Long used as indoor substitutes for the outdoor barbecue, benchtop and cooktop grills are now the choice of health and weight conscious Australians, too. When cooking fatty meats, their ribbed cooking surfaces keep the meat elevated. As a consequence, the fat is not re-absorbed by the meat and the result is a leaner, tastier hamburger or steak. Also ideal for fish and kebabs, they can be great kitchen accessories. You need to be careful when choosing a benchtop or cooktop grill, though, or you may find it is more trouble than it's worth. Here's what you need to know about benchtop and cooktop grills.
Now marketed as "health grills," electric benchtop grills are not yet as common as toasters, but they are considered necessities in many homes. Thanks to removable cooking plates, some models can grill, make toasted sandwiches and even make waffles. So many of these are being produced today, choosing the right one can be confusing. Each of the two basic types of benchtop grills has its advantages:
- An open grill has only one cooking surface. Open grills tend to be larger than their two-sided counterparts, allowing you to cook larger portions.
- A contact grill has two cooking surfaces. Whatever you're cooking is placed on the bottom surface. The hinged "lid" is closed, providing an upper cooking surface. Contact grills cook faster than open grills and are more versatile. Look for one of these if you want your grill to double as a sandwich toaster.
What to Look for in Benchtop Grills
If you want to have a benchtop grill that is a pleasure to use, these are some of the important features to look for:
- Removable grilling plates make clean-up easier.
- Non-stick cooking surfaces make clean-up even easier.
- The removable grilling plates should ideally be dishwasher safe.
- If a drip tray is included, make sure it's easy to remove and replace.
- Built-in cord storage always keeps the cord neatly and safely out of the way when the griller is not in use.
- Vertical storage is a space saving option.
- Adjustable temperature controls enable you to fine-tune your cooking.
In addition, if you're choosing a contact grill, a model that has an adjustable height feature for the top plate adds versatility and prevents excessive pressure being applied to foods. You'll especially appreciate this feature if melted cheese sandwiches are on the menu.
Cooktop grills (or stovetop grills, as they are sometimes called) have been around longer than electric benchtop grills, but are enjoying a resurgence in popularity thanks to their new "healthy" image. The biggest difference between these and open grills is the fact that in this case, your cooktop is your heating element. For this reason, they tend to be cheaper than benchtop grills.
Cooktop grills come in two sizes: single and double burner. Most are square or rectangular trays, though some are designed like frying pans, the only difference being the ribbed cooking surface. Some features to look for in cooktop grills include:
- If choosing an aluminium grill, look for high-quality pressure cast aluminium: it will never warp or crack, so is worth paying more for.
- Cast iron grills are said to distribute heat better than aluminium. Although heavier, many users recommend these if you are choosing a double burner size.
- Only cast iron grills are suitable for induction cooktops.
- Get a non-stick surface for easy cleaning.
- Look for "cool touch" handles.
- Some cooktop grills are reversible, with a flat cooking surface on one side and a ribbed surface on the other.
Choose wisely and your benchtop or cooktop grill may rarely find its way on to a shelf, you'll be using it so much. Although prices range from less than $50 to over $200, balance cost against features. It's probably better to spend a little more initially and have a griller you'll use more and enjoy using than save a few dollars now and later wish you had purchased a model with better features.