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A smash burger machine with clever features

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Flat-top griddles are insanely popular. Even if an aspiring grill master prefers charcoal or pellets for their main machine, chances are they’re packing a griddle for smash burgers, breakfast and other items that need an even surface. Or, at the very least, they have an insert that transforms a grill into a flat top. Griddles are versatile and they keep a lot of the mess of cooking things like cheesesteaks, fajitas and fried rice out of your kitchen. However, they all basically offer the same premise: a large metal slab on some sort of cart that runs on propane. Since there’s not a ton of variation in the general design, the devil is in the details for companies like Blackstone, Traeger and Weber.

The Weber Slate ($649 and up) is the company’s second attempt at grabbing a foothold in the popular griddle market. With a more refined design and tons of clever features that make the flat-top cooker more fun to use, Weber is trying to set itself apart from the competition in a few key areas. But, even the most affordable Slate is pricier than some of the other options on the market, so those finer points will likely determine if this griddle is right for you.

Weber

Weber isn’t new to the griddle game, but the company’s second attempt is more refined with plenty of room for customization. The Slate is a great way to smash burgers, cook breakfast and so much more.

Pros

  • Even heat distribution
  • Rust-resistant cooktop
  • Modular side table
  • Digital temperature gauge
Cons

  • Rust resistant doesn’t mean rust proof
  • Storage and shelf features vary
  • Wheels are a bit cheap

$799 at Weber

On the Weber Slate, the company developed a more sophisticated look than its first griddles that debuted last spring. Those had more of a cart design akin to Weber’s most affordable gas grills, while the Slate has almost a hybrid cart/cabinet stand where the storage varies based on the model. Some configurations have semi-closed space while others have weather-resistant storage bins or a fully enclosed area underneath the cooking surface. Every version has a mid shelf directly under the cooktop, where you can place tools and other supplies for quick access.

Weber flanks the cooking area with sizable side tables, with some versions offering a fold-down extension for even more work space. The top of the side table on the right is removable, which allows the remaining frame to accommodate a line of accessories known as Weber Works. You can move those storage bins up to this area and the company has a convenient caddy/serving tray combo that also fits this space nicely. With either of these, you can put seasonings, oils, sauces and more within reach at all times. You can also replace the table top with a cutting board if you want to do your prep or slicing outside. Weber Works also includes items that clip onto the edges of the Slate’s side shelves, including a cup holder, condiment bin and an “organizer kit” that comes with a paper towel rack, tool hooks and a trash bag holder.

The digital temperature display is easy to read and comes in handy during every cook. The digital temperature display is easy to read and comes in handy during every cook.

Billy Steele for Engadget

The Slate has an attached, hinged lid like most premium griddles. This component pays homage to previous Weber grills as it has the company’s signature black and silver scheme like you’ll see on Genesis and other grills. The one area of this griddle that feels slightly cheap are the wheels. The four casters do the job, but they’ve obviously plastic with little polish. Even something slightly more robust like the sturdier rollers that come on the Genesis series would’ve been nice.

I’m also constantly frustrated by the grippy texture inside the Slate’s cover. It has two handles on the top so you should be able to lift it straight off the griddle easily, but the cover’s interior coating catches on the side tables, making what should be an easy task more of a chore.

A key feature of the Slate is its digital display, which sits between two of the burner control knobs. It runs on two AA batteries and shows the temperature of the cooking surface based on data from a probe underneath the cooktop. I like that the screen is easy to read, thanks to its high contrast and large numerals, and it handily shows how much juice is remaining on the batteries, too.

The Slate is a smash burger machine. The Slate is a smash burger machine.

Billy Steele for Engadget

I’ll admit I didn’t see the utility in a griddle until I actually used one. I’ve been smashing burgers and sizzling other things on a full-size insert for a Weber Genesis for a while now. But the Slate is actually better since it’s purpose-built with a grease chute that’s in a better position along the front so it takes up minimal cooking space. You have free rein to use the back and the sides of the cooktop to help you flip and move foods.

I’ve cooked smash burgers, hibachi chicken, fajitas and a full breakfast with hash browns on the Slate. My wife, the pancake pro in our house, also used it and loved having the extra space to cook enough for the four of us in less than half the time it takes indoors. The Slate distributes heat edge to edge, so things like pancakes cook evenly. The 30-inch version I tested has ample space for my needs, and Weber says the 30-inch x 18-inch cooking area on this unit can hold up to 22 burger patties.

Once you fire up the propane burners, the 30-inch Weber Slate takes about eight and a half minutes to reach a maximum temperature of around 565 degrees Fahrenheit. It takes just over five minutes to hit 450 degrees, which is what you’d want for smash burgers and what I prefer for fajitas. For more delicate things like pancakes, you’ll want to turn it down to the burners’ lowest setting, which is around 350-355 degrees.

The Weber Works accessories make cooking with the Slate much easier. I primarily used the caddy with a lid/serving tray, which allowed me to take various seasonings, sauces, tools and more to the griddle in one trip. It’s also nice that the caddy can replace the side table for quick access, with the lid/tray beside it to rest tools or foods when they’re done. Those larger side tables also ensure you have enough space for supplies and food, with the mid shelf underneath and the side table extension providing more places to rest things if needed. Not once did I panic wishing I had another spot to put something while using the Slate. It’s great that the Weber Works storage bins can remain outdoors without much worry about weather. I wouldn’t store ingredients there, but it’s a good place to keep cleaning supplies and towels, for example.

Plenty of room to cook on the 30-inch Weber Slate. Plenty of room to cook on the 30-inch Weber Slate.

Billy Steele for Engadget

The primary concern when you own a flat-top griddle is rust. The best way to prevent it is to clean the cooking surface soon after use, but that’s not always possible because maybe you’re hosting guests or any number of other reasons. So, rust is a constant battle when the steel or cast iron component is exposed to moisture, oil and food residue for an extended period. Not all griddles have lids or covers, and even if they do closing one up when the cooking surface is still warm can lead to condensation drips even if you’re on point with the cleaning.

Weber is addressing this with a “rust-resistant” cooktop. As the company describes it, “the carbon-steel gets transformed under extreme heat and pressure that case hardens and bonds the surface, reducing the ability for moisture to collect and rust to form.”

Rust-resistant doesn’t mean rust-proof, though. To test Weber’s claim, I left the Slate cooktop dirty for 36 hours after making hibachi chicken , only lightly pushing larger chunks to the grease tray and leaving sauce and oil. When I did go to clean it, there were small spots of rust, but nothing like I’ve seen on the company’s older griddle inserts for its gas grills (Weber now sells inserts that are rust-resistant too). This was also a messier meal, so it didn’t just leave behind a typical amount of muck.

The good news is that, while annoying, the rust comes off easily with vinegar and coarse sea salt. After leaving white vinegar on the surface for a few minutes and adding salt to help lift the stuck-on grime, I had no trouble restoring the Slate’s cooking surface to a unblemished state. It took some elbow grease, but wasn’t too tough of a task. So while the Slate does buy you some time on the cleanup, you probably don’t want to leave residue any longer than overnight if you’re looking to avoid any extra work.

The Slate's fold-down side table extension adds more work space. The Slate's fold-down side table extension adds more work space.

Billy Steele for Engadget

Weber offers three versions of the Slate griddle, all with slightly different features. While they share the same overall design, including rust-resistance and the attached lid, the most affordable model is the 30-inch Slate that doesn’t come with the two weather-resistant, outdoor storage bins (sold separately for $40 each). It also lacks the digital temperature gauge or the folding side table extension, but does have a partially closed storage cabinet. You’ll save some money as this unit is $649. As you’ll see, though, that price is actually low.

For $150 more, you get the same 30-inch Slate I tested with a handy temperature display, extendable side table and a pair of weather-resistant storage bins. Those bins are fully exposed, but there’s a track system that allows you to slide them out like a drawer. Plus, the outdoor-friendly design keeps dust and debris from ruining your supplies. There’s also a natural gas version of this model that’s $829. What’s more, there are two retailer-exclusive 30-inch options. At Home Depot, you’ll get the digital temperature display and an enclosed storage cabinet for $699. Ace Hardware offers the 30-inch Slate with digital temperature display, fully enclosed storage cabinet, extendable side table and the Weber Works caddy for $749.

The priciest option is a 36-inch version with four burners instead of three. It still has the digital temperature gauge and fold-down side table extension, along with the modular side table for all of those Weber Works accessories, but the storage area underneath is a fully enclosed cabinet. If you want that extra cooking space, the grand total here comes to $999.

Blackstone is the most popular name in griddles and the company has loads of options in several different configurations. Heck, you can even get one that has an air fryer underneath. The model that’s closest to the base Weber Slate is the 28-inch XL with a “hood.” It sits on more of a bare-bones cart, though, so there’s no enclosed storage under the cooktop and the side tables are smaller. It typically costs $549, but it’s currently on sale for $399.

In competition with Weber’s most expensive option, Blackstone has the 36-inch Iron Forged griddle. It too has a “hood” (attached lid or cover) and four burners with a more refined cart design with a storage shelf. There’s also an extendable side shelf, paper towel holder, garbage bag holder and side shelf rail system that accommodates even more accessories. This one is usually $649, but it’s currently on sale for $499.

Then there’s Traeger. Yes, the company that made its name on wood pellet grills has a single gas-burning model and it’s a griddle. The Flatrock takes several design cues from the company’s latest Ironwood and Timberline series, including the wrap-around PAL (Pop And Lock) accessory rail and so-called EZ-Clean grease keg. The Flatrock’s side tables are similar in size to those on the Slate and its U-shaped burners put direct flame under more of the 33-inch cooktop. Traeger says its FlameLock design is more wind-resistant and fuel-efficient than the competition and a sensor keeps tabs on how much propane you’ve got left in the tank. The Flatrock does come with a Traeger-esque price tag though: $899.

After several weeks with the Weber Slate, I’ve fully experienced the grilling potential that standalone griddles provide in the backyard. With the addition of a rust-resistant cooktop, the company gives you an extension on the precious cleanup window. The digital temperature display is handy and easy to read from a distance while the Weber Works accessories can transform the griddle into a proper outdoor cooking station. Some details could be refined, but overall, the Slate would be a solid addition to any grilling arsenal. And even if it’s the only grill you own, the flat top allows you to cook a wide variety of foods.



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