When your grilling activities are sidelined in the dead of winter or the steamy humidity of a smoggy summer, you can still get a set of tantalizing char marks on your chicken breasts. You can even mesquite smoke your ribs and give your turkey breast an enticing, golden brown finish. How? By bringing the grilling indoors, that's how.
Indoor grilling is growing in popularity, and there are quite a few ways to do the honors, too. Contact grills may have opened the door to new innovations in indoor grilling, but you don't need an expensive range setup or countertop appliance to grill food inside.
Let's take a look at five ways you can get smoky goodness into your food without setting foot outdoors. These are grill master worthy techniques, too. No liquid smoke here.
If all you do in your fireplace is combust a few logs around the holidays and admire the blaze, you can make your hearth earn its square footage by turning it into a grill. Yes, you too can have a second cooking area in your home for pennies by reevaluating the way you interpret the grilling experience.
You may have browned a few marshmallows in your fireplace, just for fun. Or maybe you've even thrown together a few 'smores for the kids' last slumber party. We aren't talking about small stuff like roasting chestnuts in the fireplace, though. You can prepare an entire meal in the hearth. Think of it as a camp side fire pit -- without the ring.
Although you can use a fireplace Dutch oven or long handled cooking implements designed to stretch into your fireplace while you hold the other end, if you want to make fireplace cooking a regular occurrence at your house, invest in a fireplace grill. It's basically a frame that allows you to raise and lower the cooking surface as you would with, say, a hibachi grill. Once you master the technique, you can upgrade your equipment to include a fireplace rotisserie for greater control and gourmet worthy results. Come on, give it a try. You know you want to.
Yes, smoking is grilling -- grilling at its flavorful best. It's amazing what a little charred hardwood sawdust can do for the flavor of just about anything. Indoor smokers sound messy, but they don't have to be. Wash everything promptly after use, and you'll keep the campfire smell to a minimum. For the most part, the smoke stays inside the housing to flavor the cooking meat (fish, poultry, vegetables or fruits) for a deep, rich flavor you'll swear came from expensive outdoor equipment. You can buy a sturdy indoor/outdoor unit for less than $100. Smokers don't need much wood or water to do the trick, either, so smoking can be one specialty cooking method you can explore without spending a fortune.
If you've ever had the itch to make your own smoked salmon or specialty sausage, stovetop smokers make the process fun and efficient. Look for a unit with a nonstick interior finish. It'll make cleanup easier and faster.
For grilling on the cheap, nothing works better than a grilling pan. This specially designed stovetop skillet is ridged to create impressive crosshatch grill marks. You don't lose much flavor when you use a grill pan, either. Sure, some of the smoky aroma is absent, but you'll get a great sear that seals in meat juices. The ridges will keep the meat away from the grease, too, making the results less oily.
What grilling pans lose in authenticity, they make up for in convenience. Using one is like using any other skillet. Unlike a countertop grill, a grilling pan will store easily in the corner of a cabinet, too. We recommend nonstick or cast iron varieties. With non-stick you have easy cleanup, but cast iron has a rock solid feel and holds in the heat. If you do opt for cast iron, pay the extra pennies for a pre-seasoned pan. It'll save you the effort of conditioning and sealing the cooking surface yourself.
If you've ever watched a chicken turning lazily on a rotisserie, you've experienced firsthand the value of cooking as entertainment. Stick a few hungry viewers in front of a rotating bird, and you'll have rotisserie converts for life. It isn't just the mesmerizing, revolving motion, either. Rotisserie cooked meats are amazingly moist. The juices (not just the fat, but the flavorful juices in the meat) don't drip out as they can during other types of cooking and grilling. Because rotating the meat keeps the juices circulating, rotisserie prepared fare is naturally basted from the inside out.
There's more. Less dripping means less smoke, which results in grilled foods with wonderful aroma that won't make your eyes water while they're making your mouth water. You can find countertop rotisseries, accessory rotisseries (from specific range manufacturers), and even rotisseries you can mount to your fireplace. Rotisseries are surprisingly easy to use, and they're addictive, too. If you crank out dry turkeys and shriveled roasts no matter what technique you're using, put a new spin on mastering meat with a rotisserie.
These desktop grills come in all shapes and sizes, from hinged arrangements that can be used as Panini presses to convertible models with base plates that switch out for griddle and waffle applications. Contact grills are pretty effective, and you can't beat them for ease of use. Hinged lid models like the George Foreman grill make for fast prep hamburgers, hotdogs, and even salmon steaks and chicken breasts.
The only down side to having one of these countertop appliances around is the real estate involved in keeping it front and center. If you have a coffee maker, can opener, blender and toaster on your countertop now, adding another appliance may be crowding things. We think having a contact grill around is definitely worth the investment, but if you plan on using your popcorn maker or crepe pan more often, by all means, snag a contact grill and stow it in a cabinet. You can always pull it out for the occasional mushroom burger or Philly cheese steak marathon. When evaluating the options, look for non-stick and smokeless units. They're less messy overall, and you won't pay much more for these features.
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