How to Get Perfect Grill Marks Using an Indoor Grill
Rain, snow, and just plain laziness can make it tough to bust out the outdoor grill. Whether you're short on time, space, or patience, you can achieve flame-grilled perfection (or close to it) with an indoor grill. These tips and tricks will help you master your indoor grill, and achieve those perfect grill marks every time.
- Prep your station. Like all the best-prepared chefs, your home kitchen should be stocked with the best tools, ingredients, and additions. However, "the best" doesn't always mean "the most expensive." Some of the best home-cooked meals I've ever had have been made on the same cast-iron skillet my dad gave me as a high school graduation present. Whether you choose grill pans, grill trays, or an indoor grilling machine, make sure to prep it as best as possible. Skillets and grill pans can be seasoned in the oven. For best seasoning practices for indoor grills, follow the manufacturer instructions.
- Invest in cast iron. Speaking of cast iron pans... Cost doesn't always equal quality, but ninety-nine times out of a hundred, it's worth it to spend a few extra bucks on cast iron. Cast iron is the only indoor cooking material that gets anywhere close to the temperatures we use on outdoor grills, and it's your best bet for that perfectly charred, smoky taste we love so much.
- Keep it clean. Cleanliness is close to godliness, and in the case of your cookware, that couldn't be truer. Like outdoor grills, indoor grills need to be kept clean and seasoned to maximize their efficiency, reduce smoke, and lock in all that delicious flavor. There is a wide range of ways to clean indoor grills, ranging from salt scrubs to steel wool and everything in between. For best results, follow the manufacturer instructions.
- Pick your entree carefully. Now that your kitchen is prepped, let's look at your dinner. If you're going to be cooking indoors, it's important to pick the right proteins and cuts. Your best bets for indoor grilling are fan favorites like burgers, hot dogs, chicken wings, and thin-cut chops or steaks. Anything that requires coverage, like thick-cut steaks, prime cuts of meat, and whole poultry, should be baked or skipped altogether. Larger cuts of meat often result in more fat, which can get smoky very quickly if it splatters.
- When in doubt, thin it out. You can still have your steak and eat it, too! If you're committed to dinner with a prime cut of protein, consider slicing it into thinner portions. Thinner meats cook more quickly, with less smoke and less time needed to get those gorgeous grill marks.
- Go lean. While fat splatters can lead to luscious flavor on an outdoor grill, they can flame up and turn into massive amounts of smoke on an indoor grill. That's why it's critical to trim as much fat as possible from meats before you grill them—or go the vegetarian route! Veggies like portobello mushrooms, zucchini, and peppers are great for grilling.
- Char veggies over an open flame. If your indoor grill has a gas feature that gives you an open flame, you can (Carefully!) char veggies like tomatoes and spicy peppers directly on the fire. Just scrape off the burned skin, chop, and serve—your taste buds will thank you.
- Oil is your friend. Where fat is a foe, oil is your friend. When grilling, be sure to oil both sides of whatever you're cooking—but not the pan. Oil will help you food reach that crazy-high temperature you're looking for without burning. Too much oil directly in the pan can make your food soggy, or it can lead to a large amount of smoke.
- Season, season, season. Seasoning is critical to a perfect grill. Some fine cuts of meat only need a dash of salt and pepper to reach perfection, while others rely on dry rubs or other spice mixes to find maximum flavor.
- Imitate charcoal smoke. If you can't get the real thing, store-bought is fine. Many grocery store dry rubs come with "smoky" versions that have artificial charcoal flavor in them. If you're making your own dry rub or sauce, you can buy a bottle of "liquid smoke" to make your own creations. (Just be careful to read the ingredients, because a lot of store-bought spice mixes are stuffed with sodium.)
- Create-your-own grill marks. The best way to get grill marks is to gently press the food into the grill ridges for a few seconds, turn it 45 degrees, and repeat. You follow the same process indoors as you would outside.
- Let it ride. One of the worst mistakes newbie grillmasters make is playing with their food too much. Poking, prodding, pressing, and moving meat is a surefire route to losing all the juices that make grilled food so delicious. Fight your inner toddler and let your food sit until it cooks completely to temperature. Then, let your meat rest before you slice it. This will help lock in the juices and maximize deliciousness.
Tie on your apron, sharpen your knives, and let's get grilling!