Fire Up the Plancha Grill!

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It’s time to celebrate spring and warmer weather. You might dig in the garden or open the pool. But for home cooks, it’s time to take the cover off the grill. Well, some people grill in all weather,
but for most of us, cooking outdoors is a warm-weather event.

But which grill do you use? That depends on how you like to cook. Gas grills are easy to use and control. Some folks swear that charcoal grills make food more flavorful. For others, a pellet-fueled grill such as a Traeger that can hold temperatures like an oven is indispensable. You can walk away from it; it’s low maintenance. Devotees of kamado-style clay grills love that they can be used for grilling, baking or smoking food. The design is centuries old, but they require a bit of training as the grilling technique is very different from conventional charcoal or gas grills.

All these grills do such different jobs that it’s possible you might own one of each! With so many options, what more could you want?

In a word: Plancha.

What’s that, you ask? If you haven’t heard this term before, you should know that the phrase “a la plancha” translates from Spanish as “on a plate.” Grilling a la plancha refers to grilling on a solid plate made of steel.

If you’re an old-school backyard cook, the joys of grilling include grill marks on the food and smoky flavors that come from fat and oil hitting the coals. You may be shaking your head at the thought of cooking on a solid sheet of steel. Why learn a new method of cooking and cleaning a new grill? After all, you already love your charcoal grill, or your gas grill, or your pellet-fired grill or your kamado-style grill.

Hold that thought.

Have you ever cooked on a cast-iron pan? Well, that’s essentially a steel plate. Cast-iron pans can handle a wide range of dishes, from medium heat used to cook delicate pan-seared scallops to the high heat required for pan-seared rib-eye steaks. From low heat to very high heat, cast-iron pans provide consistent, even heat.

Or, if you’ve ever sat at a diner where a short-order cook worked a flattop grill, you’ve seen another side of grilling a la plancha. A stainless-steel grill can handle eggs, bacon, burgers and pancakes, even though they require different cooking times and temperatures. Whether a flattop grill is electric or gas, it can be set at different temperatures to cook different foods, or just keep them warm. And these steel grills and pans require very little cleanup other than hot water and a good, non-abrasive scrubbing.

Let’s compare a steel grill to grilling on a grate over an open fire. A solid steel plate means fat or marinade will never drip on the hot coals, which means you needn’t worry about flare-ups. And a plancha grill allows you to cook small or delicate items, such as shrimp or scallops or chopped veggies, without anything slipping through a grate. Bonus points: cleaning up a steel plate is no more difficult than scrubbing the grates of a charcoal grill.

If you’re interested in grilling a la plancha, consider your options. Outdoor plancha grill stations, powered by propane or electricity, start at about $500. You may prefer the less expensive option of buying a simple steel plate grill that you can put directly on your existing charcoal or gas grill. The price point starts at under $100, but beware of bargains; make sure the quality of the steel is thick enough that it will not warp in high temperatures.

If you prefer a multi-tasking grill that is both functional and attractive, consider the Arteflame. This grill is simply a fire bowl that sits on a pedestal. The fire is built in the center of the grill, and an outer ring of flat steel serves as a plancha grill. This circular design ensures that the grillmaster never has to turn away from guests. Use the grate that fits over the fire bowl to charcoal grill or build a fire to heat the plancha grill as desired. For the best of both worlds, sear food at the heat you want the plancha, then finish it off on the grate of the wood-burning grill to capture the smoky flavor. In addition to cooking, the Arteflame serves as a fire pit. Just remove the grate and light a fire in the fire bowl to warm up on a cool evening.

If you’re looking to step up to the plate this grilling season, consider using a plate of steel. Whether it’s a simple cast-iron pan or a dedicated plancha grill, have fun using a new approach to grilling! ■

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