With large, smooth cooking surfaces, these aren't your typical grills: They're good for searing burgers, cooking pancakes, and even frying bacon.
Published Mar. 9, 2020.
Peek into the kitchen at any busy diner and you’ll likely see a short-order cook standing in front of a flat-top griddle, employing every inch of its wide, flat cooking surface to churn out batch after batch of fried eggs, pancakes, bacon, grilled cheese sandwiches, burgers, and more. A flat-top grill is a scaled-down version of this diner appliance that replaces a grill’s grates with a flat sheet of carbon steel. Like traditional gas grills, flat-top grills are propane powered, have multiple heat zones, and are designed exclusively for outdoor use. But unlike gas or charcoal grills, flat-top grills can’t be used for barbecuing or smoking foods. Instead, they’re meant for cooking foods that are typically cooked on a griddle—pancakes and fried eggs—as well as foods that are typically grilled but are flattop-friendly—steak, burgers, and sliced vegetables. And since flat-top grills have multiple burners, they also have multiple heat zones, which, in theory, allows for searing burgers in one zone while toasting burger buns in another.
In recent years, flat-top grills have surged in popularity. A 2018 article by Popular Science found that grill manufacturers have seen between a 150 and 600 percent increase in sales of flat-top models. The article credits the rise to the popularity of smashed burgers, a type of burger that is pressed flat as it cooks to give it crispy, lacy edges.
To find out which flat-top grill was best (and to have an excuse to eat a lot of smashed burgers), we selected four models, priced from about $170 to around $350. Three of the grills had four burners under their rectangular cooking surfaces. One of the grills had just two burners and a round cooking surface. On each grill, we made pancakes, bacon, and eggs over easy; seared Griddled Smashed Burgers from The Ultimate Burger and toasted burger buns; and made Chopped Cheese Sandwiches. We also used an infrared thermometer to monitor the temperature of each grill’s cooking surface when set at both a high and a low heat setting.
Before we could start cooking, we had to unpack and assemble all the grills. The cooking surfaces of all the grills were made of carbon steel, which needed to be seasoned before use to prevent rusting and keep food from sticking. The instructions were all fairly straightforward, but we did encounter some issues. One of the grills provided nuts that didn’t fit the bottom bolts or screws, and we ended up having to go to the hardware store to find replacements. One of the carbon-steel flattops emerged from its packaging covered with a very sticky coating, but it came off easily as we seasoned the c...
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