Types of Indoor Grills
Just like outdoor grills, indoor grills come in many different shapes, sizes, and types. Indoor grills can be broken down into three main categories:
Stovetop Grill – This is essentially a grill setup that you place atop your kitchen stove. It uses the gas or electric power of your stove to generate heat, but it is shaped in the griddle/grill design of a standard outdoor grill.
The beauty of a stovetop grill is that it gives you total control over the cooking temperatures using your stove's knobs/controls. The rack is placed atop the heat source (your stove), and you place your food to cook on the rack. Simple and easy!
On the downside, there is no way to prevent the liquid (grease, drippings, water, sauces, etc.) from dripping onto your stove.
Open Countertop Grill – An open countertop grill is an electric indoor grill designed to sit on your countertop, generating its own power to heat up the grill (rather than using the stove). Think of these open grills as a hot plate (compact electrical burner) with a grill/griddle integrated into the design.
The beauty of these open countertop grills is that they usually offer more cooking surface than closed countertop grills. The knobs or buttons give you total control over the heat generated, so you can grill your food with as low/high heat as you want.
However, the lack of lid means the grease, liquids, and oils from your food are prone to splash and spray around the kitchen. They're definitely messier than closed countertop grills. Plus, you only cook your food one side at a time, so cook time is longer.
Closed Countertop Grill – A closed countertop grill is an electric indoor grill that sits on your countertop, generating its own power to heat up the grill. However, instead of an open design, these grills come with a lid that closes on your food. This helps to speed up cook time, as the grill can cook the food both sides at the same time. In addition to cooking meat, you can grill veggies, paninis, sandwiches, and even fruits.
On the downside, closed countertop grills are less versatile than open grills, as you have to cook foods that are thin enough that the grill can still close properly. You also get less surface space with a closed grill.
Indoor Grill Buying Guide
When shopping for an indoor grill, chances are you're going to opt for either an open or closed countertop grill rather than a stovetop. The electric-powered grills produce less smoke than stovetop grills, and they provide a much more even heating surface for efficient cooking.
Here is what you need to evaluate when shopping for an indoor grill:
Surface Capacity – You need to think about the size of your family when evaluating the surface capacity of an indoor grill.
- Open countertop grills usually have a surface capacity of 100 to 140 square inches, which can fit enough food for 2-4 people at a time.
- Closed countertop grills usually have a surface capacity of 72 to 200 square inches, which can fit enough food for 2-6 people at a time.
The reason closed countertop grills have a higher surface capacity is due to their dual surfaces (grill and lid). These dual surfaces can cook both top and bottom of your food at the same time, meaning a shorter cook time.
Size – Once again, choose a grill size according to the number of people you'll be cooking for. Open grills tend to be larger, as the single surface must be wider and longer in order to offer more surface capacity. Closed grills can be smaller and more compact, as the lid and grill give you more surface capacity to cook with.
However, open grills can handle more food at a time, though you can only cook one side. On the other hand, closed grills can fit less food on the grill at once, but both sides are cooked at once.
If you have plenty of kitchen space to work with, open grills are a good option to consider. For those with smaller kitchens, closed grills take up less counter space while still giving you plenty of surface capacity.
Materials – The best indoor grills are made with metal exteriors, though some are a combination of hard silicone or plastic with metal elements.
Metal is the best material for grills, as it can handle high heat without damage. However, plastic and silicone are often used as a protective surface to prevent you from burning yourself if you accidentally touch the exterior of the grill.
The downside of plastic and silicone is that they tend to have durability problems, such as cracks in the framework or the legs/handles breaking off. Silicone is definitely the more durable of the two materials, and they're easier to clean than both plastic and metal.
For the grill itself, you want either cast iron or a non-stick surface. Cast iron has the most efficient heat transference, making it the best surface for cooking with. However, a non-stick surface is easy to clean and tends to be more versatile than cast iron grills.
Note: Many stovetop grills are made using a porcelain-coated aluminum grate, which can tolerate high heat without burning your food.
Heating Element – The term "heating element" refers to the part of the appliance that heats up. Located beneath the grill, it's usually electric-powered and can reach temperatures as high as 450 F. Higher cooking temperatures are good for grilling thick steaks (getting that sear on the surface is a must), but it's not a must-have feature.
The most important thing is even heating over the surface of the grill. The appliance should heat the entire grill up evenly so all the food on the grill cooks at the same speed.
Indoor Grill Features to Consider
Looking for the right grill to use in your home? Think about these handy features:
- Indicator Light – This feature is usually integrated into the grill. The light turns on to alert you when the grill has reached your desired temperature or is ready for cooking. It's a must-have for those who require specific cooking heat for their food.
- Lid – Closed grills come with a cover, but some open grills also include a lid (without a cooking surface). A lid is handy for trapping the heat and smoke close to the grill's surface, locking the moisture into the meat while preventing the cooking food from smelling up your home. Metal lids are better at trapping heat, but glass lids allow you to monitor the food as it cooks.
- Grease Tray/Drip Pan – All meat produces grease and juices. For a closed grill, a grease tray provides a place for those liquids to be stored safely. Without a grease tray, there's a very real risk that the grease/juices will catch fire—a safety hazard, to say the least. A grease tray also makes cleaning the grill much easier. Open grills have drip pans, which serve the same function as a grease tray. Adding a bit of water into the drip pan will prevent the grease from catching fire.
- Temperature Controls – All indoor and electric grills come with temperature controls, but some offer more versatility and control than others. For casual grillers, it may not be imperative to have total control over the heat. However, for grillmasters, you want temperature controls that offer you the ability to adjust the settings to your precise preferences.
- Power Switch – A grill that turns on when plugged in and off when unplugged can be unsafe, as there's a chance you'll forget to unplug it when you're done. A power switch allows you to turn off the grill while it's still plugged in.
- Non-Skid Feet – This is another must-have for your indoor grill. The last thing you want is for your grill to slip or slide around on your countertop while it's hot. Non-skid feet will keep it firmly in place.
- Contact Plates – This is the grilling surface itself. Some indoor grills come with just a flat griddle surface, while others have a grill. Some come with both griddle and grill built into the same surface, or multiple plates you can switch according to what you're going to cook.
- Removable Parts – If you can't remove the grease tray/drip pan and plates from the electrical components of the grill, you won't be able to clean it properly.
- Aroma Scenter – An aroma scenter is a drawer or compartment in the grill where you can insert wood chips, herbs, or spices that will be infused into the food. This is a nifty added feature, but not a must-have.
These features will contribute to your indoor grilling experience, both the actual cooking process and the inevitable clean-up!
Do Smokeless Indoor Grills Exist?
The concept of "smokeless indoor grills" is close to impossible to make a reality. After all, cooking meats and veggies lets off a certain amount of heat, vapor, and smoke. It's not realistic to expect a 100% smokeless indoor grill.
However, there is a new type of grill that could reduce smoke output to nearly zero. Instead of using the standard electric heating coils, this type of grill uses Indirect Infrared Light to provide the heat. The indirect heat cooks the meat, but the juices and drippings don't sizzle and smoke when they drip into the grease tray.
The Philips Smoke-less Indoor Grill HD6371/94 is the first of its kind, and there are a lot of pros to using this smokeless grill:
- Less smoke, obviously. The indirect infrared light produces 5 to 10% of the smoke produced by other indoor grills.
- Fast heating and a high maximum heat. This makes cooking quick and easy.
- Easy cleaning. Because the drippings and juices don't burn, they're much easier to clean off the grill and grease tray.
- Dishwasher safe. Everything but the heating element can be put in the dishwasher.
On the downside, it's bulkier than your average indoor grill, so it may not be convenient for indoor grilling in an apartment or small kitchen. It's also VERY hot, and it produces such high heat that it can damage cabinets and wallpaper. It's also much pricier than your average grill—up to $300, compared to the $20 to $50 you'll pay for other indoor grills.
The Secret to Smoky Flavors When Grilling Indoors
The main downside to using indoor grills (and all electric grills) is that you miss out on the rich, smoky flavor that comes from wood and charcoal fires. However, there's a simple solution: liquid smoke.
Simply put, liquid smoke is smoke that has been captured in steam and turned to a liquid that can be added into your food. Wikipedia explains the complex process, but it's enough to know that it's FDA-approved and considered a "natural" food additive.
To use liquid smoke to make your indoor-grilled food absolutely delicious, all you have to do is brush a little bit of the liquid onto the meat while cooking. (Emphasis on "little"—the liquid smoke is VERY strong!) Brushing it onto the meat in the final minutes of grilling will give it that smoky flavor even if you're cooking on an electric griddle.
Be warned: some grillmasters consider this "cheating". After all, a purist will insist, you only get that rich flavor from charcoal and wood.
If you're not a purist but love delicious foods, go ahead and use liquid smoke to give your indoor-grilled proteins and veggies that rich, smokey flavor that makes grilled food such a delight.