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Grilling is a great way to make an easy dinner, but if you live in a small home or if the weather is bad, cooking outside can be challenging. That’s where grill pans come in. This piece of cookware brings the same look and some of the charred, smoky taste of grilling indoors without needing to worry about outdoor space or meticulous cleaning.
The Shop TODAY team reached out to kitchen gadget expert, Lisa McManus, Executive Editor of America’s Test Kitchen, to learn more about grill pans and what you should look for when buying one. We also rounded up a few top-rated picks for you to shop right now.
What is a grill pan?
“A grill pan is a skillet with raised ridges across its cooking surface, meant to create flavorful char marks or "grill marks" that mimic the look of food grilled outdoors. The ridges also let fat drip off the food as it cooks,” said McManus.
Which materials are most high-quality for a grill pan?
While you can find grill pans of all makes and materials, from aluminum and steel to non-stick-coated, McManus has a preference when it comes to long-lasting quality.
“We like traditional cast-iron rather than enameled, because as you cook in them over time, traditional pans will acquire a patina of seasoning that improves their release of food, but enameled pans won't improve or change with use, and the enamel can wear down and become sticker, not less sticky,” explained McManus. Cast-iron pans also have more distinct ridges that end up making better grill marks.
What other features should you look for in a grill pan?
Aesthetics aren't just important to complement your kitchen's style. “Our favorite [grill pans] had very low sides so you can get in with a spatula at a low, comfortable angle," McManus said. "We also were surprised by how much we preferred pans with a pair of looped handles rather than one long skillet-like handle. Even if pans were heavy, they were easier to lift with two handles rather than one, and they were more compact on the stovetop and when we were storing them. Widely spaced ridges, as we noted, are better for cleanup, and ridges that are tall with squared off tops made the most crisp, distinct grill marks.”
Size also matters when it comes to this piece of cookware. “Don't get a pan that's really tiny, because cooking in fewer batches is not only more efficient, but more batches mean food residue in the pan that will smoke," McManus mentioned. "And look at the area of the ridged surface; make sure it's nice and roomy. The whole point of these pans is the ridges, so make sure you have lots of ridged space to cook on.”
What’s the best way to clean a grill pan?
“For cleaning, we love the O-Cedar Rinse Fresh Pot and Pan Brush," said McManus. "It has a long handle that keeps your hands out of hot water, [it's] well designed to be comfortable and give good leverage and [has] sturdy bristles that really get in and scrub between the ridges. We tried those little plastic toothed cards that are designed to clean grill pans, and they took much longer to get pans clean and were fussier to use.”
She also has a fool-proof way of cleaning grill pans. "While the pan is still warm, run it under hot tap water and scrub with the brush. Rinse and pat dry, put it back on the burner on medium low heat until it's fully dry, and wipe it with ½ teaspoon of vegetable oil all over, and keep wiping until the oil seems gone. Then keep heating it for a few more minutes, and turn off the stove and let it cool in place. Just like your cast-iron skillet.”
Best grill pans
Lodge is known for its durability and long life. Its cast-iron material conducts heat evenly and retains heat for a long time, so searing hearty meats like chicken or steaks is easy. Note: Some reviewers have noted that it could scratch flat-top stoves, so you'll want to be careful while using it.
This nonstick grill pan is perfect for pressed sandwiches or anything else you may want to flip with ease, thanks to its low sides. Its square, thin shape also makes it easy to store in a kitchen drawer or cabinet. The stainless steel handle stays cool to touch while cooking with the pan, making it safe for kids to use with supervision.
This 11" aluminum grill pan is nice because it's dishwasher safe, which makes for easy cleanup. It also features an ergonomic stainless steel handle and can cook everything from burgers to veggies with ease.
This 11" ceramic grill pan has high sides, an integrated pouring spout and a nonstick surface that'll make cooking items like shrimp and softer veggies a breeze. It's also dishwasher-safe and can be put into the oven up to 350 degrees.
This reversible cast-iron pan from Traeger has a ribbed design on one side mimicking a grill, while the other side is has a smoother, griddle-like surface for breakfast staples like eggs and pancakes. Reviewers not only love its dual functionality, but also how it evenly distributes heat throughout the entire surface.
This ceramic nonstick pan's square shape is nice for searing seafood, fresh vegetables and delicate meats; while its two side handles allow you to take the pan right from the cooking surface to the table with ease. Hosting a potluck? This grill pan's size also makes this perfect for cooking for a crowd.
This slender Le Creuset grill pan fits over a single stove burner and absorbs and distributes even heat thanks to its cast-iron material. Other helpful features include its high sides (to eliminate splatters and spills) and high ridges (which will ensure that your ingredients will get desirable grill marks without sitting in a ton of grease). Have we mentioned it's also available in a dozen cool colors?
This cast-iron grill pan is the perfect cookware to sear and blacken your favorite summer foods thanks to its large grill ribs and even heat dispersion. Another unique features about this handcrafted pan is its unique domed interior, which will help distribute rendered fat and juices to the pan's corners. No need to worry about getting burned or splattered!
Reversible grill pans are worth the splurge, especially this one from industry leader Viking. The 20-inch pan has plenty of room for multiple burgers, vegetables and more, all while creating those coveted grill marks. The griddle side of the pan is also nice for making breakfast or brunch for a crowd.
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