Grilling is an incredibly fun, versatile way of cooking, as any enthusiast knows. However, as they are also sadly aware…sometimes your worst enemy is factors outside of your control. The weather is fickle and can change on a dime, and well laid dinner plans can be ruined by an ill timed storm.
Or perhaps you simply live somewhere that, for whatever reason, doesn’t support grilling as a viable cooking type, like an apartment building.
Whatever the reason, you’ll likely start looking for alternatives to keep things going smoothly, and ask yourself the question “Can I grill inside”?
The answer is yes (sort of), but let’s get this out of the way first: you cannot use a charcoal or gas grill indoors. It’s simply too safe for a multitude of reasons, being not only a fire hazard but causing dangerous levels of smoke and, even worse, carbon monoxide which can kill everyone in your home. Just…don’t’ do it. A meal isn’t worth your life.
You’ll also need to temper your expectations. An indoor “grilled” meal is not going to be the same as an outdoor one. You’re not going to get the same level of char, for one, and there will be no smoky flavor. Primarily what you’re going to get is a nice sear, but that’s more than enough to make a tasty meal.
That stuff out of the way, let’s go over two easy methods to make grilled food indoors.
1. Use an Indoor Grill
Maybe a no brainer, but this is your best bet. The interesting part of this answer is there’s a lot of variance to it. There are as many types of indoor grills as there are outdoor ones, and they all work a little bit differently.
However, they all have one thing in common: they’re electric. No burning materials means no smoke, no carbon monoxide, and no death!
The first major type is the indoor grill that tries to mimic pretty much exactly how an outdoor grill would function, but smaller. Similar to an outdoor electric grill, these might have a clamshell shape, and proper grill grates and draining. Some are designed instead to be open, with no lid. Both work just fine, and produce enough heat to cook a satisfying meal quickly. I have an electric grill I use regularly when I can’t (or don’t feel like) busting out the charcoal. It works great, and while it’s not the same it provides enough of that delicious grilled flavor to make it worthwhile.
The second is similar, but distinct enough to be worth talking about: the George Foreman style grill. Not necessarily the name brand ones, the imitators work here just as well. These aren’t my favorite option, mostly due to their small capacity. These are great for making lunch for you and one other person, and are fairly versatile (usually doubling as sandwich makers as well), but they don’t really stand up to the task of cooking a meal for the whole family.
Finally, there is the option of an electric griddle, which is close enough to a grill for our purposes. If you’ve ever eaten at a diner style restaurant (like a Waffle House), you know that a griddle can make a pretty solid “grilled” chicken with good prep work and a lot of attention. If you already happen to have a griddle, it can do your grilled meal in a pinch, no problem.
2. Use a Cast Iron Skillet
Specifically, use a ridged one.
Cast iron is already an excellent way to make certain foods which are traditionally grilled: you can make a mean steak in a griddle, for example.
But the ridge skillet takes it to a whole new level, giving you a lot of that same fat draining quality grills are known for (and is the main selling point of the George Foreman models), This won’t get rid of call that juice, but it will let it run off and be collected separately, which is great for making au jus or just adding back onto the meat to let it baste in its own juices.
Cast iron skillets like this are an excellent tool to add to your arsenal, since they’re going to give you the best sear of any option you’ll come across. Cast iron can get ridiculously hot, and create a lovely brown glaze on any meat you cook in them.
Arguably, cast iron is better for many grilled foods than the grill itself, as many professional chefs will attest, though there’s still not quite any replacing the delicious smoky flavor of wood chips on a grill.
3. Tips and Tricks
As mentioned, you’ll need to temper your expectations a bit when it comes to grilling indoors. While you can make a very nice meal, it is not at all going to be identical to one that’s cooked on a proper grill or in a smoker. Here’s a couple of tips to make the most of things though.
The first is probably the most important: properly marinate your food. What you lack in smokiness shouldn’t be compounded with a lack in other flavors. More importantly, this will help your meat tenderize and stay juicy. The only real exception to this is steak, which needs to be as dry as possible to cook super well in a skillet.
Use those grill lines as well. The deeper the line you leave in the meat, the better the flavor. The lines in your electric grill or griddle are going to be the source of the biggest caramelization, and therefore the most intense flavor. Don’t let your food burn or dry out, but make sure it presses firmly onto those lines.
Finally, use this mostly with foods that work just as well for an indoor cook anyway. Fish, shrimp, chicken, and so on all come out great no matter what method you use to cook them, so even if your indoors options don’t perfectly mimic that delicious grilled flavor, you’ll still have a meal to remember; better to have a stellar chicken breast than mediocre ribs. You can always wait until another day.