Flat top grills, often overshadowed by their open-grate counterparts, offer a versatile and flavorful approach to outdoor cooking. Whether it’s the perfect sear on a steak or the golden crust on a pancake, the flat top grill ensures even heating and a unique taste profile. But how do you unlock its full potential?
What is a Flat Top Grill?
A flat top grill, also commonly referred to as a griddle, is a cooking range that features a flat surface rather than grates with open airways to the heating source. Because of this construction, a flat top grill is able to cook a variety of foods that aren’t always possible on a traditional grill. This includes finely diced foods – like veggies and rice.
A flat top grill also protects food from coming into direct contact with the heat source (whether that’s a gas flame or electrical heating element). Flat tops work much like cast iron skillets in the sense that they need to be seasoned and actually produce more flavorful food over time as they get “broken in.”
There are tons of flat top grill products on the market right now – thanks to the increased popularity – but only some are worth investing in. Some of the best flat top grills are freestanding, while others can be built into an outdoor kitchen.
You’ll have to decide which type is right for you.
Getting Started With Flat Top Grilling
Once you have the right flat top grill, it’s your job to prep it. Start by carefully cleaning the surface to remove any sort of residual that exists from the manufacturing or packaging. Next, season the griddle by applying a thin layer of high-heat oil, such as vegetable oil. You’ll want to heat this until it starts to smoke on the surface. This will act as a natural non-stick surface, while also adding some flavor to your food.
Once seasoned, you’ll want to focus on temperature. Getting the ideal temperature is one of the keys to achieving consistent results on your flat top. Most recipes will call for medium or high heat. Medium heat is great for cooking things like vegetables, pancakes, and eggs, while high heat can be used to sear steaks or other meats.
Mastering the Art of the Flip in 1-2-3
Flipping food on a flat top grill is a skill that can make or break your dishes. It might sound easy enough on the surface – and it really isn’t incredibly difficult – but there are some keys to doing it right. Here are three simple tips for mastering this technique:
- Use the Right Tools: Invest in quality spatulas and tongs designed for grilling. They should have long handles to keep your hands safe from the heat. While some people prefer silicone spatulas for their soft edges that don’t scratch or mar the griddle surface, it’s usually better to use a spatula with a thin metal surface that can effortlessly slide underneath. Metal spatulas are usually three-to-four times thinner than a silicone spatula, which allows for a more effortless flip.
- Timing is Everything: Avoid the temptation to flip food too often. Most items should be flipped only once for the best results. For burgers and steaks, this means waiting until they release easily from the griddle before flipping. As difficult as it is to patiently wait for the right time to flip, you need to trust yourself. Go into cooking with a game plan and, unless circumstances change, trust the process.
- Practice Your Technique: When flipping, use a swift, confident motion. A hesitation or timid flip can cause food to stick or break apart. You might even want to practice flipping when you don’t have food on the flat top. On a cool grill, set a variety of objects down. Good practice items include cardboard coasters and bread slices. Once you’re comfortable with how the spatula performs, start practicing with eggs. If you can master the egg flip, you can flip anything. (And, worst case, if your practice eggs break, you can enjoy scrambled eggs.
Seasoning Secrets for Maximum Flavor
Seasoning is the soul of great cooking, and it’s no different when grilling on a flat top. Here’s how to infuse flavor into your dishes:
- Dry Rubs and Marinades: Just like with traditional grilling, dry rubs and marinades work wonders on a flat top grill. Experiment with different spice blends and marinade recipes to create unique flavor profiles.
- Butter and Oil Basting: While cooking, don’t hesitate to baste your food with a mixture of butter and herbs or oil and spices. This adds layers of flavor and helps prevent dryness.
- Build Flavor with Fond: Fond is the browned bits that accumulate on the griddle as you cook. These are packed with flavor. Incorporate them into sauces or gravies to enhance the taste of your dishes.
Don’t get overwhelmed by all of these tips and ideas. Instead, focus on one new suggestion per cook. Once you feel like you’ve comfortably mastered that one, try a new suggestion on the next cook. This is how you successfully stack your skills.
Must-Try Flat Top Grill Recipes
There are literally thousands of delicious flat top grill recipes you can choose from. However, if you’re just looking to get a few quick “wins” under your belt, you might want to start with some of the following delicious options:
- Breakfast hash. Cook diced potatoes, bell peppers, onions, and sausage on the griddle until they’re crispy and golden. Add eggs, scramble them, and serve a hearty breakfast hash.
- Smash burgers. Instead of forming perfect patties, smash your burger meat onto the griddle. This creates crispy edges and a juicy center.
- Flat top fajitas. Sauté strips of chicken or beef with bell peppers and onions, then serve with warm tortillas, salsa, and guacamole.
- Philly cheesesteaks. Thinly sliced beef, sautéed onions, and bell peppers all come together on the griddle. Top with melted cheese and serve in a crusty roll.
Whatever you like, there’s a flat top grill recipe for it. From pancakes and breakfast food to steak and even desert, you can do almost anything on the flat top. It’s just a matter of finding the time!
Adding it All Up
Stop dreaming about a flat top grill and start using it! The great thing about a flat top is that it’s easy to fire up, use, and maintain. This makes it super convenient for year-round cooking and enjoyment. Are you ready?