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Flat Top Grill Cooking: User’s Guide, 6 Helpful Tips & How-To Techniques for Beginners

By Jayme Muller

January 29, 2024

You just bought a flat top grill for your backyard… Now what?

If you’re new to flat top grilling, these appliances can be intimidating.

Don’t worry! Cooking on a flat top grill is incredibly easy. 

And once you get the hang of cooking with a flat top grill, there’s no limit on the delicious recipes you can make!

But before you master the flat top… You’ll first need to understand the basics.

We’ll lay the groundwork to help you feel confident in your flat top grill cooking abilities… Starting with a quick comparison.

 

Quick Links:

woman cooking on flat top grill

Cooking on a Flat Top Grill vs. a Gas Grill: What’s the Difference?

Both flat top grills and gas grills have burners below the cooking surface to provide heat.

The main difference between a flat top grill or griddle (the terms are used interchangeably) and a gas grill is the cooking surface.

Cooking Surface

cooking zones on flat top grill

Flat top griddles have a flat cooking surface that completely covers the burners.

On the other hand, grills have grates… Which means that the burners are not fully covered, and the food you cook will be in direct contact with the flames (resulting in sear marks and a distinctive BBQ taste).

When flat top grill cooking, the griddle top won’t give you those classic sear marks… Though it will prevent flare-ups, ensure even heat distribution, and allow you to cook foods that you couldn’t make on a traditional grill (like eggs, stir fry, or anything else that would fall through the grates).

The food you cook on a gas griddle will also have a more pure flavor (there’ll be no smoke or other fuels impacting the taste, as there would be with a gas, pellet, or charcoal grill).

The flat griddle surface will also retain all oil and drippings as you cook, which will lock in flavors and produce a caramelized crust… Though this also means that you’ll have to spend more time cleaning your flat top grill to remove any leftovers. 

How else does a flat top grill differ?

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There’s No Lid

breakfast cooking on a coyote flat top grill built into MOKS outdoor kitchen

While gas grills have a lid… The cooking surface on a flat top grill is entirely open.

This makes the flat top cooking surface more accessible… Even those back corners won’t be hard to reach!

It also means that flat top grills cannot be used for slow cooking or smoking, at least without additional utensils like a melting dome (more on these shortly).

Gas Grill vs. Flat Top Grill Cooking Temperature

The final major difference between outdoor griddles and gas grills is cooking temperature. 

Generally, gas grills have higher BTU output, and work better for searing at hotter temperatures than flat top grills (temperatures above 400 degrees are best for searing). 

On the other hand, flat top grills will work best between low medium heat (about 300 degrees) to medium high heat (about 400 degrees).

Though many flat top griddles are capable of getting to higher temperatures (around 600 degrees)… This doesn’t mean you should cook in that range.

Cooking at super high temperatures on a flat top grill increases the risk of your food burning… Which you certainly wouldn’t want!

Alright, that sums up the differences between gas grills and flat top grills.

Now, let’s talk about how to cook on a flat top grill.

How to Use a Flat Top Grill

It’s helpful to familiarize yourself with flat top grill cooking tips and techniques.

Let’s start with the flat top grill cooking tools you’ll need.

Flat Top Grill Cooking Utensils

Before you start cooking with flat top grills… Make sure you have the right tools on hand.

Many of these flat top grill accessories can easily be ordered on Amazon!

1. Spatula

spatula

A spatula will allow you to pick up, flip, or place foods.

A flat top grill spatula should be made with stainless steel to ensure it holds up to high heat.

Furthermore, the spatula should have a longer, heat resistant handle so you don’t get splattered with hot oil when working above the cooktop.

2. Griddle Scraper

grill brush and scraper duo

A griddle scraper is another vital tool! Like a spatula, a scraper’s wide, flat blade can be used to flip foods. However, a scraper can also do so much more!

With a heat resistant grip, this handy utensil is great for chopping and scooping foods off the hot grill.

They’re also incredibly useful when cleaning, as the wide blade will allow you to easily scrape built on residue into a grease trap.

3. Tongs

BBQ Tongs

Tongs are another tool that are integral to flat top grill cooking!

The long handle allows you to easily pick up, move, and flip smaller items.

Again, you’ll want to make sure your flat top grill tongs are made with stainless steel.

4. Melting Dome

Large accessories with handles… Melting domes are simply placed over whatever you’re cooking to trap in heat.

This will melt cheese, evenly cook food from top to bottom (like an oven), and trap smoke to impart flavor to your griddle recipes.

Stainless steel domes are best for using with a flat top grill… They won’t scratch the surface, and won’t warp.

Just make sure you have an oven mitt to remove the melting dome from the surface… The handle will get hot!

5. Cooking Racks

Cooking racks can be used to create a makeshift warming station on your flat top grill.

Setting racks on the flat top surface will provide indirect heat and keep foods warm while you finish cooking.

6. Squeeze Bottles

squeeze bottle

Lastly, a squeeze bottle will make it extremely easy to add oil to your food when it’s cooking, as well as evenly distribute oil as the cooktop preheats.

And while we’re on the topic of oil… What type should you be using?

Best Cooking Oil for Flat Top Grills

putting oil on flat top grill

When griddle cooking… Oil is used to make the cooktop non-stick.

The best oil to cook with on flat top grills will have a high smoke point (ghee , coconut, or avocado oil are great choices). This will ensure it doesn’t quickly smoke and burn off the griddle.

Flat Top Grill Tips for Preheating

Of course, the temperature you preheat to depends on what you’re cooking, and how many people you’re cooking for.

But as a general rule of thumb, you should never preheat your flat top at extremely high temperatures!

If your grill is super hot, any oil that you add will quickly smoke and burn, even if it has a high smoke point.

When cooking with a flat top grill, it’s easier to go up in heat than it is to go down!

So instead, you should preheat on low to medium low, and slowly build up to higher temperatures if needed.

The way you preheat your flat top grill also depends on the time of year.

In the summer, if your flat top grill is in direct sunlight… It may already be around 100 degrees before you even turn it on, and will take less time to preheat.

In the fall or winter, the cooktop will be cooler, and preheating will take longer.

Flat Top Grill Cooking Heat Zones

Flat top grills have multiple cooking zones.

While built in flat top grills tend to top out at two individually controlled zones, some portable griddles have as many as eight separate heating zones.

No matter how many heat zones your flat top has… You should be taking advantage of them!

You can set one side of your grill to a higher temperature for cooking meats… And on the other side you can cook foods at a lower temp.

This means that even when prepping a dish that spotlights foods with different cook rates, you can still finish everything at the same time!

Can You Use Pots and Pans?

You can absolutely use pots and pans on a flat top grill… But if you do, there are some important considerations.

The direct heat from a flat top grill will be sufficient at warming up small pots or pans. However, if you have a larger dutch oven or pot of water that needs to come to a boil… You’d be better off using a side burner or your indoor stovetop.

It’s also important to make sure you’re using cookware that can withstand high temps, otherwise it may warp!

And if you have a Blackstone Griddle, Pit Boss, Royal Gourmet, or Camp Chef flat top grill (or any cooktop with a coating), It’s especially important that you don’t use cookware that will scratch the surface… This will leave the cooktop prone to rust!

Don’t Forget to Clean!

We’ve touched upon this a few times… But we want to reiterate the importance of properly maintaining your flat top grill. 

Since the cooktop retains drippings and residue, you should be cleaning after each and every cook to keep your recipes tasting great.

And if you have a flat top grill with a carbon steel, cast iron, or cold rolled steel cooking surface… Maintenance is even more vital to prevent rust! Make sure to diligently clean, thoroughly dry, and periodically re-season.

Whether your flat top grill is cast iron, stainless steel, or otherwise… Appliance covers are also worthwhile investments to protect your griddle from the elements.

Alright, we’ve gone over some helpful tips for cooking on a flat top grill.

Now, let’s talk about some things you can cook on a flat top grill.

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Foods to Cook on Flat Top Grills

Since they’re highly versatile and so easy to use… There’s really no shortage of ideas for cooking on a flat top grill!

But before you tackle complex recipes, let’s first discuss the general cooking process for some popular foods.

Cooking Meats on a Flat Top Grill

No matter what type of meat you’re cooking on a flat top grill… The process will be quite similar!

First, you should preheat the flat top. Meats should be cooked between 350 and 400 degrees (medium to medium high heat).

While the grill preheats, marinate and season the meat to your liking.

Once the grill is hot, you’ll place a small amount of cooking oil or butter on the surface.

Then, place the cuts of meat on the cooktop, and let cook until each side has built up a crispy crust (flipping halfway through). Try not to flip more than necessary to allow for the best possible cook!

When the meat is fully cooked, remove from the heat and let rest before cutting. It will continue to cook even after being removed from the flat top, and cutting too soon will get rid of the delicious juices.

And that’s it!

Really, the only differences when cooking pork, chicken, burgers, steak (or other meats) on a flat top are the preheat temp, how long you cook, and what internal temperature you need to reach.

Steak cooks best around 400 degrees, while hamburgers can be cooked from 350-400 degrees.

A one inch steak should cook for about 4-6 minutes on each side, and hamburger patties should cook for anywhere from 4-9 minutes.

Medium rare red meat should be between 128-135 degrees, medium between 135-145 degrees, and medium well between 145-155 degrees.

Pork chops will cook best at 400 degrees, and internal temperature should read 145 degrees. Thinner pork chops take 3 minutes to cook on each side, while thicker pork chops take around 5 minutes.

To cook chicken on a flat top grill, preheat the cooktop between 350-400 degrees, and cook each side for about 5-6 minutes. Internal temperature for chicken should be 165 degrees.

Cooking Fish on a Flat Top Grill

So, cooking meat is simple enough! But what if you’re looking to cook seafood?

Well… Cooking fish on a flat top grill is just as easy! In fact, the process is almost identical.

Season, and marinate your fish…

Give the grill time to preheat…

Add oil to the cooktop…

Then, let the fish cook to your desired doneness (flipping halfway through).

The only difference is that your flat top will typically only have to be preheated on medium low for cooking fish (about 350 degrees). Although of course, the cooking temperature is dependent on what you’re making.

If you’re cooking salmon on flat top grills (or other fatty fish like herring, tuna, or trout)… You should cook for about two to eight minutes on each side (depending on thickness).

Most people prefer medium rare fish… Which will take less time to cook, and should reach 125 degrees. If you want your fish to be more well done, it should reach about 140 degrees.

If you’re cooking lean fish (like cod, haddock, or tilapia)… There are a few differences. First, lean fish won’t take as long to cook… And when you flip, you’ll also have to be extremely careful as it falls apart easily.

But still… Cooking fish on a flat top grill is just as simple as cooking other proteins!

Sides to Cook on a Flat Top Grill

To round out your dishes… You’ll need a side.

Veggies like asparagus, potatoes, onions, zucchini, bell peppers, and corn are popular choices for flat top grilling.

If you’re wondering how to cook vegetables on flat top grills… Well, it’s pretty similar to cooking meat or fish!

For any veggie… The best temperature range is between 400 and 425 degrees.

While your flat top preheats… Cut your veggies of choice and toss them with oil and seasonings.

Then, add a thin layer of oil to the cooking surface area, and place your veggies on the hot griddle.

If you want your veggies to have a bit of char… Don’t flip them immediately! Let them sit on the grill for about 3 minutes prior to turning.

When you do flip, cook for 3 more minutes on the other side. When you can easily slide a knife or fork into the veggies, they’re done.

Another popular side to cook on flat tops is fried rice… You’ll simply add cooked rice to the preheated griddle surface (around 350 degrees). Then, let it cook until golden brown (3-4 minutes).

To easily turn that rice into a stir fry… The combo heat zones come into play. You can cook the rice on one side of the grill, while the veggies cook at a higher temperature on the other side!

Cooking Breakfast on a Flat Top Grill

tamara day cooking breakfast for her daughter on coyote flat top grill in moks outdoor kitchen

By this point… You’ve probably noticed that no matter what you’re cooking on a flat top grill, the process is almost identical!

You simply preheat the griddle… Add oil… Place whatever you’re cooking… And flip until each side is cooked.

The same is true for cooking breakfast on a flat top grill!

The only difference with breakfast is that most items will require a lower cooking temperature.

Of course, bacon is the exception to this rule, and will cook best around 400 degrees (as with any meat)… But eggs will only need medium low heat (300-325 degrees), and pancakes will cook best at 375 degrees.

But otherwise… Cooking breakfast on a flat top will be just like cooking it inside on a large frying pan. It’s super easy.

How To Get the Best Use from your Flat Top Grill

With a better understanding of using a flat top grill (and some delicious ideas to try)… You’re probably ready to get outside and start cooking!

But before you do… What if we told you there was another great way to fully take advantage of your outdoor griddle?

If you’re going to spend a lot of time using your flat top… Wouldn’t outdoor cooking be so much more enjoyable if you had everything you needed, right on your back patio?

If this resonates with you… An RTA outdoor kitchen would be a perfect addition to your outdoor living space!

With a grill station… You can include an outdoor refrigerator for keeping ingredients cool… Cabinets for easy, secure storage… A sink for efficient clean up… And an outdoor bar for dining (plus, your choice of any other appliances)!

This means you can prep food, cook, and serve all in one place.

Not only will this make flat top grill cooking so much more rewarding… It will also create a perfect spot for outdoor hosting.

And the best part is… An RTA kitchen is one of the easiest, most convenient, and longest lasting solutions to make your outdoor space more functional.

They only take a few hours to set up… So you won’t have to wait long to start cooking!

And once an RTA kitchen is set up… The high performance concrete panels (backed by a lifetime warranty) will last for years to come.

If you’re intrigued… You can check out our Learning Hub for everything you need to know about planning an outdoor kitchen project.

And if you decide to take the plunge… We’re happy to help you get started!

Need Help With Your Plans?

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FAQ

You can! Flat top grills will be great for easily warming smaller pots or pans.

Just make sure you’re using cookware that can withstand high temps to prevent warping!

And if you have a Blackstone Griddle, Pit Boss, Royal Gourmet, or Camp Chef flat top grill (or any cooktop with a coating), It’s especially important that you don’t use cookware that will scratch the surface… This will leave the cooktop prone to rust!

Using oil while cooking on a Blackstone griddle will make the cooktop non-stick.

When cooking on a Blackstone griddle, use oils with a high smoke point (like ghee, avocado, or coconut oil).

Flat top grills give you more cooking versatility (you can make foods that would otherwise fall through grill grates, such as eggs, pancakes, rice, and more).

Foods made on flat top grills also have a more pure flavor (there’ll be no smoke, byproducts, or other fuels impacting the taste, as there would be with a gas, pellet, or charcoal grill).

Flat top grill cooktops can be made with stainless steel, carbon steel, cold-rolled steel, or cast iron.

Flat top grills have flat cooking surfaces that fully cover the burners, whereas gas grills have grates. You won’t get sear marks when you cook on a flat top grill… But there will be fewer flare-ups, even heating, and more cooking versatility (you can make foods that would otherwise fall through grill grates, such as eggs, pancakes, rice, and more).

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