Just because you don’t own an outdoor grill (or have space for one) doesn’t mean you should be missing out on all the grilling action. Enter: the grill pan, a perfectly suitable option if you’re not blessed with outdoor space. With so many to choose from, we wanted to give you the rundown of everything you’ll ever need to know, from purchase to maintenance and more.
What to Look for When Buying
With so many options out there, we’re advising you go with a cast iron grill pan. While they have a higher price tag than stainless steel and non-stick aluminum, cast iron offers a nice, even heat at the highest of temps. You’ll just have to decide between enameled or bare cast iron—while enameled is coated with food-friendly enameled paint, bare is just that… raw cast iron. It’s honestly a personal choice, but here’s some intel to help you decide (or, just get one of each):
- Bare: More maintenance (e.g. seasoning), heats more evenly and withstands higher temps, less expensive, will last forever.
- Enameled: Easier clean-up, safe for cooking acidic foods (e.g. tomato, lemon), less maintenance, more expensive, shorter lifespan, great option if you want to add a pop of color.
Make sure there’s a handle long enough to keep your hands far, far away, as you’ll be grilling over high heat. Added bonus if there’s a loop at the end for easy storage.
You’ll find that some grill pans have only short side handles—be careful if you choose this route. The handles hold the same heat as the pan itself, which makes it harder to work with, and you’ll need to be super careful when handling. Oven mitts necessary.
Grill pans come in all shapes and sizes, but we’re all about the simple, solid 12-inch square. For something a little different, there’s always round or rectangle, if you so desire.
At the end of a grilling sesh, you’ve gotta do some serious cleaning. Annoying, we know. Both bare and enameled grill pans call for different cleaning methods, so here’s what you need to know to keep your summer kitchen BFF looking (and performing) at its best:
- Bare pans should be carefully cleaned before they cool, to avoid oil and food build-up.
- Use hot water and a soft sponge, avoiding soap altogether. For stuck-on food, scrub a simple paste of kosher salt and water into the pan with a sponge or nylon brush. Rinse with water, and dry well with a towel.
- Don’t leave water in the pan for long (aka no overnight soaks). Otherwise, you’re looking at rust. And no dishwashers.
- Always allow your pan to cool before cleaning.
- Then, hand wash with warm, soapy water and a soft sponge, ridding the surface of oils and food.
- For hard-to-remove food, add a half an inch of water to the pan, and bring to a boil to lift off any residue, then wash again. You can also scrub with a nylon brush. Don’t use an abrasive scouring pad, though, or the enamel will scratch.
- Some pans are dishwasher safe, if you want that extra rinse.
Care and Maintenance
While your grill pan will keep you happy all summer long, there are a few things you’ll need to do to take care of it.
Sure, bare cast iron require a little more love, but it may be worth it in the long run, since you’ll never have to replace your grill pan.
Unlike enameled, bare cast iron pans require seasoning, which is a non-stick coating created with cooking fats and heat. Most cast iron comes pre-seasoned, but it doesn’t hurt to add an extra layer before first use. Over time, the natural fats in food will continuously coat the pan, and you’ll have yourself a nicely coated pan. Here’s how we season our bare cast iron pans:
- Place a sheet of aluminum foil on the lowest rack of the oven. Preheat to 325F.
- Clean pan and dry well with a dish towel.
- Apply a thin layer of oil to the pan (any kind will work).
- Coat pan with a towel and buff well, making sure everything is fully soaked.
- Place pan upside-down in the oven, above the rack with aluminum foil.
- Set a timer and bake for 1 hour. Then, turn oven off and let the grill pan cool in the oven.
But wait, there’s more
- If you accidentally used soap or an abrasive scrub to clean your bare pan, don’t fret. This is something that a good seasoning will fix.
- Rust is not your enemy. It’s 100% possible to remove and restore your bare pan to new. So, that pan from your aunt, riddled with rust? Take it.
- It’s best to avoid cooking with acidic foods (e.g. tomatoes, lemon) in bare cast-iron as it strips a layer of seasoning from the iron. Slipped up? No worries. Just season afterward.
If you opt for enameled cast iron, there’s usually less maintenance because of the coating. But, this doesn’t mean you’re off the hook completely.
- For enameled pans, scratches and chips can’t be buffed out. That being said, be super careful when handling and cleaning.
- Always store enameled pans in a cool, dry place. If hanging, allow for room between pans so that they don’t bump into each other (and chip!) If storing in a drawer, place a towel between pans.