If you've ever dined at a restaurant counter with a view of the kitchen, you likely noticed a lot of the cooking being done on a flat top grill. Flat tops are simple but versatile, allowing for different forms of cooking multiple items at once, such as scrambled eggs on one side, potatoes on another and bread on yet another. Once you know the different cooking techniques for a flat top, you'll be speed cooking at home like the restaurant pros.
Method and Advantages
Unlike an open grill with a grate where food can fall through, the flat surface provides an even cooking surface, which is often made of steel. Typically, the flame or heat is conducted from below in a circular pattern, providing a uniform heating plane. The circular heat is controllable, providing a much more predictable cooking experience than when you’re working with an open flame. Flat top grills are appropriate for cooking everything from eggs to steak and even boiling water.
Use the Whole Grill
Believe it or not, you can cook on your flat top grill using a number of methods at once, allowing your dinner to cook quickly, and at the same time. As you throw on chicken breasts to grill in the center of your flat top, place a pot of water to boil for pasta next to them. When its time to flip the breast to cook on the other side, toss vegetables directly onto the top to sauté, or if you want to bathe them in a light butter sauce, throw them in a saute pan next to the meat. Just sprinkle seasonings on the meat and vegetables as you go.
Because of the heat radiating from the flat surface, you’ll want to have oven mitts and your cooking tools at the ready -- and your kids far away from the flat top. Long-handled tongs turn your meat, and an oven mitt placed over one hand allows you to hold onto a pot handle while you stir a cheese sauce with a long-handled spoon. The cheese sauce drizzles over the asparagus you just placed on the center grill right after the steak was moved to the edge of the grill to finish cooking for the last few minutes. Once you master the timing, you’ll deftly cook each of your meal’s features on the same surface, speeding up the process and guaranteeing the food cooks uniformly.
If you’ve ever seasoned a cast-iron skillet, the same principle applies to seasoning your flat top. Bacon and eggs cooked side-by-side for breakfast provide seasoning for that evening’s Japanese steakhouse dinner of stir-fried chicken and mixed veggies while rice steams in a pot mere inches away. After each meal when the flat top cools, scrape away the remaining food particles with a flat scraper, discard and then coat the surface lightly with a thin, fresh coat of cooking oil. The cycle continues when you cook a quick breakfast of sausage and a pot of oatmeal that seasons the grill for that night’s 15-minute whitefish dinner with crispy-fried potatoes and onions.
Exception to the Rule
Before you cook breads that are sweet, such as pancakes or crepes, you may want to clean an area of the grill using an appropriate cleaning kit, which removes some of the savory seasoning left behind. You’ll have a clean surface to flip pancakes in lightning speed that aren’t gooey on the inside and brown on the edges.
Kristie Brown is a publisher, writer and editor. She has contributed to magazines, textbooks and online publications. Brown holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Texas at Austin.