Hot Stuff

With indoor grills, barbecue fans can cook their favorites regardless of the weather.

February 02, 2005|By Susan Reimer | Susan Reimer,SUN STAFF

This Super Bowl Sunday, bring your tailgate in out of the cold - grill and all.

Ribs, burgers, fresh sausages, vegetable kebabs. Even dessert.

You can grill them all without leaving the cozy comfort of your kitchen - or the game on TV.

Thanks to indoor grills - both stove-top and countertop - barbecuing is now a year-round pleasure.

And you won't run out of propane or charcoal.

"It is about having the experience of cooking as if you are outside," said Marco Beghin, product marketing manager for DeLonghi, which sold 11 million electric countertop grills in 2003.

"It is the experience people want, and our grills can duplicate this experience. And the quality of the food is the same as the barbecue grill outside."

Maybe better, say some cooks, because you can control the heat.

"Unless you have an extremely expensive outdoor grill, it is very difficult to control the temperature," said Jeffrey E. Sayles, a vice president for All-Clad Metalcrafters Inc., maker of a variety of stove-top grill pans.

"You are either cooking at way too high a temperature, or way too low.

"And then there are the lighter-fluid issues," Sayles said with a laugh.

The appeal of a grill pan, as opposed to a fry pan, is that the food rests on the peaks of the ridges, allowing the fat to drip away.

But, instead of dripping into the coals, juices are trapped in the valleys of the pan and steamed back into the meat.

You can deglaze a grill pan as well, with a little wine, brandy, stock or cream.

With countertop open grills, fat drops beneath the bars and is collected in a tray for disposal.

And unlike contact grills, like the famous George Foreman line of grills, which cook food between two heating plates, a countertop open grill does not squeeze out natural juices.

The result, according to Sayles, is that indoor grills are the most popular single piece of cookware today.

"After you have your 10-piece set of cookware, the wok and the grill pan are the next things you buy," said Jamee Ruth, author of Grill Pan Cookbook (Chronicle Books, 1999, $16.95).

"The grill pan has become an essential part of the kitchen."

Ruth, a housewares expert and manufacturing consultant, applauds any of the stove-top grill pans - Lodge, All-Clad, Calphalon and Le Creuset - and she likes countertop open grills equally as well.

"The best way to use a stove-top grill is to preheat the pan over medium heat until it is very hot.

"I prefer a nonstick surface, but don't put oil in the pan. Use it dry and hot, like your grill."

She said she was amazed at the juiciness of the first meals she cooked on her indoor grill.

"And cleanup is so easy. A little hot water after you cook and you can wipe it right out."

The big advantage of the indoor grill, however, is the ease with which you can cook delicate foods such as vegetables, shrimp and fish.

"Just toss your vegetables in a light oil," said Ruth, who devoted a chapter in her book to grilling vegetables.

Just as with outdoor grilling, indoor grilling is not limited to steaks and burgers. Recipes abound for oysters, corn bread and pizza on the grill.

There are Mexican and Asian touches and, in place of the mesquite chips you toss on the coals, there are plenty of rubs and pastes available for indoor grilling.

There are recipes for pancakes, which produce an entertaining ridged version of the breakfast food, for grilling fruit served with sauces, and for grilled vegetables for salads.

The only shortcoming? Grilled corn on the cob.

"You want that mesquite-and-coal flavor," said Ruth. "That was the only thing that wasn't as good."

Ilana Simon, food columnist and author of 125 Best Indoor Grill Recipes (Robert Rose Inc., 2004, $18.95), says the indoor grill is the microwave of the 21st century.

"People have it but they are not sure how to use it. It is more versatile than they think," she said.

If indoor grilling presents a problem, it might be smoke. But venerated Italian cookbook author Marcella Hazan, a convert to indoor grilling since retiring with her husband to a condo in Florida, solved it.

"I put the grill under the [cooktop] vent," she said.

Hazan, considered the Julia Child of Italian cooking, represents a typical indoor grill customer: urban-dwelling empty nester. "I grill vegetables, I grill meat, I toast the bread. I use it for everything," she said of her electric grill.

It is easier than grilling outdoors - forbidden on her condo balcony - because, she said, "I don't have to bring everything outside that I need: the salt, the olive oil, the tools. It is all right in my kitchen.

"I would not do without it for anything," said Hazan.

Simon, who has a pair of perpetually hungry teenage boys, says the indoor grill is ideal for quick meals.

"For working parents, it is great," said Simon, who prefers the quick-cooking convenience of the contact grill. "Dinner in less than 15 minutes."

Indoor grills are not new.

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