Are smokeless grills truly smokeless, or do they just smoke less?
Published Oct. 4, 2019.
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.
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 i...
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Miye is a senior editor for ATK Reviews. She covers booze, blades, and gadgets of questionable value.