A flattop grill is a cooking
appliance that resembles a griddle
but performs differently because the heating element is circular rather than straight (side to side). This heating technology creates an extremely hot and even cooking surface, as heat spreads in a radial fashion over the surface. Flattop grills have been around for hundreds of years in various forms and owe their existence to a number of cultures.
- The first flattop grills originated in Spain and are known as planchas or la plancha. Food that is cooked “a la plancha” means “grilled on a metal plate.” For example, Filetes a la plancha translates to Grilled Beef Fillets.
- In Cuban cuisine, the famous Cuban sandwich (ham, roasted pork, Swiss cheese and pickles) is traditionally grilled a la plancha.
- In Chilean cuisine, restaurants grill beef a la plancha and have a long history of cooking seafood on flattop grills.
- Flattop grills are closely related to French top stoves, where chefs begin cooking food in the hot center and then move it out for final cooking.
- Flattop grills also share some characteristics with Asian cooking including Teppanyaki and Mongolian barbecue.
- Flatbreads from India (dosa, parati, roti and chapati), the Middle East (pita), Africa (injera) and Jamaica (bammy) are traditionally cooked on flattop grills.
- The flattop grill is a versatile platform for many cooking techniques such as sautéing, toasting, steaming, stir frying, grilling, flambé and roasting. In addition, pots and pans can be placed directly on the cook surface, giving more cooking flexibility. In most cases, the steel cooksurface seasons like cast iron cookware, providing a natural non-stick surface.
- Almost any type of food can be cooked on this type of appliance. In addition to standard barbecue fare like hamburgers, hot dogs and sausages, more delicate items can be cooked on a flattop grill. Omelettes, crepes, Yakisoba noodles, Greek gyros, fish tacos, quesadillas, grilled steak, flatbread, pizza, jerk chicken, crab cakes and sautéed vegetables are just a few examples of the wide range of foods that can be prepared on a flattop grill.
- Flattop Grills are the equipment of choice for seafood restaurants because of temperature consistency, flexibility and capacity.
- The flattop grill, as the name implies, is typically a flat piece of steel but some are slightly convex or crowned in the center which allows excess juices or grease to flow to the outside to be captured and disposed of.
- Many flattop grills are powered by natural gas or propane, but there are electric models as well. In addition, there are models made for indoor or outdoor cooking that can be fixed (built-in) or portable (wheeled or free-standing).
For commercial applications, appliances like these are typically used for display or "front-of-house" cooking, where diners can see, hear and smell the food being cooked in front of them, with unobstructed sight-lines. Unlike butane
burners or induction hobs which require additional equipment, the flattop grill can be used as a standalone cooking platform. Display cooking is a notable trend in commercial foodservice
, where open kitchens are becoming part of the dining experience, and watching a meal being prepared live-action has become entertainment. This open, visual style of cooking also helps connect people to the food they are eating and adds a sense of safety and comfort.
Flattop grills are becoming more popular for homeowners especially those seeking a unique design, more menu versatility and expanded cooking performance. Hearth and Home Magazine
reports the emergence of flattop grills "on which food cooks on a griddle-like surface" is a key trend in outdoor kitchens. For indoor kitchens, a recent survey by Research and Markets, Inc.
found the number one appliance upgrade desired in an "ideal" kitchen is a cooktop that features a built-in grill or griddle.
Flattop grills or planchas have become a favorite piece of cooking equipment of a number of notable chefs including Jacques Pépin
, Michael Bellovich of Café Ba-Ba Reeba! (Chicago), Keith Coughenour of the Duquesne Club
in Pittsburgh, PA, Bobby Flay
of Mesa Grill, Bar Americain, and Bobby Flay Steak (various locations), John Carver of Eddie V's Edgewater Grill
(Texas, Arizona and California) and Roy Yamaguchi
of Roy's Restaurants (various locations). Other restaurants that cook on variations of flattop grills include Illinois-based Flattop Grill
and Michigan-based BD’s Mongolian Grill
Supermarket deli's like Whole Foods Market
are also engaging customers with fresh prepared food and a plethora of display cooking (including flattop grills, rotisseries and pizza ovens). More than ever, deli's are competing with restaurants for meals outside the home and supermarkets are placing a priority on customer experiences that emphasize freshness, variety and visual appeal.
Hotels and Resorts
Hotels and resorts like Hilton, Hyatt
, Westin, Ratasson, Four Seasons, Ritz-Carlton
and Disney use flattop grills for entertaining and feeding guests both indoors and outdoors. This type of display cooking or live-action food station is becoming more popular for weddings and corporate functions.
Flattop grills can be contrasted with open-flame grills, which cook food over a grate with direct or indirect flame. Flattop grills avoid the problem of smaller or delicate food falling through the grate like open-flame grills. In addition, closed-flame flattop grills are more energy efficient because they capture the heat under the steel cook surface rather than letting it escape through the grates into the atmosphere. This design also requires less time to heat up and uses less fuel to cook a meal. Also, flattop grills release less smoke and particulates into the atmosphere because foods and juices are prevented from dropping directly onto burner elements, eliminating flare-ups and reducing smoke.