Using a flat top grill

Using a Flat Top Grill: The #1 Ultimate Guide

Have you ever wondered why so many people love cooking on flat top grills? From chefs in restaurants and food vans, to home cooks, a flat top grill can be a great additional tool for your kitchen. The space, ease of use and durable flat top grill can really be a game changer.

Whether you just want to sear a steak, make a full breakfast or stir-fry, a flat top grill can do any job really easily. Maintenance is not too difficult either. In this guide I’ll talk you through some of the main things I think you need to keep in mind. If you have a flat top, or considering getting one, this guide will help you get the answers you need.

Flat top grills offer versatility, durability, and ease of use, making them ideal for a variety of cooking tasks from breakfast to dinner. This guide covers the essential aspects, including types of grills, seasoning, cooking techniques, cleaning, maintenance, and safety tips.

Types of flat top grills

There are so many different types of flat top grills available on the market but the main differences are the materials they are made from, the burner options available, the size and any extra features that may come with them such as shelves for storage, covers for protection and sometimes even built-in coolers for the higher-end ones.

Materials

The majority of flat top grills are made from stainless steel. The reason most manufacturers prefer this material is its durability, ability to conduct heat well and how easy it is to clean.

Stainless steel is really resistant to rust and corrosion which can make it ideal if you use a flat top grill outdoors. Particularly in the UK, with rain predicted all year round, something that can withstand developing rust is ideal for this part of the world.

The heat conductivity of stainless steel is fantastic. It heats up evenly and quickly and is naturally non-stick. If you want to know how to cook with stainless steel and make it non-stick, read this article on the ‘mercury ball test.

Over the years I have grown my collection of kitchen tools and utensils from non-stick pans (not any more) to stainless steel, copper pans and cast-iron and can say without hesitancy that my stainless steel pans are by far the easiest to maintain. Their smooth surface prevents food from sticking and anything left over after cooking can be easily cleaned off. Anything that might be burnt on, I just leave it to soak in water for about 10-15 minutes and I am good to go.

Some professional flat top grills may also have a surface of cold-rolled steel. This material is excellent for heat retention and is often preferred for their durability and superior performance.

Burner Options

Burners are at the heart of the flat top grill. The number of burners and the types of burners can significantly affect your cooking so consider these when getting your own grill.

Single burner flat top grills can be ideal for small meals or side dishes which can be compact and easy to use.

Flat top grills with two to four burners are the most likely types of grills you will come across. These are great for cooking full meals (breakfast with eggs – either full english or american style) as well as hibachi meals, stir fry or grilling a juicy picanha steak.

Ideally, look for grills that can provide you independent control of each burner and zone so you can have more control over the cooking surface.

Size and Mobility

The size of the grill you choose will depend on the space you have available, how frequently you will likely be using it and the size of the meals you will be making. On the market you can find a range of sizes for the grill from compact grills that can be easily moved to large grills for use in the home, for outdoor cooking or in professional settings. If you are looking for a budget-friendly option, you can also get flat top grill pans that can fit onto your existing stove and use the gas from the stove to heat the grill.

Extra Features

The modern flat top grills often come with additional features to improve your expereince. Common things to look out for include side shelves and chopping boards, storage cabinets, built-in coolers and grease management systems to deal with excess grease.

I would suggest considering these points if you are looking to get yourself a new flat top grill.

Stir fry on a flat top grill

Seasoning Your Flat Top Grill

If you want your flat top grill to work its best and keep it in mint condition for years to come, you have to season your flat top.

Seasoning your flat top grill is the first step if you want your grill to perform at its optimum for years to come. Seasoning helps create a non-stick surface for you to cook your food, which only improves the experience and prevents the build-up of rust.

What you need to season your flat top grill

  • Neutral cooking oil or animal fat
  • Paper towels
  • A spatula or grill scraper

Steps to season your grill

  1. Clean the grill You have to start with a clean grill. If you are seasoning a grill that has never been used before give it a clean with some warm soapy water and a damp cloth. If you have used your grill many times before and want to re-apply a new coating of seasoning, give the grill a good clean before you re-season it.
  2. Preheat the grill: Turn on your flat top grill and let it get hot! The high heat will help open up the pores of the cooking surface making it soak up all the seasoning oil.
  3. Apply the oil: Pour a small amount of oil onto the grill surface. Using paper towels, spread the oil evenly across the entire surface. Be careful not to burn yourself—use tongs to hold the paper towels if needed. Wipe up any excess oil on the grill.
  4. Heat the oil: Let the oil heat up until it starts to smoke. This process allows the polymerization of the oil to the metal, creating a bond which makes the surface non-stick. The polymerization process can take about 10-15 minutes each.
  5. Cool down and repeat: Turn off the grill and let it cool completely. Repeat the oiling, heating and cooling process until there is a good seasoning layer, typically 3-4 times.
  6. Maintenance: After each use of your now expertly seasoned flat top grill, scrape off any food and apply another thin layer of oil to keep the surface sesoned.
Seasoned flat top grill

Cooking Techniques On A Flat Top Grill

Cooking on a flat top grill is a bit different from using a traditional grill or stovetop. Here are some essential techniques to keep in mind.

Direct and Indirect Heat Zones:

Creating different heat zones on your grill helps manage cooking different types of food at the same time. Direct heat is great for searing, while indirect heat is perfect for cooking food through without burning it.

  1. Preheat Sections: Preheat one side of the grill on high (direct heat) and the other side on low or off (indirect heat).
  2. Cooking with Heat Zones: Start cooking your food on the direct heat side to sear it, then move it to the indirect heat side to finish cooking. If you are unsure when your food may be done, use an instant read thermometer to make sure your food is cooked properly and to your liking.

Using the Right Tools:

  1. Spatula: A good, sturdy spatula is your best friend. It’s perfect for flipping burgers, pancakes, and veggies. There are a range of companies that make these spatulas but make sure it is built well and with good materials.
  2. Scraper: Use a scraper to keep the cooking surface clean. It’s essential for removing stuck-on food and keeping your grill in top shape.

Common Flat Top Grill Recipes:

  1. Smash Burgers: Form beef into balls and place them on the hot side of the grill. Use a spatula to press them down into thin patties. Cook for a couple of minutes on each side until crispy and cooked through. Don’t forget to pair it with one of the best smash burger sauce recipes.
  2. Stir-Fry: Use the entire grill surface for a quick and easy stir-fry. Cook meat on the hot side and veggies on the cooler side, then mix them together and add sauce.
  3. Breakfast Favorites: Pancakes, eggs, and bacon cook beautifully on a flat top grill. Use the cooler side for eggs and the hotter side for pancakes and bacon.
Cooking meat on a flat top grill

Tips for Success:

  1. Don’t Overcrowd: Leave space between food items to ensure even cooking and easy flipping.
  2. Keep it Clean: Scrape the grill after each use and wipe it down with oil to maintain the seasoning.
  3. Practice Makes Perfect: The more you use your flat top grill, the more comfortable you’ll become. Experiment with different foods and techniques to find what works best for you.
Breakfast pancakes on a flat top grill

Cleaning And Maintenance Tips For Flat Top Grills

If you really want to get the most of your flat top grill, proper clenaing and maintenance is so important to get great results and delicious food. I thought of some tips to keep your grill in tip-top shape. If you want further details check out this article on how best to clean a flat top grill.

Daily cleaning

  • Each time you use your flat top grill, as tempting as it may be to step away once you have put in all the hard work of making your meal to dig in, scrape all the food off the grill while it is still hot. This will prevent from excessive food, carbon and grease to stick on the surface.
  • Once your grill has cooled down but is still warm, wipe the surface with a damp cloth if it is not too messy or pour a small amount of water to let the steam generated lift anything left over.
  • When your grill is nice and clean, wipe it all down with a damp cloth and apply a small layer of oil over the whole cooking surface to keep it in great condition, reduce the development of rust and protect the flat top grill.

Deep cleaning

  1. Use hot water – for a deeper clean, get the flat top grill piping hot and pour water over the top to create steam and scrape everything with a spatula. You may need to repeat this step several times depending on the state of your grill.
  2. Avoid harsh chemicals – even though some brands will market products as safe to use on a cooking surface, I prefer to steer clear of any abrasive, caustic or harsh chemicals, particularly on surfaces where I prepare food. Stick to water and mild cleaners if you have to.
  3. Always re-season after a clean – re-seasoning your grill will keep in great condition and is really a non-negotiable if you want to make the most of the flat top grill.

Safety Tips For Using A Flat Top Grill

Here is the boring bit but worth putting in here. Just a few safety tips to keep an eye out for.

  • Read the manual – there may be some useful information in there regarding how to set up your grill, how to use it, store it and maintain it.
  • Keep your grill on a stable surface – this is quite self-explanatory but you dont want that heavy grill toppling over, particularly if you are in the presence of young children.
  • Always use your grill in a well-ventilated area. The gas emits smoke and fumes so make sure you are in an area with plenty of good airflow.

FAQs

How to Cook Seafood on a Flat Top Grill

Preheat the grill on medium-high heat, then lightly oil the surface to prevent sticking. Season your seafood with salt, pepper, and a bit of oil. Place the seafood on the grill, cooking for 2-3 minutes per side until it’s opaque and flakes easily with a fork.

Is It Necessary To Season A Flat Top Grill Before Each Use?

No, it’s not necessary to season your flat top grill before each use. However, you should maintain the seasoning by applying a thin layer of oil after each use. This helps to keep the surface non-stick and prevents rust. If the seasoning starts to wear off or the grill looks dry, re-season it by heating it up and applying oil until it smokes.

How Often Should I Clean My Flat Top Grill?

You should clean your flat top grill after every use. Scrape off food residue and wipe the surface with a damp cloth. For a deeper clean, use hot water and a grill brush. Regular maintenance, including checking for rust and re-seasoning as needed, will keep your grill in top condition.

What Is The Best Way To Store A Flat Top Grill?

Store your flat top grill in a dry, covered area to protect it from the elements. If possible, keep it indoors or in a garage. Use a grill cover to prevent dust and moisture from accumulating. Make sure the grill is completely cool and clean before covering and storing.

Are Flat Top Grills Suitable For All Types Of Cooking?

Yes, flat top grills are great pieces of kit for all types of cooking. They can handle everything from breakfast foods like pancakes and eggs to lunch and dinner items like burgers, stir-fries, and even delicate foods like seafood.

Cooking burgers on a flat top grill

Wrapping Up Flat Top Grills

Flat top grills are incredibly versatile, durable, and easy to use, making them an excellent addition to any kitchen. Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned pro, using a flat top grill can elevate your cooking game. From properly seasoning your grill to exploring various cooking techniques and ensuring thorough cleaning and maintenance, this guide covers all the essentials to help you get the most out of your flat top grill.

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