Keep On Grillin’
Due to computer problems I had difficulty writing the post I’d planned for this week. Then I remembered this article from 2013 and pulled it from the Archives. People really liked it then, I hope you all like it as much now.
KEEP ON GRILLIN’
I grew up in a seaside resort where grilling was a part of the summer lifestyle long before it became a national or gourmet passion. There were homes built with masonry barbecues in the backyard dating to the 1920s. Summer is the backbone of the town’s economy and a major portion of the year is spent planning for it. The anticipation builds from Easter to the official start, Memorial Day. By comparison, labor Day, no matter how often you’ve lived through it, is always a shock, The day after is surreal. Gone are the visitors, the guards from the beach and the boats from the bay, but more importantly gone is the atmosphere of the season. Everything seems quieter, and if you close your eyes, even the air smells different. The tang of suntan lotion is missing, but so is the aroma of charcoal. The grills are covered for the winter, because the days are shorter, school has started, scheduling has become important and there isn’t time to fire up the coals and wait for dinner to cook. The introduction of gas grills didn’t change attitudes much either and not just in resort towns.They heated faster but were more difficult to clean and still uncomfortable to use in cold weather. Grilling remained a warm weather, outdoor thing.
Well that was then and this is now! As you all know, grilling isn’t just for summer or the outdoors anymore. In one form or another it’s available to everyone, year round, even a center city loft dweller or a college student in a dorm room. All that’s needed is a gas or electric hot plate, or even just an electric outlet. It’s amazing how popular indoor grilling has become since the introduction of the contact grill, commonly known as the George Foreman Grill, in 1994. In less than 10 years, it was accepted as an optional cooking method in everyday meal planning.
This is not to say that indoor grilling was an unknown concept before 1994.Counter top rotisseries have been around at least since the 1950s. My first house had a gas range that predated Teflon. It had a stainless grill, smooth on one side and ridged on the other, that fit over two burners. It worked so well, especially for pancakes, that I bought a non-stick one for the next house. In the mid 80s I gave my mother a “Hamburger & Sandwich Grill” that had a series of interchangeable, non-stick surfaces for different uses. The ridged grill pan, brought to “The Colonies” from France, and always used in restaurants, now, has found its way into the home. The contact grill has an ancestor in the Italian Panini machine. Man’s most ancient way of cooking, over the open hearth, though never abandoned in other countries, but
unpracticed here for more than a century, has had a resurgence, and the “spit “used to rotate food, has its own cookers, as well as a place in the completely modern convection ovens. The more recent innovation, the gas grill, also, has been updated to a version that sits in a counter top. There’s even a wood smoker that’s been adapted for stove top use to get that real barbeque flavor. The only thing that hasn’t moved into the kitchen is the charcoal briquette, but with proper venting, who knows?
In the less than twenty years since we were offered the option of, not only grilling indoors, but doing so affordably, seven methods of grilling have been transformed into kitchen appliances. Those appliances have been modified into variations presented by different manufacturers, and cover a wide price range. It’s up to you to decide which method(s) suit your cooking preferences, lifestyle and budget.
1) Contact Grills are the most popular method of indoor grilling. The best known is the Forman Grill which has hinged, non-stick ridged surfaces to cook both sides of the food simultaneously, cutting the cooking time in half. It also has a drip pan to catch any fat that’s rendered, making it a healthy way to prepare food. This grill is wonderful for making sandwiches, burgers, chicken fillets, fish steaks and anything crusted. I, personally, don’t like to use it for cuts of beef, because the pressure tends to make them steam in their own juice, rather than broil. For those I use a round contact grill with a domed glass lid and wide temperature range. Most contact grills are easy to use, needing only to be plugged in to start, and the surfaces wiped to clean. They seem to be durable too. I’ve never had trouble with mine, and, in fact, still use the sandwich one I gave my Mother years ago. Just be sure that the grill you get has adjustable temperature control, an “ON” indicator light, a drip pan, non-stick surfaces with easy clean up and has enough power to brown and sear food, usually that’s a grill that can hold at least 4 burgers.
2) Grill Pans are probably the simplest method of indoor grilling, and the easiest to store. Since it’s a pan on top of the stove, you control the temperature. Chefs like heavy iron ones because they insure even cooking by distributing the heat evenly. Those with high ridges, give the best grill marks. In fact, they’re often used to prepare food for photography. Grill pans can be heated enough to give food the traditional seared flavor because indoor grilling, itself, doesn’t impart a unique flavor, but preheating should start on medium and be allowed to build. Food should be wiped dry of any marinade to avoid burning. To prevent sticking, the pan’s ridges can be lightly oiled. Stick resistant and enameled surfaces must be allowed to cool before immersing them in water, and “tempering” repeated as per the manufacturer’s directions. Grill pans, which come in many shapes and sizes, are the most economical of the indoor grilling methods, and the most durable. I still use the double- sided flat grill that covers two burners. It’s great for larger quantities, and the model is still advertised on T.V. quite reasonably.
3) Built-In Grills work like outdoor gas grills but function with either gas or electric. Some are part of the stove, and some are separate units recessed into the counter top. The gas ones use the same type of bricks as the outdoor models, and the electric ones resemble an inverted broiler. Both have downdraft exhaust systems that suck smoke through vents on the sides, and both emit that tempting sizzle sound
when food goes on the grill rack. I don’t have one, but have cooked on several, and learned they can be very different. Good ones are great, but bad ones don’t have good temperature control, heat unevenly or simply don’t get hot enough to cook properly. They are an investment, so before buying ask for a store demonstration, or for the names of cooking schools or organizations using that brand or just for recommendations. Also research if the size is a comfortable fit, if it has a drip pan, if the grid is non-stick and large enough to score the food well, if it’s easy to clean, and remember to check the exhaust.
4) Freestanding Grills are a confusing category, since most grills are freestanding. These are small grills that can be placed on a table to cook and serve. Usually they resemble contact grills, but I have one that looks like a miniature electric built-in grill. Though a few have power enough to cook a small thin steak, most don’t. They were designed for tiny, fast but delicate jobs like appetizers or fruit garni. I used mine for shrimp and pineapple-ham kabobs, thinking it would be a novel way to serve guests, but it wasn’t. The surface was too small for more than 6 to 8 pieces at once, and even the 4 mins average cook time allowed time for people to be distracted, and leave the food to burn. It was more successful with fruit kabobs for dessert toppings. It held enough for everyone. I could watch it myself and it was a distraction between courses, but how often am I going to want to serve this type of dessert? I’m glad it was a gift! Had I bought it, I’d have second thoughts.
5) The Rotisserie is familiar to everyone. The discovery of using a spit for cooking followed right after that of fire; man’s first BRB. Since primitive man built fires in his cave, I guess it can be considered the first example of indoor grilling too. It became part of the kitchen fireplace and It stayed there for centuries, until the invention of ranges with ovens replaced fireplaces as cooking centers. Unable to give up the even roasting and succulent taste of spit cooked meat, we first attached spits to our outdoor barbeques, then, in the 1950s, indoor, counter top rotisseries appeared. The advantage of these inventions is that the reflective sides provide an indirect heat source that focuses on the meat, which, along with the spit’s rotations, assure even cooking and shorten the time frame. A drip pan makes clean up easier and the introduction of attaching baskets permit many more types of foods to be cooked such as vegetables and fish, though large roasts and whole birds are still the stars of rotisserie cooking. Choose one that’s heavy duty, with enough power to sear meat, of course, temperature control, and a spit strong enough to hold 15lbs. It should be rust resistant, have a drip pan, a glass door, easy assembly and the parts dishwasher safe. It should also have a timer and come with accessory baskets for other foods. Some chefs prefer horizontal to vertical orientation for better self basting.
6) Smokers are possibly the least familiar of indoor grilling methods. They resemble the old fireplace tool for popping corn, a fairly shallow, rectangular metal box with a sliding lid and a long handle. Inside are a drip pan and a wire rack to hold the food. Designed for thin foods like chops, rather than ribs or roasts, it uses the sawdust from different woods instead of chips, fits on top of the stove, stores easily and
produces an authentic smoked flavor in twenty minutes. There are also models available for larger quantities. Once again when buying, be sure it’s sturdy, the lid fits and slides well, all the parts are included and the manufacturer supplies the sawdust.
7) The Fireplace, as mentioned, man’s oldest method of cooking was never replaced in many parts of the world and is enjoying resurgence with the interest in indoor grilling, through a contraption called a Tuscan Grill. This can be bought in a heavy duty, non stick version, with adjustable side supports and an optional rotisserie attachment, or home made. Obviously only for wood burning fireplaces, it consists of a grill rack suspended above hot coals in front of the fire on the hearth. Whether the rack is held by a manufactured structure or a couple of bricks, the results are similar. Coals from the fire are placed under the rack and when it’s heated, the food is put on it to cook. The outcome depends on the chef’s skill, but anyone with experience in outdoor barbequing, shouldn’t have trouble. Just be sure, if you make your own, you use a rack of a weight intended for barbeque, and, if the food being grilled is fatty, I would suggest an aluminum pan on top of the coals to catch the drippings and prevent flare-ups.
*** I love fireplace grilling. It’s so family friendly, but the Tuscan Grill method seems to me potentially dangerous, and messy. Today, most fireplaces are decorative and in rooms where we entertain. The heat from the coals, the ash residue and possible fat splatter could permanently stain a hearth or worse. For years, I have used one of the little, two rack, metal hibachis, sold everywhere in summer. I put a foil pan under the hibachi on the hearth, put some coals in it, and grill. While we eat, I let the coals burn the racks clean, and then empty them back into the fire. The pot and racks cool quickly and are ready to be stored by the time we finish. I use a warming tray to hold side dishes, have a salad ready, cut or serve the meat as it comes off the grill, and we eat in front of the fire. A perfect, easy winter Sunday supper!
I can’t believe another holiday has come and this time, will take summer with it, but now, you can still enjoy your favorite tastes of the season long after it’s over, especially since most foods are available all year. In fact, if you like grilling, you can expand your horizons by learning new recipes to use the specialties of each season. Everything that roasts, or broils, can be grilled, and a method of grilling can be found to fit any budget. So enjoy!!