Electric Grills Offer Versatile Cooking Options
Thomas Edison invented the first reliable light bulb in 1879. He would then go on to outshine Nikola Tesla to champion AC electricity as the standard American form of current. This not only opened the way for lighting the country, it also sparked over a century of innovation and rapid technological advancements.
While computer science, the internet, and entertainment technology are often thought of as pinnacle inventions, electricity also empowers our quality of life in a variety of ways, including home appliances. Sure, your refrigerator and freezer keep food safely cold. Your stove lets you do some cooking, and your blender might even let you make some icy refreshing drinks. While these things are all fine and good for maintaining life, they don’t tend to offer a lot of magic.
In recent years technological advancements have also helped manufacturers to make significant strides in the design and function of electric grills.
What Is An Electric Grill?
Just like a charcoal or a gas grill, an electric grill produces heat to cook food. However, the fuel, exhaust gases, and potential waste products created by charcoal and gas grills limits them to the outdoors. Since they are forced to live on the patio or deck they often get limited us during the winter or when bad weather strikes. For people living in apartments and other multi-family areas, gas and charcoal grills might be prohibited!
Since electric grills run off the same electricity supplied to the home, they require no additional fuels, and many are designed to be used indoors. Electricity also allows for increased versatility in their design and function.
How does an electric grill work?
While there are variations, the heating elements in most electric grills are made from a special nickel and chromium alloy, which is known more commonly as nichrome. On their own the two metals do not affect each other. However, when an electric current is passed through the nichrome element it acts like a large electrical resistor, which causes it to heat up.
The heat energy generated is then passed on to the grill grate or cooking surface, which then heats the food touching it. The more electricity that passes through the nichrome element the more heat is produced. This also means that it takes more electricity to heat a larger element than a small one.
Electric grills do not directly produce a flame so there is no smoke. However, the temperatures they are capable of achieving can cause the meat and some vegetables to smoke or give off steam.
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What Is Difference Between an Electric Grill and Infrared?
An electric grill uses a heating element that acts like an electric resistor to generate heat. An infrared grill or cooking appliance like a salamander uses propane and infrared technology to produce a high heat source for searing foods. The differences between the two types of grills come with their own benefits and disadvantages.
Are they safe?
An organization known as Underwriter Laboratories or UL, tests most submitted electrical appliances meant for home use. Indoor electric grills that meet their rigorous standards for safety and effectiveness then earn the right to display the simple UL logo. If you were to look on the back of your TV or air conditioner you will likely find it on the information plate.
Major retailers selling electric grills understand this safety concern and will try to offer unit’s that meet UL standards. However, the logo can sometimes be hard to spot at a retail display, and you might not be able to find it when shopping online. If you have any questions about whether or not a prospective appliance meets their standards you can always perform an internet search using the terms “UL Verify.” The link will then take you to a website where you can enter the pertinent information to ensure it is UL verified.
When it comes to electric grills and cooking appliances meant for indoor use, while they do not directly produce smoke, foods cooked at high temperature or cooked for a long amount of time, may produce enough smoke to trigger a fire alarm. If this is a concern, you might want to keep the electric grill near your oven’s ventilation hood or in another well-ventilated area.
If your home or apartment offers a power outlet with a ground fault circuit interrupter or GFCI, near your intended cooking area, it can further help alleviate any safety concerns. It is a special type of outlet that is essentially designed with a built-in fuse that can be reset by clicking the button on the outlet. In the bathroom it is what helps prevent your hair dryer from shorting out if a drop of water contacts the heating coil. It is capable of a similar thing should there be an unforeseeable kitchen accident with your electric grill.
Are Electric Grills Energy Efficient?
As the name implies, electricity is the only energy source used to produce heat in an electric grill. This means the cost of use is directly related to the cost of electricity, which can fluctuate based on market trends as well as the season. Fortunately, electric manufacturers have made strides to make electric grills more energy efficient than they were a even a few years ago.
On the average, electricity requires more energy to produce heat through a resistor, than propane does with an open flame. Natural gas is significantly cheaper than electricity. However, for many people, such as those living in an apartment or multi-family housing, an electric grill is possibly the only approved option.
What Types Of Electrical Grills Can I Choose From?
There are several varieties to consider based on your location and intended use. Outdoor electric grills, indoor grills, electric griddles, and sandwich presses are popular options. There are also manufacturers who offer units for individuals looking for a convenient way to smoke meats.
Outdoor Electric Grills
These units are designed to mimic the same function and searing capability of charcoal and propane grills. Some of these units are large enough to accommodate families and individuals who are interested in cooking large meals or large pieces of meat. While they don’t technically produce any smoke on their own, the food being cooked often can, which relegates them to the outdoors. Large units might be heavy or otherwise not very portable.
Many manufacturers also provide smaller outdoor electric grills that accommodate smaller portions for a single person or a couple. They can also be portable, allowing you to take the grill with you if you plan to go camping or tailgating where power is readily available.
Some outdoor electric manufacturers offer units that come with special accessories that allow you to add wood chips to the heat source for the classical smoky flavor of a charcoal grill without the copious ash. A lot of these grills also include some form of drip pan to catch excess grease that might escape the meat during cooking.
What Should I Look For In An Outdoor Electric Grill?
Location and size are key factor when considering an outdoor electric grill. Look at your outdoor grilling space to find the right area. Preferably you want to choose a spot with easy access to electricity. An outlet that includes a ground fault circuit interrupter, or GFCI is also a helpful safety feature.
Take some time to consider what you will most often be grilling. If you have a large family, or you frequently entertain guests, a large electric grill might be needed to handle multiple hamburgers, steaks, and chicken breasts. If you aren’t frequently having people over to watch the big game, or you live in a two-person household, you might not need an outdoor grill that can handle a couple dozen hot dogs.
An adjustable dial and thermostat that uses increments beyond simple low, medium, and high is always a nice feature as it allows you more control. Yet just like most new appliances you’ll likely develop an understanding of the grill’s temperature range for the various foods you want to eat.
If you want to be able to add a smoky component to your grilling experience, you might want to keep an eye out for a unit that offers a wood chip box it as an accessory or allows for it. You should also double check to make sure the grill’s grates are Teflon coated or that the manufacturer has taken other measures to make sure they are non-stick.
A built-in drip tray will help collect grease, excess marinades, and other runoff, for easy cleanup. It also helps reduce the risk of gunk building up by the electric element.
It’s important to note that if you live in an apartment complex with multiple floors, an outdoor electric grill might still be prohibited on the balcony. So, it’s always a good idea to check with your building manager before investing in an outdoor unit.
Depending on what you are cooking an electric grill might require very little cleanup. Something like a simple skin-on salmon fillet might need more than a gentle wiping down with a wet nonabrasive sponge. On the other end of the spectrum something like barbecue chicken could leave small pieces of skin, as well as burnt-on spices and sauce.
You should always unplug the unit before cleaning. Maintaining the Teflon coating or porcelain glaze of the non-stick surface is very important. Removing a hot grate and cooling it down with sprayed on water or soaking it in the sink can gradually start to weaken the non-stick coating’s bond with the underlying metal. You should always wait for the grates to thoroughly cool before exposing them to water.
If you are going to clean the grill without removing the grate, you should check the drip pan first. If it is already full of grease or other runoff material, excess water from cleaning could lead to a potentially messy overflow problem.
You can then use a damp nonabrasive sponge to wet the grate and wipe off any grease and loose debris. You can further give the deeper recesses of the grate a wipedown with soapy water, if needed. You should never use steel wool or some other abrasive material as it could scrape the non-stick coating. You can then wipe down and dry the grates with a paper towel.
In an extreme situation where there is a lot of excess stuck-on material that simply won’t wipe away, you can carefully remove the grate and soak it in hot soapy water. It might take several minutes for the material to soften and release. Once it does you can gently clean it away without damaging the non-stick surface.
Once you are done cleaning the grates, you can clean the drip tray by pouring away any fluids and washing with warm soapy water. Any spatter marks or mess on the outside of the grill should also be wiped clean with a wet sponge or a dry paper towel.
Indoor Electric Grills
Current housing trends in urban and suburban areas have shown an increasing number of individuals choosing to live in multifamily housing. Depending on where you live apartment life can come with many benefits, including being closer to work, schools, and entertainment. However, most multifamily housing rules prohibit outdoor grills due to safety concerns or the potential for smoke to offend the neighbors.
Rather than being denied the joy of grilled meat, many apartment dwellers turn to indoor grills to prepare steaks, hamburgers, and other grilled meats. While they can vary in size depending on the manufacturer most indoor grills might only be able to handle two to three adult portions at a time.
Indoor electric grills are also popular with homeowners in northern states where winter temperatures make outdoor cooking uncomfortable. They simply place the grill cover on the gas or charcoal grill as the leaves start to fall and satisfy their itch for grilled meats with a smaller indoor electric grill.
Size limitations are often related to the delicate balance between providing significant cooking space without necessarily consuming too many square inches on the countertop.
Depending on what you are cooking, an indoor electric grill might still produce some smoke or steam. It might help to plan your cooking area near your range’s hood or a similarly well-ventilated area.
What Should I Look For In An Indoor Electric Grill?
In the past indoor electric grill designs were largely based on or mimicked the well-advertised George Foreman Grill. They featured a clam top design that pinned the food in place while the electric plate applied heat to the food being cooked. Fat that rendered out of the meat then carefully drained away into a removable drip tray.
This type of indoor electric grill worked fine for thin cut steaks, hamburgers, and chicken tenderloins, but struggled to handle large or irregularly shaped meats. Indoor electric grill manufacturers have become a little more creative in recent years. Many now produce units that have adjustable or more robust hinges providing thicker, adjustable hinges, or curved tops. Some units come with a single lower plate and a domed top or lid.
There are also manufacturers who produce open flat top units that serve as an electric hibachi grill, as well as indoor grills with a dome top similar to a kettle charcoal grill.
Most indoor grills are designed with removable cooking plates, which can help with cleanup. You simply pop the plate out and you can rinse away or soak to remove any burned-on material. Some manufacturers will even offer different shaped plates to accommodate irregularly shaped foods, or allow you to make things like pocket sandwiches.
When shopping try to take the time to think about what you’re going to be cooking, when choosing your new indoor grill. Also factor in size and storage space. You might want to pull out a measuring tape and play around with your counter and cupboard space to make sure you are getting a unit that will conveniently meet the dimensions of your kitchen.
Most indoor electric grills include some type of drip tray to catch rendered fat and other runoff. Take a close look to make sure the tray is easy to remove. The last thing you want is to have to jerk and spill a full drip tray! Also look at how deep it is. A shallow drip tray can potentially overflow if you’re doing something like cooking multiple greasy hamburgers.
Just like an outdoor electric grill, you need to unplug the unit and allow it to cool down before cleaning. You also need to be careful not to damage the non-stick coating on the grilling surface. A gentle wipe down with a soft wet sponge and carefully drying with a paper towel might be sufficient for cleaning a minor mess.
If the indoor grill needs more significant cleaning removable grates that can be gentle soaked in warm soapy water before gently scrubbed with a soft sponge. You should never submerge an indoor electric grill in water.
The drip tray should also be removed. Once the contents have been poured away in the garbage you can wash it in warm soapy water. If the exterior of the electric grill has some spatter or stray grease on it, you can gently wipe it with a soapy, wet sponge and paper towel.
An electric griddle is essentially a large frying pan that is not confined to the stovetop. Most have a flat non-stick cooking surface that has been treated with a layer of Teflon. They are typically raised up from the countertop for safety and also to provide space for a drip tray. An electric griddle is especially handy when you need to prepare meals for several people.
With a conventional frying pan on a stovetop making something like pancakes or French toast for a family of four can be difficult. In a similar vein frying a full pound of bacon or some other fatty meat in a frying pan can leave you with a giant pool of smoky grease. In scenarios like this the electric griddle can provide you with the square inches of cooking space you need to prepare large portions, while also giving you the ability to conveniently drain away excess grease.
Some manufacturers offer electric skillets which comes in the form of a griddle with curved sides capable of holding a sauce or cooking oil. They often include a removable cover that allows you to simmer without worrying about spattering the surrounding countertop. They are especially popular with people who frequently need to keep food warm for a potluck.
What Should I Look For In An Electric Griddle?
Most people interested in an electric griddle need to cook for several people at one time, or they are interested in cooking meals that are a little too large for a frying pan on a standard stovetop. Take a moment to measure your available counter space and storage, to make sure that it is both big enough to cook the volume you want, yet small enough to be stored away conveniently.
Check the drip tray and the gutter leading to it. Ask yourself “Is this going to be easy to clean and remove when full?” Does it hold firmly in place and is it deep enough to handle something like the grease produced by frying a full pound of bacon without risk of overflowing.
If you’re looking for an electric skillet, check to make sure that it comes with a tight-fitting lid and rubber feet that will hold it secure if it’s accidentally bumped. Look at the heating control to make sure it has a specific warming feature, which will allow you to use it for holding food over for a potluck or a time when family members can’t eat at the same time.
With both electric griddles and electric skillets, you want to make sure the power cord is long enough to reach from your kitchen outlet to the area you plan to cook. You also want the power cord to fit firmly when in use, yet also pulls out easily if you need to move it and you accidentally forget to unplug it.
Most electric griddles and skillets don’t have a removable cooking surface. Like other electric cooking appliances, you should unplug the unit and allow it to cool down before cleaning. Any excess grease on the griddle’s cooking surface should be wiped toward the drip tray. Then you can wipe down the cooking surface as well as the exterior and legs of the electric griddle with a damp nonabrasive, soapy sponge before drying it with paper towels.
If your electric griddle comes with a gutter, you will need to clean it as well. If you can’t easily wipe it with a sponge you might want to try covering the end of a cotton swab with a paper towel and running it along the gutter to move any lingering grease and debris toward the drip tray. The drip tray can then be emptied and washed in warm soapy water.
If you’re going to store your electric griddle for an extended period of time, you might want to place a sheet of newspaper over top just to prevent stray dust from accumulating on the cooking surface. Electric skillets should be stored with the lid firmly in place.
Electric Sandwich Press
At first glance a sandwich or panini press might not feel like it falls into the category of being an electric grill. Yet, when you take a closer a look you find many of the same features. Most have a corrugated cooking surface just like an indoor or outdoor grill. They certainly use the same power source, and many are capable of the same heat levels.
Originally electric sandwich presses started out as a way to lightly toast the bread on what would otherwise be a boring sandwich. Indeed, they do a great job of adding the kind of toasted flavor that can transform something like a dry ham sandwich into a succulent hot ham and cheese.
Sandwich presses can also encourage creativity and culinary courage. You might find yourself wondering what other sandwiches can be improved when heated and toasted. At the same time, something like a pressed Cubano sandwich that once seemed intimidating, might feel a little more doable when you’ve got a shiny new sandwich press sitting on the counter.
Some manufacturers also provide changeable cooking plates that allow you to make pocket sandwiches, flat pressed sandwiches, or apply visually appealing grill marks.
One potential question that comes up with prospective sandwich press buys, is the concern that it’s designed to do one thing. You might ask yourself “Just how many hot sandwiches am I going to eat each week?” To answer this concern some electric sandwich press manufacturers offer multi-functional units where the top flips flat, which allows you to use it like an electric griddle.
This feature can be especially helpful for doing something like frying bacon before making a club sandwich or cooking a thin sliced ribeye with peppers and onions before making a pressed Philly cheesesteak.
What Should I Look For In An Electric Sandwich Press?
With an electric sandwich press size is a factor on multiple fronts. You want to account for the space it will take up on your counter as well as when it’s stored in your cupboard. At the same time, you should also consider the number and size of the sandwiches you want to make.
If you’ll frequently be making two sandwiches at a time, or you are a fan of long pressed sandwiches like a Cubano, you might want a large sandwich press. If you live alone a smaller unit might be preferable and allow you to leave it on the counter or in the corner when you’re not using it.
Whether the electric sandwich press comes with a flat grill surface or corrugated grids you want to make sure they are non-stick for easy cleanup. Some units come with interchangeable grill inserts that allow you to mark sandwiches differently or make a creative pocket sandwich.
Check the thermostat controls to make sure it has a broad range from a warming feature to simply melt the cheese in a sandwich or hold something at the desired temperature, or that it can also get hot enough to press, brown, or sear a bun.
If you want a multifunctional sandwich press, check to make sure that it lays completely flat. An incorporated drip tray that removes easily can also be a factor. Say you wanted to fry a few strips of bacon, you want to be able to easily remove the bacon grease from the frying surface and make sure that the excess grease doesn’t spill when you flip the top to press a sandwich.
Just like an indoor electric grill, you need to unplug the sandwich press and allow it to cool down before cleaning it. You can use a clean paper towel to wipe away any crumbs and lingering grease. A gentle wipe down with a damp soapy sponge and careful drying with a paper towel should be enough to clean away most stuck-on debris.
Some units come with a special plastic scraper tool that can help clean up a more significant mess. If your sandwich press came with removable heating plates, they can be gently soaked in warm soapy water before gently scrubbed with a non abrasive sponge. You should never submerge a sandwich press in water.
If you have a multifunctional sandwich press with a drip tray, you should remove it. Once the contents have been poured away in the garbage you can wash it in warm soapy water. If the exterior of the unit has any grease spatter, you can wipe it away with a damp sponge and clean paper towel.
On a technical level smokers and grills do different things. A grill applies direct and often high heat to the food being cooked. It often engages a process known as the Maillard reaction which uses caramelization to combine amino acids and carbohydrate sugars in powerful flavor compounds. For example, the Maillard reaction is what makes toast taste so much better than dry bread!
A smoker is intended to cook food through indirect heat and smoke. The slow cooking process gradually breaks down the collagen-based connective tissues in meat transforming it into succulent and tender gelatin.
Charcoal and wood burning smokers are often thought of as the classic hallmark heat source for traditional barbecue. However, these smokers tend to make a lot of ash, require significant cleanup, and some would argue that they make as well as loose a significant amount of smoke.
Electric smoker manufacturers have the advantage of being able to look at classic charcoal and wood smokers, as well as gas smokers to make careful improvements in their design. Styles can vary but most are designed for maximum efficiency.
What Should I Look For In An Electric Smoker?
An electric smoker’s biggest benefit over charcoal, wood-fired, or gas smokers is its efficiency. There are different styles which can vary from one manufacturer to the next. However, there are some things you always want to look for regardless of if you are interested in an overhead smoker or an offset unit.
The seals on the lid are very important for trapping smoke and heat inside the unit. A tightly sealing electric smoker with a well-designed damper will maximize the heating effect, while minimizing the amount of power and oxygen needed to generate clean smoke.
You should also take a close look at the grates in the cooking area. A nonstick grate helps with clean up and allows you to easily remove the meat or vegetable dish when it’s done. Most electric smokers also include some form of drip pan to catch excess fat that renders out of meat.
A well-designed electric smoker will also include some form of chamber or accessory box where you can place wood chunks or wood chips for smoking. If you plan to smoke large pieces of meat, that may need very long cook times, then chances are good you will need to remove excess ash before reloading new wood chips. A wood chip box that is easy to access both helps with the reload as well as cleaning.
You should also check to make sure that the smoker is compliant with any local covenants or apartment rules. Some multifamily housing covenants will allow for an outdoor electric grill but prohibit smoking or augmenting with wood chips.
An electric smoker is generally easier to clean than its charcoal or propane counterparts. The small amount of ash left behind in the smoker box will need to be safely disposed of. It’s best to pour it out in a small metal bucket and allow it to fully cool for at least a day before adding it to your garbage can. If you want to stir in a little water to make sure any lingering embers have been extinguished, you should do so in the side container and not the wood chip box, as water and ash can be corrosive to certain metals.
Cleaning the grates on an electric smoker can sometimes be challenging as they tend to gunk up with drippings, seasoning rubs, or leftover marinades. You need to resist the temptation to scrape away at them aggressively. Most have a nonstick Teflon coating or semi-non-stick porcelain coating. If necessary, you can remove the grate and soak it in warm soapy water before gently scrubbing it with a non-abrasive sponge.
Electric grills and related cooking appliances offer a wide range of versatile cooking options. They can serve as a sound alternative for other outdoor cooking methods or simply provide you with an effective option for preparing grilled food in the comfort of your own home. Once you invest in one, you will likely find yourself finding new and creative ways to cook with it.
When debating if you want an outdoor electric grill, indoor grill, electric griddle, sandwich press, or electric smoker, take your time to think about some of the more common ways you will use the unit. Factor in the space you have on your deck for an outdoor unit or consider your countertop space and cupboard storage for an indoor electric appliance.
Throughout the life of the electric grill keep in mind to preserve the non-stick cooking surface and clean with care. With some simple maintenance your electric grill, griddle, press, or smoker can provide you with convenient and creative cooking options for many years to come!
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