feelings flow, but griddles are forever. My parents still have the shiny aluminum griddle that began my lifelong devotion to pancakes. I've had my own favorite griddle for 25 years, and I use it all day long.
If this sounds like the ravings of a dedicated griddlehead, it is. But griddles don't just matter big to me — they have mattered in a big way throughout history. Paula Marcoux, in her fun and informative Cooking with Fire, shows how these basic tools — made from everything from flat rocks to clay and metal — helped foster entire cuisines.
Griddles for Everyday Baking
Griddles are still the road to bread for loads of people. Ovens that come alive with the flick of a wrist are not everyday equipment everywhere. Or perhaps your oven, like mine, runs hot and cold and rarely, if ever, just right.
I can control the heat under a stovetop griddle because I can see the flame, so as often as possible, I stick with the top of the stove instead of the oven.
Here are a few tips on how you too can make the most of baking without turning on the oven, feel solidarity with all the griddle bakers past and present, and love your griddle all day long.
1. Griddles make more than breakfast.
Yes, the pancake supper can feature sausages and syrup, but take your pancakes off-road and savory: think cornmeal cakes with corn kernels & cheese, topped with salsa, beans, and sour cream. Got whole-grain flours on your brain? Oat flour, cornmeal, and flours from rye, spelt, quinoa, and rice all blend beautifully into batters. Stud those batters with chopped vegetables and cheese. Trust me, pancakes love salami and cheese as much as blueberries.
Start with this recipe: Amy Halloran's Perfect Pancakes
2. Griddles make great crepes.
These go whole-grain very easily, and wrap like skin over your favorite fillings. Mine are wheat berry-beet salads with baby greens and goat cheese. Or yogurt, cucumber, and spelt berry salad, with a little smoked herring.
Try this recipe: How To Make Delicate, Lacy Crêpes
3. Griddles bake bread, too.
This tool is home base for tortillas, arepas, pitas, and any kind of flatbread. You can make these two-ingredient breads very quickly and have your dinner mates roll them out while you make the fillings. Yeasted and sourdough flatbreads take more planning, but they were built for the griddle!
Try this recipe: How To Make 2-Ingredient Griddled Flatbreads
4. Griddles make biscuits and English muffins.
Get handy with your griddle and you can make biscuits, scones, and your very own English muffins (yes, they're officially leavened and not quick, but they bake the same way) on the stovetop. A few extra props are going to serve you well here. I keep a cookie sheet beside my stove, and prop it on a ladle to create a stovetop oven. If I'm using a round griddle for stovetop baking, I can invert a cast iron pan to trap that heat.
Try this recipe: Sourdough English Muffins
5. Griddles come a size (and shape) for everyone.
Each griddle and each heat source have their own rules. The half steel of a Baking Steel griddle needs different size flames than a 1/4-inch cast aluminum Merry Maid to get the same heat. Study the flame levels and where you set the knobs on your electric stove. Take it slow and test-drive your metals so you can see how to work with them. And give all of them, except the thinnest griddle, enough time to heat up evenly. This is especially true for cast iron — the first pancakes will look a lot different from the last ones, when the heat is more thoroughly distributed.
6. Griddles are why ovens have windows.
Because it is fun to see things cook! Watch and learn. See how fast water dances; how butter melts; when the bread browns. These tests will all become temps, and you'll know what temp and situation is right for each of your baked goods. English muffins and biscuits want low and slow. Pancakes like things pretty hot — but not too hot.
Try this: Scones with Cardamom and Honey
7. Griddles want to be loved
Find another, and keep it close to the stove. I don't take my favorite griddle out of the house, but I'm ready to test-drive new and new-to-me models. I love my griddles, and I love seeing and using the griddles that other families have loved. At one friend's house I make pancakes on his grandmother's cast aluminum beauty. Another friend gave me his grandmother's double-burner cast iron oval with two handles and steep sides. I get to stand facing the stove and turn heat and flour into tangible ghosts that feed me, my imagination, and my friends.
Try this recipe: Norwegian Potato Lefse