The first piece of kitchen equipment that I ever received as a gift was a griddle. I was a high school freshman, at the peak of an obsession with grilled cheese, and on my birthday I came downstairs to find a sturdy, oblong gift waiting for me at the breakfast table. I still have that griddle, handles bent and teflon surface scratched, but it's just hanging around for sentimental reasons. Now when it's time for cooking on a large, flat surface, I get out my relatively new ten-pound, cast-iron monster, whose well-seasoned face heats slowly and evenly, making for perfectly golden pancakes and lace-edged fried eggs — as well as those simple, exquisite grilled cheese sandwiches (white bread, American cheese, butter) that I've never really gotten over. Plus the pan is reversible: flip it over and it's a double-burner grill pan, great for burgers, steaks, or chicken.
Lodge Double Play Reversible Grill Griddle, $29.97 at Amazon.com