Vol.1, No.12

Choosing a new electric grill

Electric indoor grills are easy and fun to use. It only takes a few minutes to have a special meal that's healthy to boot.

Hamburgers cooking on a grill
Photo Credit: Angus Plummer
There are two basic styles of electric grills. The first style is modeled after outdoor grills. Food is placed on top of the grill, and the food cooks from the bottom. These are usually marketed as open grills. The second type is a sandwich model with food pressed between two ridged plates and cooked top and bottom simultaneously. This style is commonly called a contact grill.

The open models give the feel of outdoor grilling though do not have that outdoor charcoal taste. They also have a tendency to produce some smoke. Sensitive fire alarms may trigger when using the open models.

Advantages of Open Model Grills:

1. Food appears grilled. The distinct grill marks are more pronounced.

2. Thicker meats can be cooked on the open models. Most contact grills will not handle meat thicker than one inch. Open models have no such limitations. Grilled "bone in" chicken, for example, would be more easily cooked on an open model.

3. Open grills allow for more control over doneness though the cook must have a "feel" for rare, medium, and well.

The sandwich style grillers can be used to grill sandwiches as well as to grill meats. Simply place the food in the grill, press the machine shut, and wait for the food to cook.

Advantages of Contact Models:

1. Contact grills can be used as sandwich machines as well as standard grill machines.

2. Cooking times are regulated and produce solid results though do not allow for different levels of doneness. It is possible to experiment and to adjust times to suit individual tastes.

3. Contact grills are smokeless. Some steam may escape when the machine is opened, but a constant release of smoke is not an issue.

4. It takes less time to cook with a contact model, since the food is cooked from the top and the bottom at the same time.

There are a couple of models on the market that offer both open and contact options. These dual models tend to be more expensive.

With both types of electric grills, fat is drained off during cooking. Food is elevated with grease dripping down to fat pans or cups. Health wise, this is better than cooking meats and vegetables directly in grease where a good portion of the fat and calories are absorbed and then consumed.

Both the grill and plate models are stand alone kitchen machines. Counter and/or storage space is required. An electric outlet is also needed, and most electric grills have short cords. Manufacturers do not recommend using extension cords with electric grill cookers, so be certain an outlet is available regardless of the style selected.

Indoor grills come in a variety of sizes. Some are great for a single person or a couple and cook a couple of burgers or chicken breasts at one time. Family models cook larger amounts with the average large, family model designed for six portions at one time.

Most models have some sort of indicator light and/or timing device. Typical grill users will find it handy to have a light or bell to indicate when the grill is ready for cooking and when the food is ready to take out. Again, tastes do vary. If you enjoy a crispier grilled cheese sandwich, then it will take a couple of test drives to determine how much extra time is needed to get a darker browning.

Some models have a temperature gauge setting. Since the average indoor grill is set at 400 degrees F and since most recipes are designed for this setting, it's not critical to have temperature control. For more experimental cooks, a range of temperatures can be interesting and can be used to customize dishes.

All current mainstream models are non-stick as far as the grill pieces. This means that fat rolls right off and also that clean up is very simple. This is assuming that the grill is cleaned shortly after use. Leave the electric grill sitting overnight covered in fat, and a mess will be waiting in the morning.

To clean the grill:

1. Let the grill cool. Since the heat is electric, this does not take more than 20 or 30 minutes. By the time you have finished eating, the pan should be cool enough to clean.

2. Use a wet sponge (no soap) and wipe the grill. The stuck on grease and water will slide right into the drip pan.

3. Empty the drip pan. Wipe with a paper towel to get the bulk of the grease out of the holding area.

4. Clean pieces. With some models, the parts lift out for cleaning. Just stick them in the sink and hand wash to ensure a good clean surface. If the pieces do not lift out, then go back over the grill with a sponge or wash cloth.

Electric grills are fun and easy to use. They produce quick and healthy meals. Buy one and experiment. Before you know it, you'll be hooked on indoor grilling.