Can Grilling Indoors Ever Compare to the Real Thing?

What to eat. What not to eat.
Aug. 31 2012 3:47 AM

Indoor Grill Master

Can grilling inside an apartment ever compare to the real thing?

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However, having the right equipment is only half the battle; indoor grilling presents a host of other potential pitfalls that I have selflessly tumbled into for your benefit. For starters, because you’re not working in the great outdoors, smoke loses much of the romance it is normally afforded in grilling circles. I learned this lesson the hard way at a recent dinner party when I rounded the corner from kitchen to living room to find that my guests looked like coughing phantoms in a haze of the stuff. To be sure, there is no way to avoid some amount of smoke when working at high temperatures, but there are definitely ways to reduce it.

This is where protein prep comes in. By all means marinate, but be sure your meat has been patted very dry with paper towels before putting it on the grill pan. Be especially sure that no bits of minced garlic, onion, or ginger remain on the surface of the meat, as they will surely fall into the cracks between the ridges and burn to a bitter crisp. Additionally, avoid recipes that call for coarse rubs containing seeds like mustard, cumin, or coriander; these will only serve to coat your pan’s valleys with a noxious-smelling black paste. What will work, however, are dry powder rubs, which adhere tightly to meat if you rub it with a few drops of oil first.

Speaking of oil, do not glug it directly into your pan. Instead, take grilling guru Steven Raichlen’s advice and use a paper towel to lubricate only the ridges to prevent sticking, as pooled oil in the valleys interferes with the dry part of dry heat and is, in any case, very likely to burn. This is no place for olive oil; canola or grapeseed oil, with their higher smoking points, are better suited to the task.

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If all these restrictions are starting to sound bland, be comforted: One of the benefits of grilling in a pan is that once your cooked meat is safely resting in a tinfoil nest to the side of the stove, you’re welcome to deglaze the pan to make a sauce, at which point you can add all those special spices you avoided in the prep phase. This is the time to bask in feelings of superiority over all those pitiable outdoor grillers who enjoy no such luxuries. (Attempting to deglaze a grill grate will inevitably end in tragedy.)

Apart from smoke, indoor grilling’s main drawback is splatter. As meat releases its fat and water content on a regular grill, these liquids fall into the heat source and are instantly resurrected as flavor-imparting vapors. On a grill pan, they rudely explode all over your stovetop, counters, cookbooks, pants … anything within a 1- to 2-foot radius, really. There’s no way to avoid this without making other sacrifices. You could, for instance, loosely cover your grilling meat with aluminum foil, but doing this for too long conjures the dreaded specter of steam. You could also compromise your grilling credentials and finish off the cooking process in the oven after an initial searing. But if you choose to go the distance, be prepared with a damp dishcloth so you can occasionally wipe things down.

As for approximating those flavor-giving vapors: Grilling purists will argue that indoor grilling simply cannot compete with the smoky deliciousness that charcoal or wood impart, and they’re right to some extent. But that doesn’t mean you can’t cheat with a little bit of creative spice hacking. Consider adding a pinch or three of smoked paprika (known in Spanish as pimentón), chipotle powder, or smoked salt to your rubs or a few drops of natural liquid smoke to your barbeque sauces. These will provide enough sooty notes to satisfy all but the pickiest of diners.

And if anyone does give you flack, inform them that they are welcome to go parry with strangers over that rusted public grill in the park. You will be waiting back in the air conditioning with your crisp rosé and perfectly seared steak for when they return with their sweat, warm beer, and precious authenticity.