Imagine your perfect summer cookout. You’ve got all your friends hanging out in your yard sipping some cold ones as the kids run around and the burgers sizzle their tantalizing song. Sounds good, right? But what if you live in an apartment? What if it’s snowing outside? An indoor grill has the potential to make that summertime experience a year-round thing for anybody.
There’s more to it, though. Even when the weather supports it, grilling can be a real pain. You’ve got to light, maintain, and dispose of a charcoal fire, which is an order of magnitude more work than cooking on the stovetop. If you’ve got a gas grill it’s a little easier, but you’ve still got to keep up your propane supply and clean up a big appliance that somehow gets food burned on everywhere. An indoor grill promises to be as easy as popping an appliance on your counter and plugging it in, with cleanup as easy as washing a pan.
It doesn’t have to be at home. If grilling is as easy as plugging in a toaster, you could have the easiest office party ever. Make hot dogs on the grill a Friday office tradition.
Let’s take a look, and see if these grills can measure up to all that hype.
|1. Phillips Indoor Grill HD6371/94||$$$|
|2. George Foreman Indoor/Outdoor Grill GGR50B||$$|
|3. Power Smokeless Grill XL||$$|
|4. Livart Orange Barbecue Grill LV-982||$|
|5. Gotham Steel Electric Smokeless Grill||$|
What We Learned About Smokeless Grills
Why Not Just Bring Your Grill Inside?
So you don’t die! Charcoal and gas grills put out enough carbon monoxide to be a serious health risk if you don’t have open space and good airflow. You also don’t want to set your house on fire. Your grill has some fire right there, ready to go, sitting in a bowl that can get tipped over without too much effort. Outdoor grills also aren’t insulated the way your oven is, so there are a lot of hot surfaces that could set something alight. You need a grill that’s designed for indoor use to stay safe.
We found three main styles of indoor electric grills out there. First, you’ve got the hot plate style. This kind is mostly like an electric skillet or an electric griddle, but with a ridged grill pan instead of a flat top. These have electric coils built under the cooking plate. The coils heat the plate, and you cook your food on the ridged pan. These give you a little of the effect of grilling – fat and drippings come off and drain away instead of sitting in a pan, plus you can get nice grill marks. On the downside, that’s about all you get.
The third style is an infrared radiant grill. These use what are pretty much cranked-up heat lamps. Those lamps are focused up at a grill grate and cook your food through radiant energy. It sounds a little weak, but they can really crank out the heat. This is more smokeless than the open coil style since the drippings can’t fall on the heat source.
Do Indoor Grills Work? No.
Too blunt? Maybe, but it’s the truth. Here are the sad results of our testing.
Lack of Power
These really suck up the juice, drawing 1000‒1600 watts, but that doesn’t really make it to the food. Outdoor grills can really lay on the heat to produce a deep rich crust and these just don’t measure up. Even our best performers maxed out at adequate.
They must have some special mini-steaks cut for the advertising pictures, because these things are not big enough. The biggest ones we tried could feed a family of four in one go, but no one is cooking for a party on one of these things.
These indoor grills are much less smoky than an outdoor grill, but they still put out some smoke while you’re cooking.
We set off the smoke detector during our test several times. Just going by looks, these are less smoky than stovetop cooking, except you don’t have a vent hood to keep your kitchen clear of smoke. Unless, you’re placing your electric grill on your stovetop to use it, then it’s kinda Alanis Morissette.
Now, in defense of the grills, when cooking steak, chicken or fish they didn’t set off any of the fixed smoke detectors throughout the house. When it came time for the bacon test however, all bets were off.
Lack of Grilled Flavor
This part is the dealbreaker for us. The food doesn’t taste at all like it came off a grill. We knew going in that we weren’t getting the taste of wood smoke, but that’s not the only source of grilled flavor. As noted above, part of the equation is a high-heat sear, and that was hit-or-miss. The biggest part of grilled flavor, though, is just as hopeless as the wood smoke.
Skip Down to >> ‘Alternatives to Indoor Grilling‘
When you grill over charcoal, fat drips down from the meat onto the coals. It heats and vaporizes into smoke, and that smoke passes up across your food to baste it with flavor. A gas grill does something similar with its flavorizer bars. Indoor smokeless grills fundamentally can’t do this. Lack of smoke connects directly to lack of grilled flavor, so the steaks here taste like skillet-cooked ones, but with less browning.
Bonus tip: if you’re grilling something that’s really lean, the grilled flavor can be missing. You can crank that up by bunching up a couple pieces of bacon on a skewer and setting it next to the meat. The drippings will add a lot to the flavor to your meat.
Best Smokeless Grills
Nonetheless, we promised ratings, and here they are. If you’re locked in on the idea of an indoor electric smokeless grill, you could do a lot worse than these here, but if you aren’t committed, we’ve got some alternatives that might pique your interest.
Phillips Smoke-Less Avance Collection Indoor Grill HD6371/94
This model is the best of the indoor grills. It uses infrared radiant heat from emitters along the two long sides to heat up the removable grill top, which sits over a drip pan. It got pretty close to its advertised temperature of 446° in 8 minutes, which is very good. It fit two steaks easily, and produced great grill marks. They cooked good and fast – those infrared emitters really put out the heat. The Phillips produced the least amount of smoke relative to how well it preformed when searing and cooking. All in all we selected the Phillips as our #1 choice here because it offers an impressive range of heat, performance and lives up to mostly what it advertises. The downside being: no grilled flavor.
- Fast, high heat
- Great grill marks
- Easy-to-clean drip pan and grate
- Only two settings – full-on and warm
- Inside of the grill body is hard to clean
George Foreman 15-Serving Indoor/Outdoor Electric Grill GGR50B
The George Foreman grill is a hot plate style unit with a grill plate sitting over a heating element. It looks the part of a kettle grill, but it’s pretty undersized. The advertised fifteen servings is a joke – like any round grill, a lot of the area is not too useful. Four servings at a time is more realistic. High-heat performance is not so good, even at maximum power. This is the most smokeless unit in the roundup, so you have a better shot at cooking indoors without setting off the smoke detector. It can be used either on the countertop or on a stand. I don’t trust the stand, especially with the short cord limiting where it can be – put it on the counter for safety.
- Nearly smokeless
- Easy cleanup
- Small cooking surface
- Low heat
Power Smokeless Grill XL
The Power grill is an open-coil style, although the grill plate is a bit more closed in than others of this style. The key feature this unit advertises is a smoke-extractor fan. It doesn’t work as well as you’d hope, even with the lid on. I think the design of the grill plate and the fact that it doesn’t get hot enough to really sear anything does more than the fan. Cleanup is also a pain – there are a lot of components, and they all get dirty.
- Good controls
- Griddle plate is a useful extra
- Heat is weak and uneven
- So many things to clean
Livart Orange Barbecue Grill LV-982
The Livart grill is an open-coil grill that strips things down to the basics. You get a box holding a heating coil, drip tray underneath, thin grate on top. This unit is designed for yakitori cooking, so the small cooking surface is designed with kebabs in mind. It’ll do other things too, but not many at a time. The heat level is reasonably good, but the smoke level is a problem. Fat drips onto the coil producing significant smoke. You’ll want to use this on your stovetop under the vent hood. This grill always seems to be in limited supply, so if you’re looking for an alternative check out the Zojirushi. We’ve heard some positive things about the Zojirushi grill but didn’t have a chance to test it out before releasing this article.
- Good for kebabs or cooking for one
- Layout maximized utility
- Small cooking surface
Gotham Steel Electric Smokeless Grill
This is a strange hybrid model here. There’s an open grill grate like in an open-coil grill, but the coil is integrated into the grill plate like a hot plate model. This is the lowest powered model in our roundup at 1000 watts, and it shows in the lack of high heat performance. Since the heating element is integrated into the grate, the dropoff isn’t as bad as you might think, but the searing power just isn’t there. There’s a little smoke, but not too much.
- Very easy to clean
- Long power cord
- Bad heat distribution
- Small cooking surface
None of these grills gave us what we wanted – grilled food indoors without setting off the smoke detector. The best of the lot were the Philips with its surprisingly powerful infrared cooking and the Livart, which doesn’t do too much, but does it reasonably well.
If you take our word for it and don’t get one of these, you’ve got some alternatives for something like grilled food without a charcoal grill.
Cast Iron Grill Pan
These grills produce about the same amount of smoke as a pan on the stove, so you’re best to use them on the stovetop under the vent hood. So why not cut out the middleman and use the stove? A cast iron grill pan holds your food up out of the juices that drip away for a good sear and provide a nice set of grill marks. It’s not actually grilled, but it’s as close as any of these devices will get. Also, it’s cheap and easy to store.
If you can give up the “indoor” part of an indoor electric grill, this will do the job nicely. This is an open-coil style electric grill, but since it’s for outdoor use, it’s a lot beefier. The heat is satisfactorily high and the grate is big enough to cook for a whole family. It’s not as good as a charcoal grill, but it’ll do nicely if that’s not an option.
Sous-Vide and Liquid Smoke
Now it’s time to get controversial. Liquid smoke is great, and you should be using it judiciously to add smoke to any dish. You might think it’s a pile of crazy chemical concoctions, but liquid smoke is really straightforward: burn hardwood, condense the smoke, and catch the liquid smoke. Pair that up with sous-vide cooking’s ability to produce moist and tender meat through a long slow cook, and you’ve got something that’s almost barbecue without leaving the kitchen.