To my understanding, to grill is cooking with a heat source located beneath an open slatted grate (or ribbed closed pan). (For example, using a barbecue grill on one's patio.)

The word grill is derived from the French for gridiron gril which is derived from the Latin craticula (gridiron, or small griddle).

So, how did this definition expand to the sense of frying on a griddle to be called grilling? For example, a grilled cheese sandwich. Does this actually date back to the Latin definition? Is there a chain from Latin to English for this definition?

Why wouldn't we just call this griddled?

  • Your understanding of the meaning of grill seems to be constrained. Even the link you provide lists this definition: to fry or toast (something, such as a sandwich) on a hot surface.
    – J.R.
    Commented Mar 27, 2014 at 0:30
  • @J.R. But, when you look at most other definitions, it says to heat over grates or bars. I'm asking how did the definition expand to include that.
    – David M
    Commented Mar 27, 2014 at 0:37
  • 2
    @J.R., the question is why does grill have both meanings? Why do we deliberately confuse ourselves by calling a grilled cheese sandwich a grilled cheese sandwich when it never so much as saw a grill, never mind being cooked on one?
    – Marthaª
    Commented Mar 27, 2014 at 0:37
  • @Marthaª Yes, thank you. That is exactly what I'm asking.
    – David M
    Commented Mar 27, 2014 at 0:38
  • 1
    Okay, David. I need to do more homework. :) Commented Mar 27, 2014 at 0:50

1 Answer 1


Griddle, grill, and gridiron all ultimately derive from the same root (Online Etymology Dictionary):

gridiron (n.)

cooking utensil, early 14c., griderne, alteration (by association with iron) of gridire (late 13c.), a variant of gridil (see griddle). Confusion of “l” and “r” was common in Norman dialect. Also a medieval instrument of torture by fire. As the word for a U.S. football field, by 1896, for its lines.

griddle (n.)

shallow frying pan, early 13c., apparently from Anglo-French gridil, Old North French gredil, altered from Old French graille, from Latin craticula (see grill).

grill (n.)

“gridiron,” 1680s, from French gril, from Old French greil, alteration of graille “grill, frating, railings, fencing,” from Latin craticula “gridiron, small griddle,” diminutive of cratis “wickerwork,” perhaps from PIE *kert- “to turn, entwine.” In many instances, Modern English grill is a shortened form of grille, such as “chrome front of an automobile.”

Grilling is a cooking method that uses any of these devices to apply dry heat to the surface of food (Wikipedia):

Food to be grilled is cooked on a grill (an open wire grid such as a gridiron with a heat source above or below), a grill pan (similar to a frying pan, but with raised ridges to mimic the wires of an open grill), or griddle (a flat plate heated from below).

While a grill (n.) is usually a device with a wire rack, raised ribs, or similar grid pattern, there are exceptions like the flattop grill that have a flat surface like a griddle. And we can grill (v.) food on a griddle,* because the cooking method is essentially the same regardless of the surface you use. Or to put it another way: The verb for grilling hasn’t become as specialized as the names of the grilling tools, and the adjective grilled comes from its participle.

* Yes, you can griddle (v.) food too, but it’s a very uncommon usage.

  • Very nice answer. I think you've found the link I was missing there. Thanks!
    – David M
    Commented Mar 27, 2014 at 3:17
  • 1
    @Bradd Szonye - Awesome answer! Well done. Commented Mar 27, 2014 at 3:43

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