Cooking on a flat top grill can be intimidating, especially if you’ve never done it. You may be afraid of using the right temperatures or making sure that your food doesn’t stick to the griddle surface. But have no fear… I’m about to give you my best flat top grill tips so you can be the griddle master and cook whatever you want to with confidence.
I started cooking on a flat top grill about 20 years ago as a cook in the US Navy, and while that grill was much larger than the residential Blackstone and Camp Chef flat top grills, many of the same cooking techniques and tips apply.
So when I purchased the Camp Chef Flat Top Grill 600 over a year ago, I did have a working knowledge of using a griddle… although cooking scrambled eggs and bacon for a crew of 3,000 sailors every morning is a little different than cooking for your family on your back deck. So I was already familiar with some of the flat top grill cooking tips and techniques, including how to smash down meat so it’s paper thin and how to keep the griddle seasoning looking fresh.
But I’ve also learned a lot about flat top grill cooking over the last year. If you’re considering purchasing a flat top grill, or you already have one but you’re not using it to its full potential because you’re afraid of messing it up, then this post is for you.
Here are my best flat top grill cooking tips and techniques:
Things You Need to Know About Cooking on a Flat Top Grill
Cooking on a flat top grill is different from cooking on your kitchen stove or a charcoal grill, so different rules apply. Here’s what you need to know to master flat top grill cooking:
Don’t preheat on high.
This cooking tip applies to pretty much any cooking surface, not just the flat top grill. Not only is preheating on the “high” heat setting unnecessary, it can also cause your griddle to warp. Instead, just start the grill a few minutes earlier and preheat on low or medium-low while you’re prepping your other ingredients.
In fact, there are very few times over the last year that I’ve ever turned my flat top to high. Occasionally when you are cooking a large amount of food that is right out of the fridge, like a lot of marinated chicken breasts, then you will need to turn your grill to a higher temp just for a few minutes to offset the griddle’s drop in temperature caused by adding the cold meat. However, once your grill reheats you should turn it back down to a lower cooking temp.
Clean your griddle as you go with a scraper.
If I was trapped on a deserted back porch and I could only have 2 griddle accessories, then I would choose a spatula and a scraper. A spatula is essential for mixing, flipping, and moving foods, and a bench scraper is essential for everything else… including cleaning your grill.
As you cook, use the scraper to “scrape” the grill surface starting at the top (farthest away from you) and moving towards the grease trough. Scraping the grill as you go, after you’re done cooking each food or when you move your food to a different part of the grill, helps prevent food from sticking and it makes it easier to clean your gas griddle when you’re done.
Oil your gas griddle surface after every cook.
Oiling your griddle after every use is a good practice to help maintain the griddle top. But remember, simply applying a thin coat of oil is different than seasoning your griddle. (I’ll talk about seasoning your griddle in a different post!)
Once your griddle is clean and dry, and while the surface is still warm, you should add a thin coat of oil with a paper towel and rub it all over the surface. This helps to prevent rusting.
Don’t rely on your heat setting knobs or thermometer.
The most common question I get about using a flat top grill is what temperature to cook on, and while that may seem pretty straight forward, it’s really not. Cooking on a flat top grill isn’t like baking a cake in your oven. I can’t just tell you to bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.
Instead, you have to learn to gauge the temperature of your flat top grill, and whether it is too hot or too cold, by how your food reacts. What do I mean by that?
If you put a pad of butter on your griddle top to make scrambled eggs, and it immediately starts to burn and turn a brownish color, then your grill is too hot. You need to turn your knobs to a lower setting before putting your eggs on. On the other hand, if your butter doesn’t start to bubble and melt immediately when you add it to the grill, then your flat top grill is probably too cold.
If you really don’t feel comfortable not knowing the temperature of your griddle surface, you can invest in an instant read thermometer which will give you an accurate temp reading. However, as you’re cooking on the flat top grill, your griddle surface temp will fluctuate dramatically as you add colder foods and as those colder items come up to temp.
Don’t be surprised if you have to adjust the knobs on your flat top multiple times when cooking a large amount of food.
Don’t be afraid to put a pot or pan on your griddle surface.
The flat top grill is incredibly versatile (that’s one of the things that I love most about it), but you may think that you’re limited to just using the actual griddle top for cooking your food. In fact, you can make sauces, broths, or other more liquid foods by setting a pot or pan directly on the surface of your flat top.
No need to run between the kitchen stove and your back deck if you want to make an au jus for your beef sandwiches or heat up Cheez-Whiz for your Philly Cheesesteaks. You can do it all on your flat top grill!
However, if you plan to heat a larger amount of liquid, I suggest pre-heating it in a sauce pan or pot on your kitchen stove first before cooking it on the grill, because it will save you some time. You can also preheat your skillet or pot (without any food in it) on your stove first to bring the temperature of the skillet up to save time.
Create a two-zone system.
You can create two different heat zones on your flat top grill, just like you would a charcoal grill. The benefit of doing so is that when certain foods are done cooking, you can slide them over to the cooler area on your grill to keep them warm while you prepare the rest of the meal.
Also, different foods will cook at different temperatures, so a two-zone system is great for cooking an entire meal (meat, sides, sauces, etc) at one time.
You can also use a wire rack set on top of the low heat burners to serve as a warming rack. I often do this when making a large amount of food that gets cooked in batches, like a lot of pancakes, bacon, or grilled chicken breasts.
Turn off your flat top grill a few minutes before your food is done.
This flat top grill tip may seem counter-intuitive, but turning off the grill a few minutes before your food is done cooking can actually make the cleaning the flat top grill easier. There is so much residual heat on your griddle surface that your food will continue to cook even after turning the knobs off, and by cutting off the heat early, you reduce the risk of leftover sauces and food debris burning on to your griddle surface.
Just be sure to probe your meat if you’re cooking poultry or pork to be sure that it has reached the proper internal temp before removing it from the griddle.
Don’t use just one burner.
Yes, the flat top grill gets super hot (even on the low setting), so you may be tempted to only turn on one burner. Or, if you’re only making a small meal like one or two omelettes, you may not think it’s necessary to turn on all the burners… but think again!
Turning on only one burner causes a more extreme temperature differential between the different sides of the grill, and it can actually cause your griddle to warp or buckle. If you only need one burner to cook a small amount of food, then you should still turn all of the other burners on to the lowest heat setting.
Pay attention to your propane tank.
One major component of a gas griddle that often gets overlooked is the gas itself. Here are some tips for managing your propane tank:
- Turn the propane off at the source. Don’t rely on your grill knobs alone when turning the heat off. Always turn your grill off with the knobs AND the valve on the actual propane tank to avoid gas leaking from the tank.
- Buy a 2nd tank. There’s nothing worse than walking out to your back deck to cook up some Oklahoma Onion Burgers and realizing that you’re out of propane. Do yourself a favor and get a 2nd tank to have as a backup.
- Look for a tank with a fill gage. This will make your life easier!
- Check Costco or Sam’s Club for inexpensive propane. I always refill my tank at Costco, because it costs about 30% less than other grocery stores.
Flat Top Grill Tips and Techniques to Look Like a Pro
So, you want to look like a pro so you don’t get embarrassed when all of your buddies are over watching the game and you’re on grill duty? Of course, cooking on a flat top grill with confidence comes with time and practice, but once you’ve mastered these techniques, you’ll be well on your way.
Here are the three basic grill maneuvers that you’ll be using when preparing meals on your griddle:
Yes, you can use a burger press to create smash burgers, but it’s completely unnecessary and you’ll probably gain more street cred doing it the old-fashioned way… with two spatulas and your own strength.
For the perfect smash burger (or smashed breakfast sausage like I’m doing here), simply lay your 2 spatulas flat in an “x” shape over your meat like this:
Then apply even pressure to smash down the meat. You’ll notice that I’m using the stronger part of the spatula towards the handle to apply pressure to the bottom spatula. That’s because the spatula is less flimsy closer to the handle, giving you more leverage to smash the burger or sausage into a perfectly thin, flat piece of meat.
If you’re worried about your meat sticking to the bottom of the spatula, you can also put a piece of wax paper on top of the meat before smashing. The wax paper acts as a buffer between the meat and the spatula, and you can just peel it off when you’re done smashing the meat down.
The trick to flipping your food on the flat top, whether it’s an omelette, a smash burger, or hash browns, is to “go in” with your spatula from the side with one swift movement. Your spatula is longest on the side, not on the top edge, which gives you more surface area to flip larger foods.
You can chop some foods directly on your flat top grill, and look pretty cool doing it. For softer foods like scrambled eggs, you can use the side of your spatula. For meats like thinly sliced ribeye for cheesesteaks, you can use your scraper tool. Simply move your scraper up and down quickly in a chopping motion, making sure that the edge of the scraper is perpendicular to the griddle surface. You can see how I did it in this YouTube video for making Philly Cheesesteak Sliders on the flat top grill.
What to Cook on a Flat Top Grill
Now that you know the basics of flat top grilling, you may be wondering what to cook?
Well, I can tell you this… you can use your outdoor gas griddle to cook a whole lot more than just fried rice, pancakes and bacon, and smash burgers! Think beyond the obvious griddle foods! For inspiration, you can check out my YouTube channel where I show you how to cook a wide variety of flat top grill recipes like:
- Fried Pickles
- Taco Smash Burgers
- The BEST Juicy Marinated Chicken Breasts
- Hash Brown Casserole Griddle Cakes
- An entire Pork Chop Dinner with ALL the sides
- Country Fried Steak
- and more!
Just click the link below to jump over and watch!
And tell me in the comments… what are your favorite things to cook on the flat top?