Is an indoor grill worth it?
Here's what you need to know.
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Last summer got us all excited about grilling outdoors—we tested the best smokers and gas grills, found a favorite charcoal, and explained why kamado grills are so popular. But as temperatures drop, we have to say goodbye to those summer memories and find a way to bring the joys of grilling indoors.
While we love indoor grills for producing sizzling steaks, juicy burgers, and lightly-charred vegetables all year round, they're not for everyone. Here’s how to choose if an indoor grill is right for you—and which to buy if you choose to invest.
What are the different types of indoor grills?
Before you commit to an indoor grill, it’s important to understand your options. Essentially, there are two types of indoor grills: open grills and contact grills. While open grills always lay flat, contact grills have two ends that fold like a panini press. Some grills can also be converted from open to contact. Other popular indoor grills include double-burner griddles and skillets, but we’re only discussing the smaller electric grills that won’t occupy too much space when they’re in use.
Although open grills can make you feel like you’re cooking outdoors, they take twice as long to cook most foods as contact grills, according to our grill tests. Throughout testing, we were disappointed with the open grills because of their slow cook times and inconvenience when making sandwiches.
Contact grills, on the other hand, are more versatile—they're great not only for hotdogs, burgers, and steaks but also sandwiches and breakfast foods. Our favorite indoor grill, the Cuisinart Griddler Deluxe, scored high marks across the board and easily converts from a contact grill to an open grill.
Although they cook more slowly, open grills aren't always a bad choice. Many open grills, including the Zojirushi model we tested, are great for hosting Korean barbecue-style dinners at home. Guests can gather around the grill and pick whatever they like to toss on top of the hot plate. These grills cook more slowly than contact ones because they are lower-heat, which reduces the safety concerns involved with group cooking.
Is an indoor grill worth buying?
If you love grilling and like the convenience of being able to cook that way all year round, we think an indoor grill is worth the $100 or so it'll cost you. While many models will take up a substantial amount of space on the counter or in a cabinet, contact grills generally fold up small enough to store, and they're versatile enough that you'll get a lot of use out of them.
The best electric grills can grill meats and vegetables, press sandwiches, and even make pancakes, bacon and eggs, all without filling your kitchen with unwanted smoke. Indoor grills are also known for being easier to clean than their outdoor counterparts, as some grills have removable parts can go right into the dishwasher.
The Cuisinart Griddler Deluxe is a great, smokeless option for most grilling tasks. It can function as an open grill, contact grill, or griddle, and the temperature is adjustable on different plates, which lets you simultaneously cook multiple things (like bacon and eggs) on different temperature settings. If you're on a tight budget, we also recommend this classic George Foreman grill that goes for just around $25.
What to know before you grill indoors
Whether you're a pit master or a new cook, there’s a learning curve for indoor grilling. Here’s a few tips to make the most out of your indoor grill:
Pat your ingredients very dry.
If you decide to marinate your ingredients, make sure you do it in advance to allow the meat or tofu to absorb as much flavor as possible. Then, pat the ingredients very, very dry before throwing them on the heated grill to achieve the best crisp possible (and to prevent excess steam and smoke).
Consider a butane torch.
We’ve all been there—no matter how patiently you wait for the griddle to heat up, you can’t get the outside of your meat as crispy as you want before the inside gets overcooked. My chef friend recommends using a butane torch to lightly crisp foods before (or after) you cook them on low heat over the grill. This method is especially useful for thick cuts of meat.
Season with dry spices when possible.
Seasoning with dry spices as opposed to wet sauces will give your food flavor without causing splatters and a difficult clean-up.
Coat your pan with a thin layer of oil.
Using oil on your grill will help prevent your ingredients from sticking. To ensure evenness, use a piece of paper towel dipped in vegetable oil instead of oil spray—and don’t make the layer too thick.
Use liquid smoke.
For people who want to replicate the woody smokiness of grilling outdoors, a splash of some liquid smoke can help. As it's very strong and potent, brush one-quarter teaspoon or less liquid smoke on the ingredients during grilling.
Are there alternatives to electric indoor grills?
If you’re on the hunt for an appliance that can multitask, we like the Ninja Foodi Grill that can also air fry, roast, bake, and dehydrate. Although it's bulky, it does an excellent job browning meats, frying fries, and dehydrating healthy apple chips.
If you're low on space, a heavy-duty cast iron skillet is your best alternative to these gadgets. Cooking professionals and home chefs agree that cast iron cookware is a kitchen essential. If you’re new to grilling and struggling with how to sear your meat right, try practicing with a cast iron skillet—it holds heat longer than the aluminum pans on grills.
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.