Expert Electric Grills Buying Guide

Types of electric grills

The best electric grills offer consumers a decent barbeque experience indoors. There are two main types of indoor electric grills: contact grills and open grills. Contact grills sandwich the food between two hot plates, shortening cooking time because you don't need to flip foods during the cooking process. These grills also allow you to press sandwiches between two plates to make a panini-style sandwich.

Conversely, open grills have just one cooking surface, so cooking takes a bit longer and food must be turned. Some users prefer the faster cooking time of a contact grill, while others say the open style is more versatile. Some contact grills can also be used as open grills or griddles (which have a flat cooking surface). Check to see if a contact grill has an adjustable hinge; otherwise, thicker foods will not fit properly between the two heating plates and will likely cook unevenly.

Some purists may recoil in horror at the thought of grilling over anything other than wood or charcoal, and if you insist on charbroiled taste, you may not be happy with an electric grill. Electric grills can't compete with your oven's broiler, either. Although a broiler typically preheats to more than 600 degrees Fahrenheit, most indoor electric grills reach only 200 to 450 degrees. However, if you need or want an alternative to an outdoor barbecue or a way to grill small amounts of food, there are several electric grills that perform admirably. Another plus to electric grills is that they enable cooks to fix petite portions without heating up the whole oven or firing up an outdoor grill.

Other helpful shopping tips:

  • Choose a grill with at least 1,000 to 1,500 watts. Anything less and experts say you won't get proper browning and grill marks, because the grill may not get hot enough. In Prevention magazine's review, Steven Raichlen, the host of "Barbecue University" on PBS and author of "Raichlen's Indoor! Grilling," says higher-wattage grills offer a more outdoor-grilled flavor.
  • Consider cooking area. Electric grill cooking areas range in size from 38 square inches to more than 240 square inches, and some contact grills open to double the surface. For best results, decide how much you are planning to cook prior to purchase. If you typically cook petite portions, a smaller unit may be a better fit for you, and it will take up less cabinet space.
  • Think about storage. Lighter grills can be more convenient for users to store, and some grills, such as the DeLonghi Indoor Grill and Panini Press CGH800, can be stored in an upright position, saving your counter space. Note that a few open grills recommend flat storage, which will take up more space.
  • Plan ahead for your drip pan. Rendered fat can collect quickly and may overflow. Depending on what you're cooking, it may be necessary to replace the drip pan with a new one during the cooking process. To head off hassles, Raichlen suggests placing the entire grill on a rimmed baking sheet to prevent and collect messy spatters. To save cleanup time, a few owners suggest lining the drip pan with aluminum foil.
  • Add water to the drip pan before use. This helps reduce the amount of smoke produced, and some models actually recommend doing so to minimize smoke. Smoke output is a common complaint, especially with open grills -- -- an abundance of smoke can cause smoke detectors to activate and leave an unpleasant smell throughout the house.
  • Look for grills with ridges that are wide and closely spaced. This ensures that a greater amount of cooking surface is in contact with the food.
  • Wipe down grills when they are just slightly warm. Caked-on foods can be difficult to remove from a cold grill. To make cleanup more convenient, wipe yours down while it's still warm or reheat your grill slightly before cleaning. Some models have dishwasher-safe grill surfaces and drip pans, making cleanup easier.
  • Check for floating hinges. This helpful feature promotes more even top and bottom grilling, allowing the top plate to adjust when you to cook thicker foods.

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