Serious Eats / Andrea Rivera Wawrzyn
As an apartment-dweller for most of my life, grilling has mostly been out of my grasp. I grew up in a city with no outdoor space and, as a young adult, I mostly lived in shared apartments with a small porch where grilling would be a fire hazard at best. I have used all of my kitchens to their fullest potential, experimenting with new techniques to my heart’s content, but outdoor cooking was elusive; I could never answer the call of charred onions, grilled flatbreads, or corn blackened over an open flame. That is until my husband gifted me the Stove Top Grill from Santa Fe School of Cooking. This simple piece of equipment opened up a door to a whole new world of cooking to me.
What Is a Stove Top Grill Grate?
A stovetop grill grate consists of a sometimes circular, cast iron body with a stainless steel grill grate that is designed to fit over a burner on a gas stove, creating a small, open-flame grilling setup. (Note: There are also more simple offerings that are just cross-hatched metal and are often used for camping; these also work just fine). The one I use has wooden handles that make it easy to maneuver without needing a dish towel or oven mitt. While you can purchase flat-top griddles that sit on top of stove burners or grill pans with elevated ridges to create grill marks on your food, those options don’t expose your food to actual flames. And while grilling food over your gas flame won’t give you the same smoky flavor as grilling over charcoal or cooking over a campfire, it is a small step in that direction. For urban dwellers, renters, or anyone whose living situation does not include the option for a proper outdoor grill, a stovetop grill grate is a low-lift way to dip your toes into the world of flame-fired food.
It Provides (Mostly) Smoke-Free Grilling
There are a slew of good reasons you shouldn’t grill inside your home, and high on that list is smoke. Grilling is generally a pretty smoky affair, and no one wants their kitchen full of smoke, especially if they don’t have a proper hood vent (see: most renters.) My stovetop grill rarely creates smoke, making it a great tool for grilling vegetables and flatbreads, but I would not recommend attempting to grill a steak or a burger on it, since the grease can drip onto your gas burner and cause flareups and smoke (in this case, spring for an indoor grill). If you want to keep your kitchen smoke-free, you’ll need to choose foods that aren’t too moist or aren’t coated in oil. A bit of moisture from a cut onion or a burst corn kernel will occasionally make its way into the flame and create a small puff of smoke, so it’s not a smoke-proof system, but if you’re thoughtful about what you grill, it won’t be more than a sporadic annoyance. All of that said, I have been known to cook a shrimp and vegetable skewer on my little stovetop grill and while there is a small amount of dripping, it’s minimal compared to something like beef or chicken.
It Creates Char
Serious Eats / Andrea Rivera Wawryzn
A stovetop grill is an excellent way to char peppers for chili, onions, and ginger for pho, and scallions for just about anything (because charred scallions are terrific). I also frequently use mine to grill flatbreads and tortillas, which I couldn’t achieve cooking them in a pan. Admittedly, there are other ways to get char indoors: You can certainly put larger vegetables directly on the grates of your gas stove, but that doesn’t work if you’re charring anything smaller than a bell pepper (or if you have an electric stovetop). You can also char vegetables by putting them on a sheet tray underneath a broiler, but that requires turning on your oven, which may or may not be something you want do to (what if it’s July?). And yes, you could invest in an indoor grill, but they can be expensive and rather large.
It’s Easy to Set Up
Another advantage to indoor stovetop grilling is that it’s easy. Grilling outdoors requires planning. Do you have enough charcoal (or propane)? How long will the grill take to heat up? Is it supposed to rain? Unless you’re lucky enough to have a permanent outdoor kitchen, you’ll have to move your cooking tools and equipment (grill tongs, scraper, oil, dish towels, etc) outside. Once you’re done grilling, you have to do all of that in reverse. All you need to do to use a stovetop grill grate is to position it on top of your stove— no running around necessary.
How to Use a Stovetop Grill Grate
Serious Eats / Andrea Rivera Wawryzn
First, set the grill over one burner on your stove. I generally opt for one of the front burners so that I can easily monitor whatever I’m grilling. Make sure it’s stable before turning on the burner. Depending on the shape and size of the grates on your stove, you may have to move it around a little to make sure it’s resting level. I recommend preheating the grate before cooking to prevent food from sticking. Don’t be tempted to add oil to the food you’re grilling as it could cause dangerous flare-ups from the flame. Once the grate is hot, you can grill away. I use metal tongs to place, turn, and retrieve food from the grill and keep my hands safe from the heat. This cooking method works best on small to medium-sized cuts of vegetables, ensuring they cook all the way through. If you’re just looking to get a char, you can pop whole veggies directly on the grates (think a halved onion, whole peppers, cobs of corn, asparagus, and scallions). Monitor your grill closely and be aware of your flame level, since the food is very close to the flame and you might need to turn it down more than you think to avoid burning.
Even With a Backyard, I Still Love My Indoor Grill Grate
In the years since receiving my beloved indoor grill, I have moved to a house in the suburbs with a backyard. While we have a charcoal grill now, and my little stovetop grate gets less use than before, I like to break it out during the cold fall and winter months when I’m not inclined to bundle up and light a grill on the patio.
What can you cook on a stovetop grill grate?
Lots of stuff! It’s great for grilling vegetables like corn, peppers, asparagus, mushrooms, and zucchini. You can also char aromatics like onions, garlic, ginger, and scallions, and you can even grill flatbread dough or tortillas right on the grate. While I avoid cooking greasy or juicy meats over the grill grate, you can cook shrimp or scallops on skewers, just pat them dry with paper towels first and avoid any wet marinades since liquids dripping into the flame will create smoke.
How do you clean a stovetop grill grate?
I recommend hand washing and drying your grill grate pretty soon after it’s cooled down to prevent any food from becoming stuck. The rim of the grill I have is cast iron, so I avoid using abrasive scrubbers around the edge and make sure to try it after washing. The grate itself is stainless steel, however, and can be scrubbed.
Can you use a stovetop grill grate on an electric or induction stove?
Unfortunately, no. Stovetop grill grates are designed to cook food over an open flame, and are meant to sit on top of the stove grates on a gas stove. Plus, if you have a glass-top stove, the grill could scratch the surface.
Why We’re the Experts
Andrea Rivera Wawrzyn is a freelance writer, editor, and recipe developerShe worked for America’s Test Kitchen She has written numerous stories for Serious Eats, including the best cookware for glass top stoves and a review of grill presses.