Choosing an Electric Grill
It's been more than two decades since George Foreman began touting his Lean Mean Grilling Machine on late-night TV. Since then, indoor electric grills, griddles, and panini presses have found a place in many American kitchens. They're much cleaner and easier to set up and use than charcoal and gas grills, with nonstick cooking surfaces and dishwasher-safe parts. Although you don't get the full experience or flavor of cooking and smoking foods over an open flame, the best electric grills do get hot enough to sear foods and lock in flavor.
How Electric Grills and Griddles WorkThere are two basic ways that an electric grill, panini press, or griddle can cook food. Open-grate electric grills cook very much like a traditional gas or charcoal grill: You lay the food on the cooking surface and then flip it halfway through the cooking time. Contact electric grills have hinged cooking plates that are designed to cook food from both sides simultaneously (speeding up cooking time). That makes these grills useful for making "pressed" sandwiches like paninis or grilled cheese. Most cheap electric grills come with solid, smooth or ridged cooking plates, but some models have have true grates like a full-size grill, which allows fat and grease to drip away easily.
Outdoor vs. Indoor Electric GrillsIndoor electric grills are the most common type, and there are dozens of models available in a wide range of sizes. They come in both contact and open-grate configurations. This type of grill is intended for use on a countertop. Some have plates that can be flipped over for use as a griddle.
Indoor/outdoor electric grills have domed lids and removable legs (or a stand) to emulate the design of a traditional grill. They're much larger than indoor electric grills, although they can still fit on a kitchen island or open countertop, and they have true open grates to impart a grill-like sear on food.
There are only a couple of exclusively outdoor electric grills currently on the market, and they're made by Weber. They reach temperatures of 600 degrees-plus, compared with the 400- to 450-degree maximum of most indoor grills, making it easy to sear foods. Because of that high heat, and the accompanying smoke they can generate, it's not safe to use these electric grills indoors.
Pricey vs. Cheap Electric GrillsElectric grills are one of the most affordable small appliances around. How much you pay depends primarily on how large and versatile a grill you want. A highly rated, basic model suitable for grilling sandwiches can cost as little as $15, while one that's big enough to cook chicken breasts for a family of four may cost up to $80. Grills that can convert to a griddle or panini press can cost up to $100 or more, depending on size and features (such as an accurate temperature control). Indoor/outdoor grills also tend to run toward the higher end of the price spectrum.
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Electric Grill Reviews: What We Considered
There are very few reputable professional tests and reviews of electric grills and griddles online. We found only one roundup that included testing, at Top Ten Reviews, so consumer reviews on retail sites like Amazon and Walmart became particularly important for identifying the best indoor electric grills and panini presses. In general, most consumers love their electric grills, giving them very positive reviews for a relatively inexpensive kitchen appliance.