So what's wrong with the traditional backyard grill? Why would you buy a flat top grill over a traditional model? It can cook steaks, burgers, hot dogs, and many other proteins. It can cook vegetables with ease. Of course, they need to be large enough or shaped correctly. But what else can it do? What about breakfast? Stir-fry? Little things? Runny things? Here's where the limitations come in. Now, most people will say that they got their grill for the prior stuff, not for the latter.
For this reason, many companies produced griddle accessories for their grills. Some gas grills even come standard with a griddle area. The problem with this is that they tend to be small.
Recently, flat top grills have grown in popularity. These full griddle units represent a completely different approach to outdoor cooking, namely greater versatility. They can still cook a steak or grill burgers, but they can easily make pancakes. Buyers of these grills might be looking for this functionality, or looking for something more specific like traditional Teppanyaki cooking. Either way, the gas-powered griddle is here to stay. Though what should you be looking for in a unit?
Aftermarket griddles are available for individuals that don't want to buy a new outdoor cooker. Tabletop griddles are an excellent choice for those who want something small.
There are inexpensive flat top grills, and then there are deluxe models with heavy stainless steel construction. Some models are rectangular and have side and back walls to keep food on the cooking surface. While others are round and open. Let's dig in and find the flat top grill that fits your needs.
What can a Flat Top Grill Do?
As mentioned above, these outdoor griddles are capable of so many things. While many balk at the loss of open grate grilling, these units can perform many grilling tasks. If your model has a lid (or you've purchased one separately), you can add smoke flavor to your food. What makes this style of grill stand out, is it does a great job on those tasks that traditional units don't. People buy flat top grills because they can use them more often. In all honesty, many backyard grills only get fired up a dozen times a year.
Breakfast? Eggs, pancakes, bacon, hashbrown, you name it. A flat top cooks all of these with ease. In fact, it can prepare these items faster and easier than a stovetop full of skillets. Full-sized flat top griddles generally have a lot of working space. They are also designed to drain grease away, making even bacon a bit healthier.
Ever been to one of those Japanese restaurants where they cook right at the table? You can do that. It isn't even that hard, and you can find all the instructions you need on YouTube. In no time you will be building onion volcanos, cooking fried rice, steak and shrimp, and all the extras.
And yes, you can cook burgers and even steaks on these units. After all, most of your favorite burger joints cook on flat top grills. What you will find is that you can add more variety to your burgers. Throw diced onions on the cooking surface. Place a ball of ground meat on top and squish it all together. Instant onion burger!
What to look for in a Flat Top Grill?
The most important part of a flat top grill is the cooking surface. More specifically, the weight of that surface. These grills are gas powered, and while the controls are responsive, it is the mass that holds the heat. In fact, many of these grills have a heavier cooking surface than the rest of the grill combined. The cooking surface should be smooth. It will need to be seasoned before using it. This is an essential part of using and maintaining a flat top grill. Always follow the seasoning instructions exactly.
For freestanding flat top grills, look for quality construction. The cart should be solid. These tend to be top-heavy cookers, and the legs must be strong and wide. For larger units, you want at least two burners, as this provides for heat variation. After all, you might need a hot zone and a cooler zone for the dishes you prepare. Try to avoid grills with too many burners, since this becomes redundant. Most people will need at least two cooking zones. I recommend two to four burners. No more and no less.
Stainless vs Rolled Steel vs Cast Iron
When it comes to the cooking surface, you have some options. Most models out there have a rolled steel surface, and this is perfect. Rolled steel refers to a thick plate of polished steel. It is important that the cooking surface is smooth to prevent food from sticking. Rolled steel, however, will rust if improperly seasoned and exposed to the elements. Purchase a cover for your flat top grill. Some models come with them, but if they don't, then buy the cover for the grill. Properly treated, rolled steel can be kept outdoors and will remain in perfect condition for several years.
Stainless steel is a good option, but a much more expensive metal. For this reason, stainless steel cooktops tend to be thinner. That means that they don't hold as much heat. Heat retention is critical to this style of cooking. If you throw a large amount of cold food on a hot cooking surface and the temperature drops dramatically, the results won't be ideal. Typically you will find stainless steel griddle accessories for gas or charcoal grills. I have selected the best of them below.
When it comes to cast iron, be cautious. Many of the larger grill companies have perfect fit griddles. These are swapped out for the standard cooking grates in the grill. The problem with them is that they are generally limited in space. Moreover, cast iron doesn't have as smooth a surface and won't allow for the same kind of cooking. Some cast iron griddles are porcelain coated. When done well, it is a good surface. When done poorly, it will chip away, exposing the metal below, leaving porcelain chips in your food.
Best Tabletop Griddles
Tabletop Griddles are portable units that can be stored away from the elements. These smaller units typically run off of disposable propane bottles, but can be adapted to 20-pound propane tanks. The advantage with these over griddles for the grill is that they generate higher cooking temperatures. Also, they are less expensive than freestanding flat top grills. The models I have chosen are all under $250. All have grease drainage and two burners.
Blackstone 22-Inch Portable Gas Griddle
With 330 inches of cooking space and 24,000 BTUs from two burners, the Blackstone 22-Inch Griddle is quite powerful. Many portable gas griddles can't generate this kind of power. Add in the heavy rolled steel cooking surface, and this little model is as powerful as a full-sized flat top grill. Most of the 32 pounds of this unit are in that cooktop. It balances weight with portability but doesn't skimp on the power. Look to spend around $150USD for this portable griddle.
Camp Chef Versatop 2X Portable Gas Griddle
Two gas burners producing a total of 16,000 BTUs heat the 425 square inch griddle space of the Camp Chef Versatop 2X. While this model doesn't have the power of the Blackstone above, it still performs very well, and the additional space is a plus. The steel cooktop weighs 26 pounds and the whole unit comes in at 39 pounds. Camp Chef is known for their modular designs, and this griddle can be fitted with a grill box or oven unit. So, it really can do it all. The Camp Chef VersaTop 2X sells for $240USD.
Char-Broil 22-Inch 2-Burner Tabletop Gas Griddle
The least expensive portable griddle that I will recommend is this Model from Char-Broil. It has 320 square inches of cooking space and 18,000 BTUs that gives it plenty of power. At 32 pounds in weight, this unit is probably the most attractive of these three. On the one hand, I do think the grease tray for this grill is too small. On the other hand, at around $130USD it is the least expensive.
Many aftermarket griddles can be added to your grill. Generally, they are cast iron, and most of them are porcelain coated. You can check the manufacturer's website to see if they offer this kind of accessory. A good example of this is the Griddle that Weber makes for the line of Genesis Gas Grills. You can also find similar products for Napoleon grills as well as nearly all of the higher end grill makers. These griddles are suitable for cooking small food items or even putting the sear on a steak. However, they lack the size to do serious griddle cooking that the larger units can.
There is one product that I recommend as a grill accessory. The Little Griddle. These stainless steel griddles have plenty of space and are boxed in on the back and sides. They make great additions to an existing grill, and they are easy to clean and maintain. Remember to measure your grill before purchasing.
Best Inexpensive Flat Top Grills
It doesn't take a big investment to buy a good Flat Top Grill. I recommend keeping it simple in this price range. These models come in under $300, have two burners, and rolled steel cooktops.
Blackstone 28-Inch Flat Top Grill
The 470 square inches of cooking space on the Black Stone 28-Inch, are heated by two 15,000 BTU burners. It provides up to 30,000 total BTUs and plenty for high-temperature cooking. With side and back rims and front grease drainage, you get restaurant style cooking. Blackstone makes larger flat top grills, but this one is large enough for most families. It is also hard to argue with the price. At around $200, you won't be making a considerable investment, so this makes a good flat top starter grill. Yes, this is a beautiful grill to look at, but it does the job.
Cuisinart 360° Griddle Cooking Center
Cuisinart takes the Flat Top Grill in a new direction. Similar to the high-end Evo (see below), the 360 Griddle Cooking Center is round and can be approached from any direction. It makes cooking on it very convenient. You can actually walk around the grill while you cook, or several people can cook at the same time. The 22-inch diameter rolled steel cooking surface has 380 square inches of cooking surface heated by two 15,000 BTU stainless steel burners. This model has no raised walls to keep food on it, but a tray runs around the edge, so nothing falls on the ground. If this seems to small, consider the Cuisinart 360 XL for around $400.
Camp Chef 475-LC Flat Top Grill
The Camp Chef 475 LC looks a lot like the Blackstone above in many ways. With 468 square inches of cooking space heated by two 15,000 BTU burners, this is nearly a copy. The real difference is in the shape of that cooking surface. The Camp Chef is deeper, giving a more pronounced square shape. Is there an advantage in this? Not really. Both are very similar, and both units come from good companies with reputations for supporting their products. Just trust that either one will give you the same results.
Best Mid-Range Flat Top Grills
Larger does not mean better, but for those that need a bigger cooking surface, there are several flat top grills to choose from. Moreover, there are differences in styles and features. These mid-range flat top grills have different elements to offer. While the cooking style remains the same, look for more burners and other extras. I have tried to keep this price range between $400 and $1,500, and you can see that there is a good deal of variety here.
Blackstone Pro 36-Inch Flat Top Grill
Blackstone has dominated the flat top grill market in recent years, and this new model takes it several steps forward. Now we can see the simple cooktop on four legs grow into a complete outdoor cooking appliance. Consider the full cart for this unit. Not only does it make it more attractive, but it also provides storage space. The fold-back hard cover keeps the rolled steel cooking surface away from the elements; it is a great feature. The four burner, 60,000 BTU configuration means power and versatility. The Blackstone Pro 36-Inch has a huge 720 square inches of cooking space.
Camp Chef 600 4-Burner Flat Top Grill
The Camp Chef 600 remains a simple flat top grill. With its four burner design, the biggest advantage here is that it offers a lot of space for a comparatively inexpensive price. It also has four burners producing a total of 48,000 BTUs under 604 square inches of cold rolled steel. The Camp Chef 600 is a simple flat top grill that balances price with functionality.
Backyard Hibachi Flattop Propane Grill
With the Backyard Hibachi, we get functionality with design. What it doesn't add in cooking function, it adds in experience. Built into a full sized, bar height table, you can cook and serve in the traditional Teppanyaki style. It has a single cast iron burner under its 700 square inches of preseasoned steel, and it is quite similar to the Teppanyaki restaurant cooktops. The hot and cold zones are defined by their distance from the main burner and not by different burns. There might be a slightly steeper learning curve, but this is the true spirit of this style of cooking.
Best High-End Flat Top Grills
By the time we get to the High-End Flat Top Grill market, we see stainless steel construction, powerful heating capabilities, and attractive designs. With these, we are looking at prices ranging from around $3,000 to $4,000. All of the grills listed are available stand-alone or built into a custom enclosure. So you have options here. Any one of them will do a great job, but personally, I prefer the grill from Evo.
Evo Professional Classic Flat Top Grill
The Evo Professional was one of the first serious grills of this style built for the backyard. It is the result of master engineering. It has 650 square inches of cooking space with more than 50,000 BTUs that come from 2 high-quality stainless steel burners. Simple yet elegant, it is difficult to express just how good this grill really is. If you have the money, buy it. You won't regret it.
Le Griddle 30-Inch Flat Top Grill
Le Griddle makes griddles. It is what they do. They build residential and commercial flat top grills made of high-quality materials. With its traditional configuration, this 30-inch flat top has two burners heating nearly 500 square inches of its heavy stainless steel cooking surface. The 18,000 BTU heat output might not sound impressive, but the enclosed design puts all the heat right where it counts.
Blaze LTE 30-Inch Gas Griddle
The Blaze LTE Gas Griddle is similar to the Le Griddle above in almost every way. However, it uses twice as many BTUs. This is due to its lighter weight construction, and the desire for increased power. Don't get me wrong; it is a great choice. It has attractive styling and two large side tables (unless you get the built-in version).
Flat top grilling is truly a unique cooking style. There are no pans to toss, and food can be spread out over a large area. For this reason, you will need some specialized tools. Chief among these are a pair of long blade bent spatulas. The food must keep moving, and these make it easy. Also, you will need a scraper to clean the cooktop and a couple of squeeze bottles, one for water (steam) and another for oil (lubrication). Some flat top grills include these, but generally only on the higher end. Below are a pair of options that include everything you will need. The first option is around $20 and the other closer to $50.