Grilling. Another Way.

It’s nearly summer time. That means time to break out the grill for many people. Bachelors often will grill when they won’t do any other kind of cooking. That is a behavior that continues beyond bachelorhood.

If you live in an apartment, you may not be able to grill outdoors. If you live in a building with balconies, most leases clearly rule out grills on them because of the fire danger and the smoke that gets into other apartments. But that doesn’t mean you can’t still get grill-like effects.

I have only limited experience with grills because I’ve long been an apartment dweller. When I was kid we used to grill all the time, even when the weather was not cooperating. As a Boy Scout, I learned how to make a proper fire and cooking on it. And as an adult, I’ve seen plenty of TV shows about grilling, learning to create different levels of heat for efficient cooking.

Having lived in apartments my whole adult life, grilling just wasn’t an option most of the time. That’s why I have a grill pan. The nice thing about these pans is that the heat is much easier to control than with an indoor grill. That means the apartment doesn’t fill up with smoke, setting off the smoke alarm. The grill pan has ridges that mimic the grills bars. They also allow some of the fat to drip off the meat. If you have a really fat piece of meat or bacon, you’ll soon find them swimming in grease because the ridges aren’t that high.

Most grill pans are made of cast iron or anodized aluminum, which means they can take high heat and retain it well. They come in all kinds of sizes and shapes and depths. Personally, I don’t like the deep ones because the high walls can make it difficult to get a handle on the food. Some newer models are cast iron coated with enamel. But these pans can be chipped easily. The coating also inhibits heat from spreading evenly. Some have claimed these enamel pans are hard to clean and easily scratched and damaged.

In any case, don’t expect the grill taste even if you get the grill look. A big part of what makes grilling appealing to many people is that smoky taste. You can imitate that a bit with a basting sauce containing liquid smoke (yes, it’s a real thing made from condensed wood smoke), but it still doesn’t come that close. But if you can’t have an outdoor grill, this works as good as it gets.

If this is not an idea that appeals to you, if you just want to have that real fire taste, there are plenty of places you can learn about grilling, grills and their cooking techniques. I’ll leave that to them. Here are some sites I can suggest:

The Food Network’s Ultimate Grilling Guide
Grilling page on Wikipedia
BBQ & Grilling video and recipes on Allrecipes.com
Best of Grilling on Better Homes and Gardens

Getting back to that grill pan idea, here are some tips I’ve picked up, and learned the hard way, that might help you.

As I mentioned above, don’t expect a fire grilled taste.

Grill pans work best when preparing food for just one or two people. More than that and you’re going to want to consider a different cooking method.

Remember that your stove will never get as hot as an open fire or a hot bed of charcoal briquets, so plan accordingly.

Do not buy a non-stick grill pan because the non-stick coating breaks down under high heat. If you bought a non-stick pan, take it back. Also, you’ll want to season the pan the same way you would a cast iron skillet (see my earlier post on this).

Put the pan on as high a heat as your stove top can muster. Allow it to heat up for as much as 10 minutes. If your making beef, pork or chicken, use this time to also heat up the oven to about 450.

Open a window slightly and turn on your kitchen exhaust fan if you have one.

Spray the hot pan with cooking spray or use a wadded up paper towel held in your chef’s tongs and dipped in oil to lubricate the pan. But don’t do this until just before you add the food, otherwise it will smoke.

When the pan is as hot as it’s going to get, carefully lay the food on the pan in a circular pattern, keeping the thickest part of the food toward the center of the pan.

About 30 seconds later, move the food slightly, just enough to make sure it’s not sticking to the surface of the pan.

Leave it alone! For another 30 seconds to as long as 5 minutes depending on the thickness and type of meat. You’re just searing and making those grill marks here. Obviously, fish or seafood will cook much, much faster and you don’t want to overcook it.

When it’s time to turn the food, move each piece to another part of the pan, preferably an area that wasn’t covered with another piece. If you’ve packed the pan pretty full, do the best you can and find a spot with at least a little untouched area.

Now leave it along again. If you’re cooking beef, pork or chicken, and you have a pan that can go into the oven, loosely top the pan with foil and put in the oven to finish cooking. If your pan has a handle that won’t go into the oven, turn down the heat to medium or medium low for chicken or shrimp.

Doneness should be measured by a thermometer, not by appearance. Rare starts at about 125 while well-done (and I don’t know why you’d want this) is about 170.

Cleaning cast iron pans is exactly the same as the skillet. Remember, no soap, just lots of hot water, a scrubbing sponge, and maybe a little Kosher salt if needed. The pan also should be stored the same. Aluminum pans can be treated the same. But you can use soap and a scouring pad if you need to.

Grill pans won’t replace the charcoal grill in the backyard, but if it’s winter or you don’t have a backyard, it’s not a bad substitute.

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