On those rare Southern California days when the weather is not glorious and warm and absolutely perfect, there are alternatives to cooking outdoors.
Grillmeisters, meet the grill pan.
A flat pan -- sometimes square, but most often rectanugular -- the grill pan comes equiped with ridges so you can grill your steaks and burgers indoors when the weather is less than cooperative.
When looking for a grill pan, consider a few tips. Look for a heavy, cast iron grill pan (pre-seasoned); sure, other materials are lighter and may be easier to handle, but a solid cast iron pan will give you an evenly-heated cooking surface -- no hot spots here -- so your chops cook nicely no matter where they are in the pan. Also, look for a pan with deep ridges -- ridges act like a grill rack, holding the meat while the any juices drain; the deeper the ridges, the better the grilling and draining. Finally, consider size. While smaller pans may be stowed away more easily in a tiny kitchen, a larger pan will give you more room to work (great if you're cooking for a big family or company, or want to grill a something substantial, like a large fish or tri-tip).
One other thing to consider is a dual-purpose pan. Many larger grill pans, like the Lodge pan above, double as griddles on one side. A definite plus when you're flipping pancakes and mastering your grilled cheese sandwich.
Grill pans can generally be found at cooking and home supply stores, and are easily found online. Prices will vary depending on make, material and size. A small (1-burner) pan will run around $15 on up; a larger pan (2-burner), like the one shown above, should set you back roughly $20.
** One last tip: To mimic the oven-like effects of an outdoor grill lid, invert a metal baking pan over your food as it cooks. Not only will it contain some of the splatter as the food cooks, it will also help to retain the heat so the food cooks more quickly and evenly throughout.
If you have any kitchen gadgets or tips you'd like me to explore, leave a comment below or shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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