Electric grills are getting closer to "real"
Barbecue purists might have a hard time letting go of their gas or charcoal grills (which we cover in a separate report), and for good
reason: The fuel is an integral part of the cooking process, searing the food
and imparting a rich, smoky flavor. But if you don't have the space for a
conventional grill or if they're prohibited by your apartment or condo
association, electric grills can give you that outdoor cooking experience
without any of the risks inherent in playing with fire. Electric grills are
getting better than ever at searing flavor into your favorite vegetables and
meats; some models can multitask as panini makers or griddles, and some can
even be brought inside to cook in the kitchen.
Electric grills also offer a whole new world of convenience:
No more struggling to light the charcoal, worrying about gas pressure in cold weather,
or refilling propane tanks. Just plug the grill in and, after a short warmup
period, you're ready to go. Some even have removable cooking plates that can go
straight into the dishwasher for easy cleanup, a feature that busy cooks really
The best electric grills are true cooking machines, so you
won't find many complicated bells and whistles here. However, a few simple
features come in handy on any grill, such as an in-lid temperature gauge.
Because they don't have a lid, contact grills don't need a temperature gauge;
but they should have an adjustable temperature dial, and a go-ahead light to
let you know when that temperature has been reached.
Types of Electric Grills
These look very much like traditional gas or charcoal grills with a domed lid and a grate that you put the food on. They are heated by a heating element that is underneath the grates. With these, you flip the food, just as you do with a regular grill. The big difference is that they tend to be much easier to clean -- many of these grills have removable grates that you can pop right into the dishwasher.
Indoor/outdoor electric grills look very much like outdoor-only grills, but with a sealed heating element that make them safe for indoor use. These are the most versatile type, because you can use them on the patio in nice weather, and in the kitchen during the winter. Like traditional grills and outdoor electric grills, you flip the food, but it cooks on grates that are usually removable for cleaning.
Indoor-only grills are usually contact grills that close to cook the meat from top and bottom at the same time -- in other words, both the bottom surface and the lid get hot. The food is placed between those surfaces, and the lid both flattens and cooks the items. Contact grills will cook things like burgers in half the time of traditional grilling because there's no flipping. This type of grill completely isolates the heating element from your food, eliminating the risk of flare-ups that could pose a fire hazard indoors. These can be used outdoors as well, as a tabletop grill, as long as you have an electrical outlet within reach.
These flat cooking surfaces are very handy for cooking items
like pancakes, toasted cheese sandwiches, French toast or fried eggs. The most
important characteristic of electric grills is even, consistent heating across
the entire surface. Cooking space matters, too; after all, you don't want to
cook bacon for a family of six just a couple strips at a time. If you just want a little more indoor cooking space or need
a simple, versatile cooking solution on the road, our report on electric skillets may be your best option. But if you want the best in quick,
convenient and high-performance electric grills, you've come to the right
Finding The Best Electric Grills
"Balcony BBQ: We Test 5 Hot Outdoor Electric Grills"
"Top Electric Grills"
In order to find the very best electric grills and griddles,
we evaluated test results and expert reviews from professional test kitchens
like Cook's Illustrated, and hands on tests by the likes of Popular Mechanics.
These reviews are on the old side, but the products they address are still in
production, the hands-on testing was of very high quality, and the expert
opinions still more or less line up with feedback from real-world users; so we
feel they're still valid and useful.
We also factored in feedback from die-hard barbecue and
cooking experts at About.com, AmazingRibs.com and Delishably.com. Finally, we
also consulted thousands of user reviews posted online at retail sites such as
Amazon.com, HomeDepot.com and BestBuy.com. Ultimately, everybody was looking
for the same thing: Even, consistent heat that was strong enough to sear thick
hamburgers or cuts of meat. The electric grills we recommend in this report
will do that and more.
You can grill outdoors without fire
Our Best Reviewed
electric grill for outdoor use is the hefty (Est. $300). This model and
its little brother, the (Est. $250), are the
sturdiest, hottest and most reliable models we evaluated, easily producing the
600-plus-degree heat it takes to sear a steak just like a gas grill does. They
also pack enough oomph to quickly restore the heat lost when you lift the lid
to check or turn the meat.
draws lots of praise from expert reviewers at AmazingRibs.com and
Delishably.com for its great build quality, even heating and high temperatures,
as long as you follow the manufacturer's instructions to preheat the grill for
20 minutes before adding any food. One test from Popular Mechanics found that
of all the small balcony grills tested, the Weber Q series gave the best grill
flavor on hamburgers.
giving both models in the Q series top marks for their great searing. They also
like how easy it is to clean the heavy-duty porcelain-coated cast iron grates,
which offer 280 square inches of cooking space on the Q-2400 (189 square inches
for the Q-1400). All Weber Q Series grills are covered by at least a two-year
warranty, although some parts receive five years of coverage. We don't
anticipate any problems, though, because both users and experts agree that
every component of these heavy-duty, cast-aluminum grills is built to last.
If you don't
want to use your Weber Q-2400 as a tabletop grill, Weber offers a rolling cart,
the (Est. $70), that may make the grill
easier to use and store. The same cart also fits the Weber Q-1400.
for best outdoor electric grill is the (Est. $200). With its small two-wheeled cart and domed lid with built-in
temperature gauge, the Patio Bistro looks like a conventional charcoal grill;
give it 10 to 20 minutes of warming time and it'll cook as hot as a charcoal
grill, too. Its infrared heating element (think the glowing coil in an electric
oven) can easily drive interior temperatures up to 600 degrees -- more than
enough heat to sear steaks.
happy owners are surprised at how well this electric grill performs, resulting
in food that's still juicy, not dry or rubbery. It's particularly popular with
apartment dwellers who can't (or don't want to) deal with fire issues on a
small patio or deck. Many say they
feel as if they're still cooking on a "real" grill.
Bistro also draws props from Derrick Riches, the long-time barbecue and
grilling expert from About.com, for being one of the largest electric grills on
the market; he says it's small enough to fit on most balconies, but its 240
square inches of cooking area (plus 80 inches of warming area) give you enough
space to cook for four people at a time. Ease of use for the triangle-shaped
bars in the porcelain grate can be a problem, though; we found mixed reviews for
how easy (or more to the point, difficult) they are to clean, even though
they're dishwasher safe (if they fit).
users love the removable warming rack for keeping leftovers warm. Customers say
the Char-Broil's rolling cart assembles easily but if you already have a table
or pedestal for storing the Patio Bistro you can just purchase a tabletop
version, the (Est. $130).
Indoor/outdoor electric grills are highly versatile
If you're on
the fence about whether to do your cooking indoors or outdoors, the (Est. $80) indoor/outdoor electric grill is a favorite, with thousands
of happy owners who say it allows them to have an authentic grilling experience
no matter their space or the weather conditions. This George Foreman grill can
mount on a detachable pedestal for outdoor use, or function as a tabletop unit
for indoor use. It does create some smoke -- user reviews vary on exactly how
much -- but is safe to use indoors because the heating element is completely
isolated from the grill, so you don't have to worry about flare-ups that could
pose a fire risk.
Foreman Indoor/Outdoor grill comes in two sizes -- a 12-serving or 15-serving
version -- with 200 to 240 square inches of cooking area respectively. Both
versions also come with an in-lid temperature gauge, variable temperature
control, and of course the George Foreman trademark sloped grilling surface
that funnels grease away from your food.
We found a
little bit of mixed feedback about this grill -- About.com barbecue expert
Derrick Riches says its preheat times are long and overall heat output low --
but we feel that the hundreds of happy users who say their George Foreman
indoor/outdoor electric grill gets plenty hot outweighs that opinion. Sure, it
may not sear quite like a fire-based grill, but it still does a good job on
steaks and other cuts of meat as long as you preheat it and don't crowd the
food together. It also tends to outlive its three-year limited warranty: We
found several reviews from users who've had their George Foreman Indoor/Outdoor
electric grill for more than a decade.
An indoor-only grill can be used anywhere
If you live in
an apartment building with very strict rules about grilling, even with electric
appliances, you can probably still use our best-rated indoor grill, the (Est. $70) searing grill. The Hamilton Beach searing grill is designed
specifically for use in the kitchen, with a 450-degree sear function that users
say really does lock in flavor on everything from fajitas to steaks and
burgers, even if it doesn't always create the dark sear marks you'd get from a
hot outdoor grill.
like the swing-down hood that helps control grease splatter -- some customers
mistake that hood for the top half of a panini press, but it doesn't contact
your food at all -- and although the 118 sq. in. cooking area isn't much, they
say they can still cook a few hamburgers at a time.
Beach Searing Grill's removable cooking plate is dishwasher safe, at least in
theory; but we found quite a few user reviews saying that the non-stick finish
came off, or the plate itself corroded, when cleaned in the dishwasher. You can
cut down on the damage by not using a sanitize or heated drying cycle, but most
prefer to simply wipe down the grill plate with a damp rag after every use. As
long as you take this step, customers have no other complaints about the
searing grill's durability. It's covered by a one-year limited warranty.
We found mixed
reviews on how smoky the Hamilton Beach 25360 gets, ranging from no smoke at
all to creating a cloud of smoke and smell that takes some time to go away.
Just in case, use it near your over-stove venting fan until you see how it
performs with your food of choice.