How to Choose and Use an Indoor Grill

Even though spring has officially begun, the outdoor grilling season may still seem far away. The good news is that you can still enjoy deliciously grilled foods any day of the year, regardless of weather. Today’s lineup of electric indoor grills can help you shake things up when it comes to deciding on what to make for dinner. Additionaly, the nonstick coating of the raised grid grilling surfaces are designed to drain excess fat from foods, thereby keeping you on track for healthy eating with a wide range of tasty options. What’s even better, indoor grills are easier to clean than ever before.
Decide on grill type
There are two main types of indoor grills to choose from: the open grill and the contact grill.

  • The open grill is similar to cooking on an outdoor grill, as it consists of a single grilling surface that lies beneath the food. As a result, you will need to flip foods in order to grill both sides. Both types can be used to grill a variety of foods, but the grill surface of the open grill is generally larger so you can cook larger quantities at the same time. As such, an open grill is often better when entertaining, or when cooking for a large group of family or friends. Though most are open, some models come with a lid to help contain both heat and smoke.
  • The contact grill is built with two grill plates. The “lid” grill plate cooks food from the top, and the “base” grill plate cooks food from the bottom. As a result, a contact grill cooks faster than an open grill. In addition, a contact grill is often compact and therefore take less kitchen space to use and store.

Tip: When shopping for a contact grill, expand your cooking options by choosing a model with floating hinges. That way you have the ability to adjust the height as needed in order to accommodate thicker foods.

How much power do you need?
Wattage is the measure of electrical energy being used to operate an appliance or device. For best results, look for models ranging between 1,200 to 1,700 watts; indoor grills with lower wattage may be less than adequate when it comes to cooking steaks, pork, and other cuts of meat. A high-wattage grill is also much faster to preheat and helps keep the surface temperature more stable when placing lots of food on the grill. As with most any cooking appliance, the higher the wattage, the faster your food will go from grill to table.

Heat control options
Indoor grills differ when it comes to heat. Some grills have only one setting or fixed temperature, while others come with an adjustable dial that gives you the power to control the heat or temperature setting.

Indoor grills with fixed temperatures are generally set to cook foods between 350°F to 450°F, depending on the wattage. An added benefit for grills with variable temperature controls is that they give you more cooking options, which range from warm to sear, with several heat settings in-between.

Tip: It’s easy to get sidetracked when making a weeknight dinner, especially when things are hurried or hectic. If that’s the case for you, look for an indoor grill with an automatic shutoff feature that prevents food from overcooking.

Factor in the grilling area
Smaller grills only have enough grill space to cook for one or two, while others are roomy enough for family-sized portions (up to 200 square inches of cooking surface). Definitely opt for more grilling space if you’re cooking for the family, or if you often entertain guests in your home.

Check on the extras
Many indoor grills come equipped with an on/off indicator light that illuminates to let you know that the power is on and running. But some models go one step further and light up when the grill begins heating, and then go out when the set temperature has been reached. Be sure you understand the settings of your particular grill, so you always know when the surfaces are hot.

Another feature to consider is a timer that works in conjunction with the on/off switch. Some models allow you to simply turn on the timer for the preheat cycle, then put your food on the grill and set the timer again to the exact grilling time needed. When the timer goes off, so does the grill. This can especially be an advantage for when interruptions occur that take your attention away from cooking.

A few other extras that may appeal to you include a temperature probe, grill plates that flip over to become a griddle, a bun warmer or removable warming drawer, or removable grill plates for easy cleanup.

Consider cleanup
Nonstick grill plates are pretty much a standard on all electric indoor grills, though some models are easier to clean than others. There are models that feature removable plates that you can detach and hand wash, and many have grill plates that can also be washed in the dishwasher. Other models feature a grill plate and heating unit that are connected, and thus need to be carefully cleaned with the entire grill intact.

Tip: When you’re finished cooking on the grill, make cleanup easier than ever: First unplug the grill, then place a couple of damp paper towels between the base and the lid and close the lid for 5 to 10 minutes. After that time, open the lid and use the wet paper towels to wipe the grill plates clean.

Clue in on these final cooking tips:

  • Contact indoor grills are ideally suited for burgers, fillets, chops, and boneless cuts of meat like chicken thighs or breasts as well as many vegetables.
  • Lean, tender cuts of meat work best when cooking on an indoor grill. For best results, keep cuts to 3/4 inches thick or less; the thinner the meat, the faster and more evenly it will cook.
  • When closing the lid on a contact grill, do so gently without added pressure so the juices in the meat will remain intact.
  • Marinade meat or lightly apply barbecue sauce or grilling sauce about 20 minutes before putting foods on the grill. The key word here is lightly, as some glazes or sauces easily burn on a contact grill. That said, when marinating meat, use paper towels and lightly pat the meat to remove excess surface marinade.
  • Sprinkle spice rubs on meats and let sit for 5 to 10 minutes before putting the seasoned meat on the grill.
  • Grill surfaces may become hot. Take precautions by using pot holders when opening or closing the lid.
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