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What is a Plancha? Here’s How to Use a Plancha for Grilling (and how it differs from Griddles)

When warm weather begins to peek out from behind the cold front, many of us start dusting off our grills and preparing up a good steak or barbecue. That’s right! Grilling season is upon us and it’s the perfect time to try new methods of open flame cooking.

Plancha Grilling
Image credit: FoodandWine

Take, for instance, la plancha. This Spanish grilling method consists of a slab of slate situated over a flame. The stone heats and acts as a griddle-like surface. Curious? Here’s more about la plancha and how to use one.

What is a Plancha?

A Plancha is a common flat-top griddle used in Spanish cooking that combines high-temperature searing with a small amount of smoking. The “La Plancha Griddle” is essentially a cooking surface griddle that can be used outdoors. It heats evenly and cook’s veggies, seafood, or meat quickly – or fry eggs, bacon, and pancakes with ease.

For example, gambas a la plancha, aka “pan-seared prawns,” ranks with patatas bravas and tigress among the most iconic Spanish tapas.

The La Plancha has a backstop that helps you easily turn or remove food, while the smooth flat surface distributes grill heat evenly and keeps food from falling through the grates.

Plancha vs. Griddle: What’s the difference?

While there have been lots of comparison between plancha and traditional flat-top grills and griddles, there are a very few distinct differences.

The main difference between a plancha and a flat top griddle is that the plancha has very high heat concentrated right over the burner under the plate with a gradual decrease in temperature as you go toward the edges.

This is by design and allows you to sear foods and develop a beautiful caramelized crust.

How La Plancha Grilling Works

La plancha grilling works a lot like a flat top grill. The slate (or metal plate, in many cases), gets very hot and heats food rapidly. Just like plank grilling, but this time around using metal instead of a cedar plank.

Cooks use spatulas to mix and move the food around to help it cook evenly. However, there is usually a side of each ingredient that’s more well-done than the others. Because la plancha uses such a high heat, the food is cut into small pieces to ensure it heats through while still browning.

With just a touch of fat, food cooked on la plancha has a rich, grilled flavor, which explains why many chefs prefer it for coaxing out that flame-cooked taste.

image showing what a plancha griddle looks like in reality and how it is used for grilling

Variations

La plancha comes in many varieties.

For simplicity, you can use a slab of slate, placing it on the rack of your grill. Others feature a simple metal sheet put on a grill, while the more complex versions, like the Staub Cast Iron 18.5 x 9.8-inch Plancha/Double Burner Griddle are made of cast iron and are heavy-duty. You can even find electric versions nowadays online.

Regardless, by setting up la plancha in your backyard on top of a grill (or by plugging it in), you can cook flavorful meals for your friends and family.

Cooking techniques

Using la plancha grill instead of a typical grill requires some adaptation to your regular cooking techniques.

  • Heat: For starters, the plate should be very hot, upward of 450 F. Most cooks prefer charcoal grills, but placing la plancha on a gas model works, too. Make sure to heat your coals as you would when grilling normally, then place the plate on your grill grate.
  • Oil: Always use fat of some kind when cooking with la plancha because it provides flavor and lubricant and prevents your food from sticking or burning. Oil is the most common option; just make sure you pick a type that has a high smoke point. Because la plancha gets so hot, some oils (like olive oil) will produce a lot of smoke. Safflower, canola, and peanut oils all have high smoking temperatures, so they’ll work well with la plancha cooking.
  • Moving the food: Prevent your food from burning by swirling it on la plancha frequently. You can use two metal spatulas to flip and fold your ingredients, never letting them sit too long on one side. While traditionally small pieces of food are cooked on la plancha, you can also cook larger ingredients, say zucchini slices or burgers.

Conclusion

Be creative when cooking on your la plancha. You can cube meat and vegetables, heating the ingredients with spices and serving them over rice. Or, cut steak into long, thin strips and serve with grilled vegetables.

Fish and shrimp are also great choices, and require little seasoning. With the oil you use to cook, salt, pepper, and a squeeze of lemon, your seafood will have a fresh and grilled flavor. Consider using traditional Spanish spices to season your food, like paprika, garlic, saffron, and cayenne.

Along with pulling out your grill this spring, also consider giving la plancha a try. You’ll end up with intensely flavorful dishes that are easy to make and fun to share.

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