A flat top is a type of cooking range whose surface is sort of a cross between a griddle and a grill. Unlike a grill, a flat top doesn't have a grate, but simply a flat cooking surface. And unlike a griddle, you can use pots and pans on a flat top, in addition to cooking the food directly on the surface.
How It Works
A griddle is heated from below with straight heating elements that run the length of the griddle, whereas a flat top has multiple round heat elements. It's basically an ordinary range top with individual burners and a continuous flat cooking surface over the burners.
This characteristic makes the flat top extremely versatile. For one thing, with an ordinary range, you can put pots and pans on the burners, but nowhere else. With a normal range, if you have six burners, you can fit six pans. But with a flat top, pots and pans can fit anywhere on the surface. Different regions on the flat top will be hotter or cooler, but it will accommodate many more pots and pans, in addition to being able to cook food directly on the surface.
Flat Top Qualities
With a flat top, the cooking surface itself is generally a heavier type of steel than found in a typical griddle, almost like cast iron. In fact, after cooking on the flat top for some time, it will start to become "seasoned" like a cast iron pan, giving it somewhat of a nonstick quality.
How to Use
Flat tops are often seen in diners and other restaurants. The large surface area makes them ideal for cooking large quantities of food that quickly gets moved off the grill and onto waiting plates. Outdoor flat tops can be outfitted with a propane tank and used for large quantities of backyard cooking and are especially useful for tailgating. It's not very common for standard kitchen ranges to have a flat top instead of burners. If you really like the idea of a flat top for your kitchen, there are flat top overlays that can lay across two (or three) burners. This can transform half of your range into a flat top.
What to Cook
A flat top grill can be used to cook anything from eggs, pancakes, seafood, sauces, and burgers. It produces an even heat and will cook foods evenly. Very fatty or highly marinated meats may prove tricky on a flat top grill. There are no grates for the fat or marinade to drip into. If you really like the smoky taste of a grill or the look of grill marks on your protein, a flat top grill is not for you. You won't achieve either with this type of grill. No matter what you cook, be sure to clean the grill well when you are done and leave the flat surface with a coating of oil to keep it seasoned.