Why Dan Souza and Julia Collin Davison Love Their Flat-Top Grills

Our resident flat-top grill fanatics share why cooking on one of these outdoor grills is so fun—and what they like to make on theirs.

Published Mar. 31, 2020.

When I first got my assignment on flat-top grills, two things came to mind: (1.) Wow, this sounds like a fun story. (2.) What the heck is a flat-top grill?

Here are some things I learned: Instead of a grate, a flat-top grill has a flat sheet of carbon steel for its grilling surface. These grills have multiple burners, which means they have multiple heat zones, so you can cook foods at different temperatures at the same time, such as searing burgers and toasting buns. Our favorite flat-top grill, the Nexgrill 4-Burner Propane Gas Grill in Black with Griddle Top, also has back and side walls, which aid in flipping and containing food. However, because of their flat, griddle-like surface, flat-top grills cannot be used for barbecuing or smoking foods, nor for something where you’d want grill marks such as grilled pizza. 

Equipment Review

Flat-Top Grills

With large, smooth cooking surfaces, these aren’t your typical grills: They’re good for searing burgers, cooking pancakes, and even frying bacon.  
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I also learned that flat-top grills have some pretty fervent fans, including our own Dan Souza and Julia Collin Davison. So, you may be thinking, it may look cool and all, but do I need a flat-top grill? Well, if you ask Dan and Julia, the answer is yes. Here’s why they love their flat-top grills.  

Dan:I love my flat-top grill for the same reasons that I love my cast-iron and carbon-steel skillets. I'm a big fan of cookware that gets seasoned, turning darker and more non-stick with use. If you take care of this kind of cookware (which doesn't require that much effort), it really takes care of you, offering incredible searing power and loads of versatility. The flattop takes everything that's great about my favorite pans but moves the operation outside (where smoke and splatter are no longer concerns) and offers up far more cooking real estate.”

Julia:One, it's seriously fun to cook on, and two, you can cook a ton of food at once, which can minimize kitchen mess. It’s also great for crowded weekends and parties.”

And here are some of their favorite things to make on their flat-top grill:

1. Smashed burgers

Dan loves cooking smashed burgers—where you press a burger flat to give it crispy edges—on his flat-top grill. When we tested flat-top grills, we also made smashed burgers, using half of the grill to sear the burgers and the other half of the grill to warm a saucepan of butter and then brush the melted butter on to the burger buns and toast them until golden brown.

Associate editor Riddley Gemperlein-Schirm makes griddled smashed burgers as she tests different brands of outdoor flat-top grills.

2. Burgers, in general

Of course, you can make all sorts of burgers on a flat-top grill, not just the smashed kind. Make a whole bunch of burgers at once, or devote some of the grill to preparing burger toppings such as sautéed onions.

3. A full breakfast

Pancakes, bacon and eggs, homemade breakfast sausage . . . the good thing about a flat-top grill is that with such a large cooking surface, you can cook a whole lot of food at once. Rarely do I fire it up just to cook a single thing,” Julia says—she loves cooking an entire breakfast or brunch on hers. Our favorite flat-top grill is large enough to fit an entire package of bacon, eight pancakes, and four eggs at once.

Full Breakfast Flat-Top Grill
Our favorite flat-top grill easily accommodated enough eggs, bacon, and pancakes for a family of four, plus room to spare.

4. Steaks and chops

Since a flat-top grill is like a giant griddle and has excellent heat retention, it’s great for getting a good sear on things like steak and pork chops

5. Crispy skinned fish and seared scallops

Of course, these grills are great for things other than meat. The grill’s excellent heat coupled with the fact that carbon steel becomes more nonstick with use means that a flat-top grill can still cook more delicate proteins. Dan likes to make fish and scallops on his flattop, where they easily get that crispy skin and browned exterior that you’re looking for.

6. Charred and steamed vegetables

If you add a domed lid (or overturned metal bowl) to trap steam, you open up a ton of vegetable options,” Dan says. “I char and tenderize big wedges of broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage under the lid and they turn out great.”

And while these don’t fall into Dan and Julia’s favorites, flat-top grills can also be used for much, much more—things you might not typically cook outside such as fried rice, stir-fries, grilled cheese sandwiches, flatbreads, hash browns, and more.

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