Electric grills let condo owners and apartment dwellers keep on cooking
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 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 even multitask as panini makers or griddles. Most can be used indoors or out.
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 love.
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
Outdoor electric grills 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 electric 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 them and the lid both flattens and cooks the items. Contact grills will cook things like burgers in half the time of traditional grilling as both sides cook at once -- 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 outlet to plug it into.
Electric griddles are very handy for cooking items like pancakes, toasted cheese sandwiches, French toast or fried eggs -- anything that you want to place on a flat cooking surface. 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.
Panini presses, also known as sandwich presses, usually have "floating" lids that are connected with special hinges that can be adjusted to be placed evenly atop the upper piece bread. Both sides of the grill should radiate enough heat to melt the sandwich's filling, even in the center, while evenly browning the outside of the bread. The best panini presses can also be flipped open to act as a normal grill, or to cook other items
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 place.
How we found the best electric grills
In order to find the very best electric grills, griddles and panini makers, editors evaluate test results and expert reviews from professional test kitchens, like Cook's Illustrated, FineCooking.com and FoodandWine.com, as well as roundups from the grilling experts at BBQGuys.com and AmazingRibs.com. We then factored in the results of thousands of user reviews posted online at retail sites such as Amazon.com and Walmart.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.