Grill Pan--Is it worth buying? Imparts same flavor as the outdoor grill?
I'm moving into a new kitchen this weekend and am trying to decide which cookware I will need. I've been noticing indoor stovetop grill pans on lots of cooking shows, and found a very inexpensive ($18) version at Ikea. Before I bother, I am wondering: are grill pans really worth it? Sure, they make those pretty grill lines on your food, but flavor-wise, is it any different from an ordinary pan? Does it even begin to replace the deliciousness of outdoor grilling? I'm not interested in just buying it for looks.
Many thanks in advance for your feedback. :)
I use a stovetop grill pan for many tasks. I grill turkey bacon, fish fillets and burgers, toast buns if the toaster oven is in use, heat hot dogs, etc. Before I got my nice iron skillets, I used it to make toasted cheese sandwiches. I really don't care about the grill marks. The pan is just so useful.
I personally have been able to replicate the taste of a gas grill with a grill pan -- nothing close to charcoal though. On of the tricks is to have it HOT! Hot enough so that what ever juices run out of the item you're cooking they burn on the bottom -- thus smoke, and smokey flavor. You need good ventilation, however, something that not everyone has :P
I can't say it's at all the same, even as a gas grill. You don't get the drippings vaporizing as they fall into the flames, and my gas grill gets much hotter than my electric stovetop.
But it's handy to have for things that don't work well on the grill, or for when you don't want to go out and grill in rain or cold, and it does do a nice job of getting those grill marks and elevating the product up out of the drippings. It can also be helpful for delicate items that you might might worry about breaking and falling through a grill's grates.
You can also use it for panini. Which I do. Often.
I swear by them. You can pretty closely duplicate a gas grill. There are a number of ways in which I use mine...
1) Preheated in the oven - duplicates a closed-lid gas BBQ fairly closely.
2) On my gas cooktop. Acts as cast iron griddle. Excellent alternative to open BBQ cooking when raining. Good for rectangular pancakes
3) A serving dish for a 'sizzler' meal.
4) Leave it in the oven so it acts as a heat sink-source to help maintain temperature as well as re-seasoning it.
5) Use it in the BBQ. It collects the juices, reduces clean-up and prevents flare-ups.
6) Finally, when we go for a picnic or boat trip we take one of those small propane burners and rest the griddle on top. Works a treat.
Get one that covers two gas burners. (No idea how they work on electric rings). You need one with two surfaces, one ridged and one flat. The outside edge needs a high ridge on both sides to contain juices. And finally if you can find one with stay-cool swivelling handles it is so much easier to take in and out of the oven or BBQ. The type of handle I have found best - from my selection of two - is one that looks like an open coiled spring that will fold up, down or horizontal.
(and before I get roasted, I am using 'BBQ' in the British style)
Wonderful. Many thanks to you for your reply.
I am intrigued: When you say that you use it (1) preheated in the oven, am I correctly understanding that you heat up the grill pan on the stovetop, then add the meat to it and stick it on the oven rack and close the door, without ever turning the oven on, so that the sealed space keeps in the heat?
And when you use it (2) on the gas cooktop, it leaves the food tasting smoky and juicy like a grill?
I love my gas grill pan, but I also love my grill pan. The difference is that on the outdoor grill, you're cooking over an open flame and thus get a smoky flavor. With the grill pan, you obviously are not; however, the grill pan is different from a skillet or frying pan. As ferret points out, the food is raised, so you'll find slight differences in texture, and don't underestimate the power of those grill marks! They send a subtle message that the food is "grilled." (Remember, first we eat with our eyes, and it's widely acknowledged that this affects how we taste things.) The grill marks you see on a lot of restaurant foods are very often achieved on their versions of grill pans, not over an open flame.
I'd still rather have my steaks or burgers cooked on the outdoor grill, and since I live in a climate that allows for year-round grilling, that's practical. But for a lot of things, it's easier to use the indoor grill pan, where I can monitor the "grilling" as I'm cooking other things, or because I worry about losing things between the grates--shrimp, scallops, more fragile fish, asparagus. I also use it for grilled cheese sandwiches, panini, toasting bruschetta slices, quesadillas.
So I think it's a good investment, not necessarily an alternative to the outdoor grill but a further enhancement of your culinary artillery. SEveral years ago, I bought an very inexpensive cast iron one, double-sized and sided, of the type Paulustrious recommends. It was a bit of a pain to seaon, but well worth it. (I've seen pre-seasoned ones around lately, maybe your Ikea one is.) I use it all the time. After using, I scrub it with hot water and a nylon pad (never soap) , rinse it, and then dry it in the oven or over a low flame stovetop.
Sorry for the confusing answer...
By preheat in the oven I mean heating it up in the oven. It takes longer for the cast iron to reach temperature than the oven itself - just like a pizza stone. I hadn't though of preheating it on the burners and then transferring it to a hot oven. Guess that would work and save time.
Smokey (as in charcoal flavour) no. But you can really heat up a cast iron griddle and get an amazing sear that imparts flavour.
I also use it to make very thin omelettes in which I roll things (such as asparagus and smoked salmon mousse. Chill and slice them like a sushi roll and you have a an attractive and relatively filling starter. Same goes for crepes, drop scones,
Also good for bacon if you want to lift it out of the fat.
The one downside of using it on burners is that it does tend to splatter.