Choose the Right Grill Type for You
"Most people will be choosing between a grill pan, contact grill, freestanding electric grill or an indoor smoker," says Steven Raichlen, grilling authority and author of Raichlen's Indoor Grilling and Planet Barbecue. A grill pan is a good choice for searing in flavor while imparting classic grill marks on steaks and chicken breasts. "Someone who has a kitchen that is tight on space might also choose a grill pan," says Raichlen.
A contact grill (also referred to as a panini maker) can make a mean grilled cheese as well as a juicy burger (but may steam rather than sear a steak). It heats up quickly, and cooks food fast since you're getting heat from two sides.
If you're a barbecue guy, an indoor smoker can bring ribs, brisket, or even smoked salmon onto your winter menu.
Finally, a freestanding grill is sort of like a hotplate grill or mini habachi, and works best for small jobs like shrimp or fruit kebabs. Since they pale in power when compared to outdoor versions, Raichlen isn't a huge fan of these. You can also find grills that go in your fireplace, which bring the outdoor grilling experience indoors, or even ones that can be in built-in to your cooktop.
Do Your Research
Now that you know which type of grill will light your fire, choose one wisely by following Raichlen's recommendations. "A grill pan should be cast iron, for better heat conduction and retention. A contact grill should have sharp ridges on its grill surface and as much wattage as possible, for better browning. And for a smoker, there is really only one brand widely available, the Camerons Smoker Cooker," says Raichlen. Other features you'll want to look for include floating hinges, drip pans and nonstick coatings. Examples of grills which fit the bill include the Emerilware 10-Inch Cast Iron Square Grill Pan and the Villaware V2160 UNO ProPress Panini Grill.
Fire Up Some Flavor
Indoor grilling is certainly warmer for the chef than grilling in the snow, but the end product won't be exactly the same. "The lack of live flame indoors cuts down on searing and caramelization of the meat proteins. You can't burn wood chips indoors to generate smoke (except for in an indoor smoker), so you need to pump up the spices and seasoning," says Raichlen. So now just might be the perfect time to try out those chipotle barbecue chicken or wasabi seared tuna steak recipes.
Keep Things Tidy
Outdoors, you can just let mother nature wash away grease drips and the sky above absorb the smoky remnants of your summer feast. But indoors, you'll want to make less mess where you can. To reduce the smoke factor, trim excess fat away from the meat. With a contact grill, make sure your drip pan is in place before you start your grill, and keep an eye on it to make sure it doesn't need replacing midway through your cooking session. Then, clean it while it's still warm. This may seem counterintuitive, until you're trying to scrap hardened grease off. When using a smoker, line it with aluminum foil first. Also use a drip pan—it's your best friend when it comes to cleaning up. And simply soak your grill pan in warm water before cleaning (use soap if it's not cast iron).
Try a New Recipe
After you've brought your favorite outdoor recipes inside, try a new recipe like this one:
Prosciutto and Fontina Panini
Raichlen calls this the "ultimate ham and cheese," and with its salty pork and buttery dairy flavors, it's easy to see why. Throw it on your contact grill, and you'll feel like you're in northern Italy.
- 4 slices dense white sandwich bread
- 1 1/2 tablespoons salted butter, at room temperature or melted
- 2 to 3 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto (about 12 slices)
- 2 to 3 ounces thinly sliced Fontina cheese (about 4 thin slices)
- Coarsely ground or cracked black pepper
- Cooking oil spray
How to Make It
- Preheat grill to high and place drip pan in front of grill.
- Using a knife or pastry brush, spread slices of bread on one side with butter.
- Place 2 slices of bread on a work surface, buttered side down, and arrange prosciutto on them, followed by slices of cheese, trimming edges to fit.
- Generously sprinkle pepper over sandwiches.
- Place remaining 2 slices of bread on top, buttered side up.
- Lightly coat the grill surface with cooking spray.
- Using a spatula, transfer the panini to the hot grill and close the lid. Grill until the bread is crusty and golden brown and the cheese is melted, about 5 minutes.
- Cut in half on the diagonal and serve at once.
For more recipes and information on how to choose an indoor grill, visit barbecuebible.com.