Some of the best things in life are circular: the wheel, my wife’s eyes, the moon. So why not a griddle too?
That’s the thinking behind the Cuisinart 360 Griddle Cooking Center, which is built around a 22-inch-wide griddle plate that allows more than one person to gather ‘round and cook. It’s neat-looking and easy to use but a pain to set up, and a couple of quirks mean that the design isn’t perfect.
CUISINART 360 GRIDDLE COOKING CENTER REVIEW: PRICE AND AVAILABILITY
The Cuisinart 360 Griddle Cooking Center is available now in the United States, priced at $329.99. However, you can find the product for less on online, as well as other options, including a bundle with a specially designed cover and an XL version that offers a 30-inch griddle plate.
CUISINART 360 GRIDDLE COOKING CENTER REVIEW: ASSEMBLY AND DESIGN
Assembling the Cuisinart 360 Griddle Cooking Center was a rather involved process, as the whole thing comes in parts that you have to screw together. First, you need to assemble the base and the frame, attaching the legs to the crossbars. Next, you put the grill body on top and attach that to the frame. Then, you attach the fold-out table, affix the various clips that secure the gas line and, finally, install the paper towel roll holder and control dials.
Once it’s assembled, you install the propane tank, which is held in place by a hole in the base and a flip-over clamp that fits onto the metal rim around the top of the tank that protects the regulator. This supports the tank pretty well, though you should always remove it before moving the griddle any distance. Run a leak test with soapy water, and you are nearly ready to start the cooking.
The last step is to condition the griddle plate by covering it lightly with oil and heating it up as hot as possible, until the oil stops smoking. Let it cool and repeat this a few times, so you get a nicely conditioned, non-stick surface on the griddle plate that is ready for cooking. Cusinart recommends the use of flaxseed oil, but I found that canola oil worked fine.
It’s important to remember that you need to do this several times until the surface of the griddle plate is thoroughly blackened, otherwise food will stick to it. Afterward, I found that everything I cooked lifted off from the surface without problems, and any bits left behind were easily removed with a bit of scraping.
CUISINART 360 GRIDDLE COOKING CENTER REVIEW: OPERATION AND PERFORMANCE
The 360 Griddle Cooking Center is simple to use: you just turn one of the dials to start the flow of gas and spark the igniter, then turn it further to adjust the temperature. The two controls work on each side of the griddle plate, so you can have a hot side for searing and sealing and a cooler side for cooking veggies or keeping things warm.
The igniters worked well in my tests, lighting the propane quickly and easily most of the time, while producing the distinctive whoomph sound that lets you know the gas is burning. You don’t get a visual indication, however, because the burners are under the griddle plate, so you can’t see the flames directly. You can also start the burners with a match if required, but this does involve removing the griddle plate to access the burners, which is rather large and heavy.
I found that this griddle could produce a decent but not great range of temperatures. The lid includes a small adjustable vent that can be used to control the temperature a little or to keep the smoke in if you’re looking for a smokier flavor. There’s no temperature gauge or sensor, though, so you’ll have to use your own or rely on experience.
With its temperature range, the 360 Griddle Cooking Center can produce everything from gentle warming to a good sear, although heat does tend to spread through the griddle plate. If you only run one side at high, the other side still gets pretty warm. That means that it’s a little hard to use one side as a warming area; even with the other control turned off, the unheated side gets hot enough to dry things out.
The addition of a warming tray or pan might help, but due to the circular shape of the grill, you probably would struggle to fit a larger warming tray in there. If you’re cooking large quantities, you might want to consider the XL model of this griddle or another way to keep the food warm.
One thing to consider is this griddle doesn’t really get hot enough for cooking an item like Pizza Margherita. That needs to be cooked fast and hot (well, under a thousand degrees, anyway), and this griddle can’t quite manage it. The 360 Griddle Cooking Center does work well for more standard types of pizza, though. Throw in a pizza pan or stone and put on the lid, and you can cook up a delicious pie in about 10 minutes.
The design of the grill works well in general. The fold-up table at the left is small but has enough space for a plate and a couple of grilling tools. There are also hooks to hang tools from the edge of the table. It is a little awkward to fold down, though — the trick is to lift it up and fold. The paper towel rail is also a nice touch, as you always need paper towels when grilling, and the rail under the table means they won’t be taking up valuable table space.
There are a couple notable things about the design that don’t quite work, though – namely, the lid and the grease collection. The lid is a large, bulky, metal thing that covers the entire griddle surface. That’s fine when you’re cooking something that you want to get really hot, but you need to put the lid somewhere when you’re working on the griddle plate.
The Griddle Cooking Center does have a built-in hook that fits over the lip of the grease pan, so the lid hangs off the right side of the griddle. Unfortunately, this hook is rather small, and I found that I sometimes missed it, which meant that I was waving a very large, hot piece of metal around, trying to find the lip of the grease pan to hook it onto. A larger hook or something that clicks it into place would be a welcome upgrade. When you do manage to hang it into place, accessing the right side of the griddle plate is rather awkward. It would be easy to inadvertently burn a forearm or elbow on the large lid as it hangs in place.
Then there’s the grease pan, which is designed to collect all of the grease and oil that drops off the edge of the grease plate. It runs right around the edge of the circular plate and then channels the grease into the cup at the back of the griddle. Or, at least, that’s the theory. If the ground that the griddle is on isn’t even, the grease tends to pool in the pan, which is kind of icky and could be a fire risk if you aren’t paying attention.
My yard is fairly even, but an uneven spot on the space I use for grilling – a good distance from my wooden deck and fence (safety is important, kids) – meant that the grill was tilting forward slightly. I didn’t realize until the grease started pooling at the front of the grill pan. I found that the only way to get around this was to put a couple of bits of wood under the front wheels of the griddle, increasing the backward tilt to direct the grease back into the cup.
That’s also a concern if you get a sudden shower, as you are wont to get in my neck of the woods in Boston (and indeed in my former neck of the woods in the UK). If it starts to rain, the grill pan will collect the rain from the lid and direct it into the grease cup, a combination of water and hot oil that is definitely not a good thing. You also need to remember to check the grease cup if the grill has been outside in the rain – a wise thing to do even if it has been covered.
The grease cup itself is removable, so you can take it out after the griddle cools off and dispose of the grease properly (but don’t throw this down the sink unless you want to clog up your drains and create a fatberg in the sewer). Just remember to check the grease cup before you start cooking.
I found that it was better to remove the grease cup and store it with my grilling tools rather than leave it in place when storing the grill – that way, I would always have to check it before I started cooking. I’d also strongly recommend you buy the bundle that includes the dedicated cover, as this keeps water off the whole thing more effectively.
CUISINART 360 GRIDDLE COOKING CENTER REVIEW: VERDICT
The Cuisinart 360 Griddle Cooking Center is fairly well-constructed and intuitive for those who want the flexibility that griddling offers. It’s easy to start, easy to use and offers a good range of temperatures.
The design issues with the lid and the grease collector are a bit of a pain, though, and some people might be better off with a more conventional direct heat propane grill. But if you want the versatility of a griddle, which can handle anything from pancakes to pizza, this is a pretty good pick.
CUISINART 360 GRIDDLE COOKING CENTER REVIEW: ALSO CONSIDER
If you’re looking to grill but want something a bit different than the usual, try the Char-Broil Gas2Coal. This is a hybrid barbecue grill, which means you can choose to cook on gas for convenience and speed or on coals for taste and that authentic BBQ experience. Another option is the premium Weber Genesis EPX-335, one of the best smart gas grills on the market – with a price to reflect that esteemed status.