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4 Tricks for Grilling Without a Grill

4 Tricks for Grilling Without a Grill

No grill? No problem

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Walk through our home city, Berlin, on a summer day and you'll likely see smoke wafting through the air, bringing with it the smell of charred steaks and summer veggies. Grilling is a primal way of cooking that connects us to that cherished smoky flavor, all the best charred bits, and plain-old, fire-wielding fun.

From a Southeast Asian-style satay to Italian whole grilled fish, Argentine asado to Korean barbecue, many a meal all around the world is grilled. But, as much as we might love the taste of fired-up food, many city dwellers all over the globe are likely all-too-sadly grill-less. Yes, that includes me.

So, is it possible to mimic the flavors, textures, and finishes of a grill without the real deal? Let's tuck into the details—here are some tried-and-tested tricks for how to approach grill-less grilling this season.

1. The Go-To: Grill Pan

Most often stepping up to take the heat when a grill isn't available is (surprise, surprise) a grill pan. Appointed with deep ridges to imitate grill marks, grill pans certainly make a worthy substitute as they can be relatively inexpensive, reliable, and versatile. However, they can also be cumbersome, hard to clean, and excessively smoke-inducing—a harsh reality to face in a small, unventilated apartment kitchen. Crank that window open!

Though, if wielded correctly, you can get along well with a grill pan. Here's what to bear in mind: Preheat grill pans for at least 5 minutes and only add your fat of choice (vegetable oil, peanut oil, etc.) just before adding the food to be grilled, and keep the windows open and any fans or hood vents on to help clear the smoke. Another important and usually skipped step is to dry off your foods before adding them to the preheated pan. Press steaks with a paper towel to remove excess liquids before seasoning and searing in the grill pan.

2. Just Broil It

Another popular technique to mimic the grill can be done in your very own oven—just think of your oven's broiler as a kind of upside-down grill. Using intense, direct heat to char and cook things quickly, proper use of a broiler can lead to a tantalizing, caramelized crust, very similar to outdoor grilling.

A few things to keep in mind when broiling: Preheat the broiler pan as close to the top of the oven as you can as the best results come from broiling your food only a few inches away from the broiler itself, keep the oven door open slightly to let the air flow and avoid trapping the hot air and baking your food, and lastly, don't walk away-it's important to keep a close eye when broiling, as foods can quickly go from perfect to burnt due to the high heat.

3. Press It, Press It Good

Ranging from "the best purchase I've ever made" to "it's gathering dust in the far reaches of my kitchen", a panini press or contact grill might be worth breaking out in any summer grill-less grilling frenzies. If you have one with ridged, grill-pan-esque plates, try it out next time you're craving a satay, skewer, burger, or brat. While the ridges are usually not as deep as those of grill-pans, and the heat is relatively low and comes from both sides, the panini press can still be a stand-in. Let it preheat for at least 10 minutes before adding any food, and perhaps a smoky flavor can be achieved another way…read on.

4. Smoke's the Word

One of the most loved things about grilling has got to be the smoky and woody (only if using wood chips, of course) flavor imparted to the vegetables or meat. It's hard to define but easy to identify—as in, when you taste it, you know. Maybe, just maybe, there's a way to get the same smoky flavor without a grill… But how?

Well, if you've got some money burning a hole in your pocket (pardon the pun), investing in a smoking gun might just be the tool for you. Meant to infuse a smoky flavor into nearly any food in a matter of minutes, it's definitely a specialist's tool that's goes beyond everyday needs.

If the smoking gun doesn't light your fire (I'm on a roll!), there are a couple of other smoky flavor enhancers you can try out, from smoked salts to liquid smoke, spices like smoked paprika or cumin, or even just adding a slice or two of smoked bacon to your dish. Depending on what you're making, and what you're aiming to achieve with your grill-less grilling, adding smoky flavors can surely be enough to satisfy. Try adding a touch of liquid smoke to a meat marinade and using a cumin-laden rub on vegetables before broiling a grill-less double whammy of a meal.

While there might be a handful of ways to fake it 'til you make it, in many cases both the texture and taste of grilled food just can't be replicated sans grill. Try a combination of our tips and let us know what you think!

Did we miss any of your favorite ways to impart grilled flavor without a grill? Let us know in the comments below!

Published on June 19, 2018

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