When I was an apartment dweller, I used to feel really left out every summer when magazines were full of grilling recipes, and the smell of cooking burgers would waft into my window from my more fortunate neighbors who actually had balconies or yard space. But you don't have to miss out on this delicious and healthy cooking method just because you don't have an outdoor grill. Use these indoor grill cooking tips to enjoy delicious grilled flavor anytime…without setting foot outside.
Choose your grill and tools
You have several choices when it comes to indoor grills. You can choose an electric countertop grill, such as a George Foreman Grill (one to consider: the George Foreman Evolve), which have an electrically-powered heat source beneath metal plates. They come in two different styles: contact grills, which have a top and bottom grill plate and close over the food to cook both sides at once, or open grills, which are a single flat surface, similar to a griddle, and usually have more surface space, although you'll have to flip your food to cook the other side. Electric models typically have adjustable temperature control and some models also have an indicator light to tell you when the grill's hot. Also look for removable nonstick grill plates, which are easy to clean.
Another choice is a stovetop grill or grill pan. You'll find heavy cast iron models that are wide enough to fit over two burners, or square or round pans that have raised grill lines in the base of the pan.
I find that the two-burner models heat unevenly, since there are gaps in the heat source, and can be heavy and unwieldy to use. My suggestion is a grill pan. Look for a grill pan in which you can see the indentations of the grill lines on the underside of the pan; the raised lines will get hotter in a pan like this, rather than one that has a smooth bottom.
A square grill pan, around 11 inches, will provide enough surface space to make four burgers or chicken breasts at a time, or a couple of good-sized steaks. Again, a nonstick surface is a plus.
Also helpful to have for indoor grilling are some tongs that have a silicone or rubberized coating on the tips (so you won't scratch the nonstick surface), a grilling brush for basting on glazes and a silicone or plastic turner spatula.
Grills to Consider:
- Calphalon Panini Grill Pan
- Stainless Steel Indoor Grills: Breville vs. George Foreman Grills
- Cuisinart Griddler G-4
Indoor Grilling Tips for Cooking Meat, Poultry, and Fish
To get delicious grilled flavor from protein like meat, poultry, fish, it's important to start with the right type of cut. Lean, tender pieces that aren't full of fat or connective tissue are the best choices. You'll get the best results from thinner pieces of meat, such as flank steak or chicken breasts that have been pounded to around 3/4 inches, or thin fish fillets like tilapia or trout.
The reason? The thinner the piece, the faster it'll cook. It's also helpful if the meat is relatively uniform in its thickness so that it will cook evenly.
Because you're not going to be getting the smoky flavor you would from a charcoal grill, you'll want to season your meat. A simple sprinkling of salt and pepper is fine, but I'd recommend buying or making a spice rub, particularly one that contains smoky-tasting ingredients, such as dried chipotle or smoked paprika. Evenly sprinkle or rub this into the meat and let it sit a few minutes before putting it on the grill. You could also use a barbecue, grilling sauce, or marinade, which can be applied about 20 minutes before you're ready to cook. The easiest way to marinate meat is to put the meat and the marinade in a large zip-top bag and maneuver it around with your fingers so that the meat is evenly coated. Store the bag of meat in the refrigerator while it's marinating, but bring it out about 20 minutes before you're ready to start cooking so it can come up to room temperature.
Make sure the grill is well heated before you put the meat on. Heat a countertop grill over medium-high heat and an electric grill to medium-high heat or, if there is a temperature dial, to around 375˚F to 400˚F. Brush the grill plates or grilling surface with vegetable oil or spray it with cooking spray, and then put your meat on the grill, at a roughly 45˚ angle to the grill lines to achieve the most attractive grill marks. Let the meat cook, undisturbed, until you can see it looking done along the sides, and when you lift a corner, you can see browned grill marks on the underside. Then flip the meat over, again setting it at an angle to the grill lines. Continue cooking until the other side is done, and before you remove it from the grill, be sure to cut into the meat to make sure it's cooked through. You can also test it with a food thermometer, and consult a list of safe food temperatures to make sure cooked to a proper temperature.
If you're using a contact grill, be sure to close the grill gently over the food so you don't compress it and risk squeezing the juices out. Foods cooked in a contact grill will take roughly half the amount of time they'd take no an open grill, since they are being cooked simultaneously on both sides, and also since the heat is more enclosed within the top and bottom grill plates.
The times below should help you estimate how long it might take for your meat to cook.
Indoor Grill Meat Cooking Times:
- Flank Steak: 12 to 14 minutes
- Hamburgers: 14 to 17 minutes
- Precooked Hot Dogs or Sausages: 5 to 7 minutes
- Chicken Breast: 12 to 15 minutes
- Fish Fillets or Shrimp: 5 to 7 minutes
(These times are for cooking on an open, uncovered grill, flipping once. If you're covering the grill or using a contact grill, check them for doneness after half the suggested time.
Recipes to Try:
- Grilled Tofu with Asian Noodle Salad
- Grilled Tuna Steaks with Asian Sesame Crust
- Grilled Fish Tacos with Fajita-Grilled Vegetables and Cilantro-Lime Slaw
- The Best Indoor-Grilled Burgers
Indoor Grilling Tips for Cooking Vegetables
Vegetables can be delicious prepared on an indoor grill. Smaller or thinner vegetable pieces will cook best: asparagus, green beans, mushrooms (particularly portobellos), 1/2-inch bias-cut slices of potato, eggplant, tomato or zucchini, for instance. Again, much depends on how they're seasoned. Try seasoning them before grilling with a seasoned salt or herb blend or tossing them with olive oil and/or balsamic vinegar.
Heat your grill to its highest setting and make sure it's fully preheated before adding the vegetables. Spray or brush the surface with vegetable oil, then add the vegetables. If you're grilling flat pieces, such as Portobello mushrooms or zucchini, line them up diagonally like you would with meat, to get the grill marks. Stick-like pieces like asparagus or beans can be placed perpendicular to the grill to get the best marks. Turn the vegetables as they start to get grill marks, making sure to cook each side. If you feel like the vegetables haven't gotten enough flavor, you can season them some more with balsamic vinegar, sea salt or seasoned salt or herb blends.
Indoor Grill Vegetable Cooking Times:
- Asparagus spears: 3 to 5 minutes
- Portobello mushrooms: 5 to 7 minutes
- Onion, 1/2-inch slices: 5 to 7 minutes
- Bell Pepper Strips: 6 to 8 minutes
- Tomatoes, halved or thick slices: 4 to 5 minutes
- Zucchini, 1/2-inch slices: 5 to 7 minutes
Covering the grill will cut these cooking times in roughly half.