Finding The Right Indoor Grill
The cold months of late fall, winter, and early spring forces most people to cover their beloved outdoor grill to protect it from the caprices of cold weather. At the same time, some people living in multifamily housing are prohibited from grilling with an open fire on their deck or patio.
Of course, there are going to be inevitable moments when the insatiable craving for grilled meat emerges to whet the appetite. Fortunately, grilling and appliance manufacturers are well-aware of times like this, and many have risen to meet the demand for indoor grilling options.
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Understanding Your Indoor Grill Options
While there are certainly other options, electric grills are the most common and offer the most diverse design features for indoor grilling. This type of cooking appliance uses a special nichrome alloy element to generate heat capable of searing and cooking meat as well as most vegetables.
Of course, an electric grill isn’t going to be able to impart the smoky flavors that you get from a charcoal fire or the flame-kissed essence created by searing meat over a propane flame. However, most quality electric grills are capable of the high temperatures needed to properly sear most of the foods you want to cook.
This evokes a special chemistry process known as the Maillard reaction, where amino acids and carbohydrates combine to caramelize into a highly flavorful molecule. The human sense of taste and smell have developed a strong pleasant response to even a small amount of seared food.
An open electric grill shares a lot in appearance with a traditional propane grill. Many are designed with a gridded grate clad in a non-stick material. Most manufacturers provide some type of domed lid made from tempered glass or another heat-resistant material.
Cooking on this type of indoor grill evokes many of the same techniques you would use with an outdoor grill. Steaks and hamburger patties need to be flipped. Brats and hot dogs need to be rolled to sear or mark the skin. Being able to see the food also allows you to monitor how it’s cooking and how much longer it needs while you prepare the side dishes.
When shopping for an open electric grill, you should keep in mind overall size for the number of people you’ll most often be cooking for, as well as its footprint on your countertop. Some foods cooked on an open grill can produce enough smoke and steam to trigger a smoke detector. Being able to place the grill near your range hood or another well-ventilated area can be helpful.
A lid is a very important feature as it will reduce spatter on the exterior of the grill as well as the countertop. It can also be helpful for trapping ambient heat when you want to do something like melt the cheese on top of a hamburger patty.
There are also some exotic takes on open electric grills. Certain manufacturers offer grills with single flat heating element or stone. You can then put a special grate over it for tabletop presentation. This allows you to do things like closely approximate Korean barbecue, with little more than a GFCI wall outlet as the power source.
Clamshell Or Contact Grills
Clamshell grills which are also sometimes referred to as contact grills often incorporate a hinge, which allows you to connect an upper heating element with the food being cooked. The George Foreman Grill is one of the more well known and highly advertised versions of a contact grill.
One advantage of a clamshell electric grill is the ability to sear and cook food quickly. You don’t need to manipulate or flip the food as it cooks. They also tend to render out excess fat into a drip tray, which can be helpful for individuals on a low-fat diet. Most clamshell grills tend to have a smaller footprint on the counter and create less spatter.
This type of grill is not without some disadvantages. If you want to make something like a bone-in chicken breast or another piece of non-symmetrical meat, the upper heating element will often struggle to make full contact with the surface. Some of these units also don’t work well for things like melting cheese on a hamburger without making a mess.
When you are shopping for a contact grill, you should look for one that best suits your counter space and the number of diners you’ll be cooking for. Check the hinge to make sure it doesn’t wobble. A large drip tray that is easy to remove is also very helpful for cleanup as well as preventing overflows if you’re grilling a fatty piece of meat.
A contact grill with heating plates that are easy to remove is also nice for quick cleanup. Some manufacturers offer units with different types of plates for making sandwiches.
There are also multi-functional contact grills where the top flips flat, which allows you to use it like an electric griddle. This can be nice if you want to saute peppers and onions for fajitas or fry bacon for a club sandwich.
Smokeless Indoor Grills
In the past the smoke of traditional gas and charcoal grills prevented them from being used indoors. This brought about a debate posed by grilling purist who complained that electric grills simply cannot replicate the smoky fire-kissed flavors prized in the outdoor cooking experience.
To answer this demand some grill manufacturers have worked hard to develop smokeless indoor grills that allow enthusiasts to use propane and charcoal indoors, in certain applications. There are some variations in design from one manufacturer to the next. Taking a moment to familiarize yourself with their details can help you decide if one is right for you.
Electric Smokeless Grill
Most of these smokeless units work by drawing a gentle, yet through vacuum through the lower portion of the cooking surface, which prevents the smoke from escaping into the air. It then passes through an innovative filter before being captured in a water collection reservoir. So long as you maintain the filter and the water level, the grill can closely replicate the flavorful effects of a traditional charcoal or propane grill.
One of the disadvantages of this type of grill is that you need to frequently deconstruct it to clean it and replenish the water reservoir. It also requires a cover for the vacuum system to work effectively, which can be an issue for foods that need to be flipped.
When shopping for an electric smokeless grill make sure to take a close look at the seals, any gap can change the dynamics of the vacuum system. If a retail showroom has an example available for you to touch, try taking it apart carefully to see how easy it is to access the water and drip reservoir.
Indoor Charcoal Grill
Most indoor charcoal grills borrow their inspiration from Korean and Japanese indoor grills. This type of grilling has been popular and very safe even in large cities like Tokyo and Seoul. In the past you needed to source a type of Asian charcoal known as Sumi, or white charcoal. Manufacturers may offer their own domestic take on this special charcoal.
They come in rectangular sticks that you insert into the grill. This type of charcoal tends to burn with as much or more heat than a traditional outdoor charcoal grill. It allows you to make exotic dishes like Japanese yakitori, Indian-style kebabs, or the reproduce the powerful flavors of Korean barbecue.
This type of grill will need some additional research. Despite claims of being smokeless many apartment complexes and other multifamily housing covenants prohibit indoor charcoal grilling in any form. It’s also worth noting that if there is an accident your renters or homeowner’s insurance may not cover damages caused by an indoor charcoal fire.
Even if you do have a green light for indoor charcoal grilling, you should always keep a fire extinguisher close at hand.Even when majority of the smoke is captured by a fan, vacuum, or other type of filtration system this type of grill can still potentially release carbon monoxide into the air. All things being considered, it might be a better idea to simply use it to grill in the garage or a pavilion.
When shopping for an indoor charcoal grill, quality is essential. Look into the smoke capture system and read reviews. Also look into the charcoal that it’s meant to use, as it will also factor into the price. A unit that comes with a lid might also be nice for trapping heat to do things like melt cheese on a hamburger patty.
Indoor charcoal grills are typically flat and may not include a lip or edge. This can be an issue if you want to do something like cook a perfectly round hot dog, which could potentially roll off the cooking grate.
Indoor Gas Infrared Grills
Infrared technology taps into a special aspect of the light spectrum to cook food. Infrared radiation has been shown to be as safe for cooking food as your standard household microwave. It is a low energy form of light, that as the name implies exists beyond the red end of the visible light spectrum.
It does not have enough energy to penetrate and affect the DNA inside your cells like high energy X-rays and Gamma rays. However, it does have the ability to heat food without affecting its natural moisture barrier the way open flame and convection heat does.
It’s worth noting that safe models are generally installed as an addition or a replacement for a range top. It also requires you to have a rated ventilation hood installed to capture and release smoke and other gasses.
The infrared grill is very efficient. A propane fire heats a special infrared element that quickly starts to glow while emitting a plethora of tiny flames and infrared heat. The high-temperature capability of the unit can rival that of commercial broilers found in high-end steakhouses.
Some manufacturers also offer an accessory flat griddle which can be placed over the grill grates. This can allow you to multitask the infrared grill as a griddle for frying eggs, making French toast, or sautéing vegetables.
Size And Cooking Area Considerations
The type of grill you choose will have a major influence on the size and potential storage space. A propane-infrared grill might require you to do a little kitchen remodeling, to be able to accommodate it. However, it will allow you too quickly cook for a large number of people at one time.
On the other end of the size spectrum, a small contact grill might be all you need if you just want to be able to grill up a couple of hamburger patties for you and a friend or your significant other. This type of grill has a relatively small footprint on the counter and can be stored away easily.
If you are a big fan of Korean barbecue a tabletop electric unit might be what you need. Just keep in mind ventilation options and smoke detectors in case excess marinade starts to burn.
In general, the number of people you need to cook for will also influence size. Indoor electric grills are available in a variety of sizes and styles. Multifunctional units that can double as an electric griddle might also consume extra countertop space.
It can help to take out a measuring tape to check the grill’s general footprint on the counter, as well as making sure that it will store away easily in the cupboard.
It’s important to note that there is the potential for carbon monoxide to escape into the air anytime you are working with charcoal or gas. Even if you are going to be using a smokeless unit it’s still a good idea to have a carbon monoxide detector nearby, as well as an additional ventilation from an oven hood or a nearby window that can be quickly opened.
If there is going to be any sort of open flame or high heat electricity you should also keep a fire extinguisher close at hand just in case there is an accident.
With an electric indoor grill, you want to check the connection with the cord. It should fit in place firmly when you are cooking. Yet the connection should still detach relatively easy in a moment where you need to move the unit and might accidentally forget to unplug it.
You should also take a close look, at any drip pans or trays. Make sure its both big enough to handle the runoff from a standard cooking session to prevent any overflow. You also want it to be easy to remove to pour away the runoff before cleaning it.
An indoor grill is an investment in expanding your cooking options. With some units it can be a very significant investment. Understanding the possible materials used in the construction of the grill can give you insights on its long-term lifespan and value.
Different types of grills and grates might use different metals.
This is an alloy of nickel and chromium used as the heating element in most electric grills. When current is passed through the nichrome element it acts like an electrical resistor, which causes it to heat up. The heat energy is then transferred efficiently to the grill’s surface.
Iron And Steel
Iron atoms are only created in the heart of a dying star. In the final seconds of a star’s life nuclear fusion and gravitational compression merge multiple atoms together to create iron for the first time. Iron is so good at absorbing energy that it immediately disturbs the longtime balance between gravity and fusion which causes the start to collapse and explode in a supernova.
Even after the ancient star is long dead the iron atoms still possess much of their amazing ability to retain heat energy. This makes it a good choice for various grill components and grates.
Cast Iron is a somewhat crude or less refined type of iron created by heating the metal into a semi-liquid state. It is then poured into a temporary mold which holds it in the intended shape until it cools enough to harden.
Without some type of protective coating cast iron will start to rust. Cast iron pans and griddles are often covered in a thin layer of wax at the factory, which keeps them rust free in the store. When you bring a cast iron pan or griddle home you need to “Season” it with oil, grease or another heat cured hydrocarbon.
With grills cast iron is often used for thick grill grates as they retain heat as well as transmit it to the food. This helps create a nice sear in high heat applications while also helping to maintain consistent warming in low heat applications.
To protect it from rusting most manufacturers will coat a cast iron in a special porcelain glaze. This also makes the grate semi-nonstick, yet not as non-stick as a Teflon coating.
Steel is essentially iron that has been bonded in an alloy with a small amount of carbon. Other trace elements can be added to the alloy to imbue the steel with additional properties.
Stainless steel is a special type of steel which contains at least 10.5% chromium. There are different grades and gauges of stainless steel that can affect a grills overall quality as well as its cost.
One thing to consider with stainless steel is the gauge number. A lower number indicates that it is thicker which can influence the price.
304 stainless steel
is created from a blend of nickel, chromium, and other trace metals. It offers great quality and protection against rusting. 304 stainless steel is sometimes referred to as “commercial grade” stainless.
430 stainless steel
is created from a blend of iron and at least 10.5% chromium. It is commonly found on lower-quality and seemingly inexpensive outdoor grills. It has the tendency to tarnish and rust faster than 304 and 443 stainless steel
443 stainless steel
includes chromium as well as other trace metals. It is similar to
304 stainless steel
while also being less expensive. It has become increasingly popular with grill manufacturers.
316 stainless steel
is known for being very high quality as well as expensive. A grill made from 316 might be overpriced for what you get in functionality.
Raw aluminum is often mined and refined from bauxite deposits in the tropics. However, recycled aluminum is becoming increasingly popular. Cast aluminum is created by electrically exciting and heating raw aluminum to turn it into its liquid form.
It is then poured into specific molds and allowed to harden into a new shape. Since it can be made into a variety of shapes cast aluminum can show up in a variety of grill components. It tends to be lightweight, yet rigid. It can also handle high temperatures and does not rust.
One thing to keep in mind with any aluminum is its ability to tarnish from long-term exposure to acids. If you happen to spill an acidic marinade or something like lemon juice on an aluminum component, just remember to wipe it down after the area cools down. Aluminum also reacts with chlorine, so you should never clean it with bleach.
Non-Stick Coating Options
While they might appear smooth at first glance raw metal grates actually have microscopic textures that can cause meat and vegetables to stick. One basic way to try to address this is to lightly grease the grill grates or the food being cooked with some vegetable oil. You can apply it to the grill by absorbing a small amount on a folded piece of paper towel. You can then use a tongs to wipe it on the grill grates a moment before you add the meat.
This method is not always reliable, especially in high heat applications or with foods that need to be flipped frequently. To answer this issue some grill manufacturers offer grates with a non-stick coating.
Teflon is a special type of polymer known for being very smooth. It is most commonly found in things like non-stick frying pans. With indoor grills it is often the preferred covering for electric grill grates.
Teflon is typically applied in a very thin coating so proper maintenance is important. You should avoid using metal tools on a Teflon surface, and you should not clean with abrasive tools such as a wire brush or steel wool.
If you do happen to have something stubbornly stuck on a Teflon surface, you should remove the plate or grate and soak it in warm soapy water. In time it should soften to the point where it will release by scrubbing with a soft sponge.
Teflon also isn’t ideal for very high heat searing above 500 degrees. The adhesion of stuck on food can potentially cause the non-stick surface to degrade where it touches the food.
Temperatures over 660 degrees are also ill-advised as Teflon can start to chemically breakdown releasing a small amount of toxic gas.
Cast iron and certain other grades of steel can easily absorb a significant amount of heat energy. This makes them a good choice for grill grates. However, foods also have a nasty habit of sticking to them. To reduce the chances of this happening some grill manufacturers will apply a special smooth coating of porcelain.
The glazed surface is semi-non-stick, while also offering superior heat retention for low heat cooking methods. It also helps improve the sear in high heat applications, while also being far more durable than Teflon.
Porcelain glazed grill grates can withstand the abrasion posed by metal tools and wire brushes. However, there is the potential for it to chip or crack. So, You should avoid tapping tools on the surface.
If something is stubbornly stuck on the surface, you can place the cooled grill grates in a sink with warm soapy water. Once it softens you should be able to wipe it away with an abrasive sponge.
Handles, covers, legs, feet, and other components also play an important role in the life and operation of an indoor grill. Some materials play an important role insulating the grill, supporting it, or helping to prevent you from burning your fingers.
Some indoor grills include lids or domes to cover the cooking surface. They serve to reduce airborne spatter while also helping trap heat. While some grills have solid or opaque lids, there are many that include a tempered glass lid with a handle, which allows you to see the food being cooked. This can be especially helpful if you are cooking something that is prone to burning, yet you don’t want to open the lid, allowing heat to escape.
Polycarbonate is an alternative to tempered glass. It is a thermoplastic polymer that can be easily molded and is durable as well as transparent. It is typically cheaper than tempered glass, which can save on price and in the case of an accidental hard drop it is far less likely to crack or shatter.
There are different grades of plastic, each of them has its own formulation, properties, and heat resistance. Indoor grill manufacturers will often use durable plastics for handles, covers, dials, and other structural components.
If the indoor grill you’re interested in has plastic legs, you should check to make sure it’s stable. Plastic drip pans need to be durable or made from heat resistant PVC to prevent melting when exposed to hot runoff.
Polystyrene is an aromatic hydrocarbon polymer created from the monomer styrene. While that sounds chemically complicated, it is often known by the well-known brand Styrofoam. Dense polystyrene is used as an insulator with certain indoor grills. Some manufacturers will sandwich it between an internal heating component and the plastic outer shell, like you might find in a clamshell grill.
Special Features To Consider
Indoor grill manufacturers will offer special features and tools to make their unit more appealing than the competitor.
Indoor grills need to be thoroughly cleaned before storing. Some units come with special soft plastic tools to help safely dislodge stuck on material. Soft brushes may also be helpful for an electric grill that doesn’t have a removable cooking plate.
Non-stick Teflon cooking surfaces are easily damaged by metal tools. Some manufacturers will include cooking tools with the purchase or offer them as affordable accessories. Some are plastic and some are metal with a durable silicone surface which will not melt at temperatures under 600 degrees.
Removable Grill And Cooking Plates
Even the highest quality Teflon coated surface can suffer from some stuck-on material. Being able to remove the grate or cooking plate to soak it in warm soapy water can help remove the material without risking damage to the Teflon.
Some electric grill manufacturers will also provide additional plates in curved, flat, or contoured surfaces. This can help the unit double as a multi-functional griddle or allow you to do something like make pocket sandwiches with a clamshell grill.
Smokeless grills often employ a filter as well as a water trap to capture fugitive smoke before it can enter the air. Check to see how easy it is to access the filter to replace it. You should also look into the cost of replacement filters when factoring in overall cost.
Some indoor grills and electric cooking appliances will include a sear button feature. When you press it the cooking surface temporarily rises in temperature. It can be handy for a piece of meat that benefits from hybrid grilling.
For example, a deboned, skin-on chicken breast typically needs low temperatures to cook it through followed by a high-temperature sear to crisp the skin. Conversely something like a grilled chateaubriand needs a high heat sear to develop a flavorful crust, before being cooked over low heat to the desired level of doneness.
Non-symmetrical and thick pieces of meat can sometimes be challenging to cook on an electric clamshell grill. A floating hinge allows you to adjust the thickness and angle that the upper plate contacts the food. If you have the chance to inspect a retail display or showroom model, check to see how firm the hinge is, how well it stays in place and just how thick it will allow you to set it.
Indoor grills can provide you with the special flavor of grilled food when you simply can’t grill outdoors. When shopping for the unit that’s right for you, it can help to consider the number of people you’ll most often be cooking for, as well as your available space on the counter and in the cupboard.
Take some time to think about the kind of foods you want to cook. What special tools and features will help you when grilling as well as cleaning up.With a little bit of time and attention to detail, you should be able to find the indoor grill that’s right for you.
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