The thaw is on. I just wrapped up a marathon wing grilling session on a day where the mercury never inched up even close to freezing. Yes, I loved grilling, and yes, the wings were awesome, but my frozen digits and runny nose reminded me that taking the grilling indoors isn’t always a bad thing on days like today.
The problem with grilling indoors is replicating the environment created with searing hot coals under a grate. It’s not just the heat in play here, but also smoke, surface area, and flexibility in configuring different cooking scenarios—coal arrangement, lid on or off, etc. You will never match exactly what the versatile, amazing grill offers, but there are ways to accomplish grilling to some extent indoors when the cold, dark, and foreboding winter is in full effect.
Selecting a Cooking Device
First obstacle to bringing the grilling inside is finding the right device to cook with. Most recipes calling for an indirect cook will be well served using an oven, and if there is a direct grilling competent for finishing it off—like with barbecue chicken—then the broiler can usually take care of that. What’s more difficult is getting that searing, direct heat that makes they grill pretty unique. After trying a few devices, I’ve settled on a large cast iron grill which brings more elements of real grilling inside than anything else.
Letting my grill heat up with natural lump charcoal, I can get that baby up to well over 700 degrees. While normal high temp grilling ranges more around the 450 mark, both temperatures are no easy feat for a consumer stove top. The cast iron, however, hits the mark here. It may take some time to accomplish (5-10 minutes), but over two burners on full blast, I’ve registered my cast iron up to 550 degrees, which is more than enough to create some beautiful grill marks of a piece of meat. Like a grill though, cast iron will create hotter and cooler spots, so some maneuvering of food may be required for even cooking.
Although debatable, I stand firmly in the camp that grilling over charcoal gives food the slightest kiss of smoke that adds just enough flavor to make it something special. Going indoors, you’ll never really get this, but the cast iron does produce a fair amount of smoke. While it’s not the flavor of burning wood, I can detect some smokiness to what I’ve cooked indoors, the only problem is that there’s always way, way more smoke in the apartment than in the meat. I highly recommend having a hood that properly vents outdoors when doing some indoor grilling, unless you don’t mind sitting in room full of smoke and the smell of grilled meat being ingrained into just about everything you own (the wife and I disagree on whether this is a good thing).
My guess is that if you’re grilling indoors, it’s probably not for a crowd like you might have at a summer bbq. That’s fine, because you won’t get the same amount of surface area inside as the grill provides outside. Still, you’ll need enough to get the job done, which is why I love the grill pan that spans 2 burners. I can usually cook an entire dinner for two to four all at once with these large models, and when I need more space, I just pull out my second cast iron grill, place it over the remaining two burners, and I’m ready to bring it on.
Prior to moving in my new space nearly two years ago, I did a lot of indoor grilling, but with a covered deck and lack of a good range hood, I’ve found myself outdoors more often than not, leaving my indoor grills pretty lonely. They still pop out now and again though, on those days when just the thought of stepping outdoors leads to immediate frost bite. When the whether is like that and I need dinner, I happy to know there’s a way grill inside without sacrificing everything that makes the grill so great.