Indoor Smokeless Grills
Are smokeless grills truly smokeless, or do they just smoke less?
How We Tested
Don’t have a yard? Weather not cooperating? Smokeless grills promise to let you bring the cookout indoors, allowing you to grill in the comfort of your own kitchen—without setting off the smoke alarm. These electric grills claim to eliminate or reduce the smoke generated when searing food, supposedly by using infrared heating elements, specially angled fans, and/or water pans. Some also come with griddle plates that can be substituted for the grill grates, so you can also use these gadgets to make pancakes or panini. More and more of these grills have been introduced to the market in the last few years, and we wanted to know whether any were worth buying. So we bought five models, priced from about $50 to about $220, and used them to grill asparagus spears, steaks, and burgers, comparing the results to the same foods cooked in our favorite cast-iron grill pan.
Smoke Reduction Comes at the Expense of Flavor
As we soon found out, none of these smokeless grills eliminated smoke entirely. In fact, we’re not sure that any of the smoke-reducing features the grills boast actually did much at all. Foods grilled on two of the models we tested did produce significantly less smoke than the same foods when cooked in the grill pan, but that was only because the grates of these smokeless grills didn’t get or stay hot enough to sear the foods. When we tried to heat these grills to a high temperature of 450 degrees, one model topped out at about 390 degrees while another only reached 430 degrees in a few isolated spots. Foods barely even sizzled on these two grills, and the results were insipid: steaks and asparagus spears that were only lightly browned and burgers that looked more steamed than grilled.
The other three grills we tested performed better. With grates that heated to at least 450 degrees, and often much higher, these models did a decent job of searing foods. And in general, foods cooked on these grills generated less smoke than the same foods cooked in the grill pan, which we also heated to 450 degrees during high-heat cooking applications for comparison’s sake. But the hotter the grill surfaces got, the more smoke they produced.
That said, foods cooked in the grill pan looked and tasted much better than those cooked on the smokeless grills. Most of the smokeless grill grates are made from thin cast aluminum, while the grill pans are made from thick cast iron, which retained far more heat than the smokeless grill grates. Because of its superior heat retention, the grill pan’s surface temperature rebounded quickly when we added food. As a result, food seared better, acquiring good char and intense grill flavor, and in much less time: Asparagus, for example, took about 7 minutes to cook on the grill pan and charred better than the asparagus cooked on any of the smokeless grills, which took almost twice as long on average.
The More Surface Area, the Better
Performance concerns aside, a few factors made some of the smokeless grills easier to use than others. First, we preferred grills that provided an ample amount of cooking space, big enough to accommodate a large flank steak. Our favorite model had the biggest surface area—a generous 180 square inches (about the size of a large placemat), which is more than twice as big as our favorite grill pan. As a result, it can grill twice as much food at a time—an advantage if you’re cooking for a crowd.
Good Controls Are Important
An electric grill isn’t very useful if you can’t easily set its temperature. We vastly preferred models that had specific temperature settings. One model had just two settings, “keep warm” and “on,” limiting our ability to moderate the heat depending on what we were cooking. The symbols for these two settings were also surprisingly cryptic, requiring us to consult the manual in an attempt to interpret them. Only by using a temperature probe did we learn what these settings actually indicated. Another model had settings that ranged from 1 to 5, and we were again forced to guess the temperatures these numbers indicated. Worse still, when we used a temperature probe to find out, we found that there was no functional difference between settings 3, 4, and 5, with all of them heating to a high of 530 degrees—an alarming figure, considering that the grill grates are coated with a nonstick material that can degrade and release toxic fumes above 500 degrees.
The best smokeless grills provided a wide range of temperatures and featured dials or digital displays that were easy to use and clearly and accurately indicated the correct temperatures. Our favorite model was equipped with a digital display that made it especially easy to choose a specific temperature. Testers liked that this feature allowed us to set and forget the heat level without guessing or fiddling with the controls, as we would when cooking on a stovetop. Better still, we could set the two sides of the grill to different temperatures in case we wanted to simultaneously cook, say, a piece of fish over high heat and some vegetables over a slightly lower heat.
Cleanup Matters, Too
Finally, we considered how easy it was to clean the smokeless grills. Because the grates on some of these smokeless grills are coated with a nonstick material and can be thrown in the dishwasher, they do require a little less elbow grease to clean than our favorite stovetop grill pan, which must be washed by hand. But the grill pan has simplicity on its side—there’s only one thing to clean. We preferred grills with embedded heating elements and as few parts that needed to be cleaned as possible—just a grill grate or grates and a drip tray. These models were easier and less messy to dismantle than grills that had extra parts to clean, such as a removable heating element and/or water pan.
The Best Smokeless Grill: The Krups Digital Indoor Smokeless Grill
If the flavor of your food is your primary concern and you don’t mind putting up with a bit more smoke, we think our favorite grill pan, the Lodge Square Grill Pan (about $19), is your best bet for grilling indoors, as it makes flavorful, nicely charred food. But if your priority is to reduce the smoke you generate while grilling indoors and you’re willing to sacrifice a little flavor to do so, the Krups Digital Indoor Smokeless Grill is a fine choice. Its large cooking surface is divided into two heating zones, and testers appreciated its clear, accurate digital controls, which made it especially easy to use. And because it’s capable of heating to relatively high temperatures, it does a decent job of searing food.
— Five smokeless grills priced from about $50 to about $220
— Grill asparagus
— Grill steaks
— Grill burgers
— Cook asparagus, steaks, and burgers in favorite cast-iron grill pan and compare results to results of foods cooked on smokeless grills
— Wash and dry five times according to manufacturers’ instructions
— All models purchased online, and the prices listed are the prices we paid
Performance: Grills that turned out well-charred, savory foods with good grill flavor rated more highly.
Smokiness: We considered the volume of smoke each grill generated; grills that produced less smoke than our favorite grill pan rated more highly.
Ease of Use: We evaluated how easy it was to select, attain, and maintain different temperatures; how accurate those temperature settings were; and how easily the cooking surfaces of the grills accommodated large foods or large volumes of food.
Ease of Cleanup: We evaluated how easy it was to clean the grills.