Serious Eats / Taylor Murray
An indoor grill, a.k.a. a smokeless grill, gives folks the option to sear up a steak or get grill marks on zucchini without having to step outside (and without any risk of carbon monoxide poisoning). Some use special features to prevent smoke from fogging up your kitchen (like a lid or drip tray), while others rely on the fact that the machine uses electricity as opposed to propane or charcoal. But while they are marketed as smokeless, you likely will get at least a teeny bit of smoke—akin to heating up a cast iron grill pan over high heat, or maybe even less. The amount of smoke also depends on the type of food being grilled, especially if it has high-fat content or if sugary marinades are used.
In terms of imparting a char like an outdoor grill, indoor grills can produce grill marks and a certain degree of char, especially on meats. However, the smoky flavor imparted by charcoal or wood is generally absent in indoor versions. And while some people love their cast iron grill pans for getting grill marks, they don’t offer the same enclosed cooking environment or consistent heat distribution as electric indoor grills.
So, if you are looking for some of the flavor that comes from a traditional grill but maybe don’t have the space for one, it’s worth giving our favorite indoor smokeless grills a go.
The Winners, at a Glance
This grill was compact but mighty, simple to use, and produced very little—if any—smoke. Because it didn’t have raised edges, you could place long skewers on top without worrying about the ends fitting.
The settings were straightforward, and the grill maintained its temperature during cooking. It boasted a removable lid, which added versatility, and all parts are dishwasher-safe (though we recommend hand-washing) with a durable nonstick coating that requires minimal effort when cleaning.
Loaded with fancy tech features (with a price tag to match), the Breville is a great option for those who want more control over temperature or would find a built-in timer useful. This model offers a large cooking area yet still can be stored compactly. Plus, this grill has a smooth griddle side for making pancakes or eggs and can also be used to make paninis.
If you want a grill that’s easy to set up and durable and has the look and height of an outdoor grill, this is it. The large cooking surface means you can cook a whole lot at once.
Serious Eats / Taylor MurrayGrilled Onion Test: We sliced yellow onions 1/2-inch thick and brushed them with oil before placing them on the grill at medium heat. We did this test to determine how well the grills could create grill marks and if there were any hot or cold spots.Grilled Chicken Test: We heated the grills to medium-high heat, brushed the grates with oil, and cooked two butterflied chicken breasts for five minutes per side until the chicken was cooked through. We observed how the grill cooked the chicken and assessed the quality of the grill marks.Grilled Steak Test (Winners-Only): For those that did well in the first two tests, we heated the grill again to medium-high and grilled a New York strip steak for four minutes on one side, then two to three on the other side or until done. We observed how the grill operated at a higher temperature and checked the steak for char. We completed this test without oil to see if any of the strips stuck while cooking.Cleaning Test: We hand-washed washable parts, and ran machine-safe pieces through the dishwasher.
What We Learned
More Drip Holes Led to Less Smoke
Serious Eats / Taylor Murray
Many of the grills had lids that prevented some smoke from escaping whilst grilling, but once opened, well, the smoke was released. What did lead to smoke reduction was a larger amount of holes in the grill grate. Each of the grills we tested had a different design when it came to grease collection. Some, like the Breville, had a tilted grill plate that allowed the grease to drip away from the hot plate to prevent burning and smoking, but the hole was a bit small. Other grills, like the winning Zojirushi Indoor Electric Grill and Hamilton Beach Electric Indoor Searing Grill, had lots of holes located between the grills’ ridges so oil and fat were whisked away the moment they started to pool. Because a lot of smoke comes from burning fat, the faster it’s removed from the heating element, the less smoke there is.
Fully-Coated Nonstick Grills Cleaned Up Easier
Serious Eats / Taylor Murray
All of the indoor grills we tested were sealed with a slick nonstick coating for extra-easy cleanup. However, not all of them were coated on both sides of the grill grate. The tiebreaker between the Zojirushi Indoor Electric Grill and Hamilton Beach Electric Indoor Searing Grill was this exact spec. The Zojirushi is coated on the bottom as well as the top, so as fat drips down and congeals, it still won’t stick when you go to clean it (though only the drip tray is dishwasher-safe). Conversely, Hamilton Beach was harder to scrub since the bottom was uncoated.
Grills with Extra Tech Were Nice, but Not Necessary
While some of the grills had fancy extra features like a tray filled with water intended to capture smoke and grease or special temperature sensors, ultimately our favorite grills were the ones that were simple and intuitive to operate. A few users may find being able to adjust the temperature in five-degree increments useful, but that’s likely not the case for everyone. Just like with a gas grill, you probably only want it to be either low, medium, or high heat. This is especially true when it comes to grilling meat, where high heat leads to grill marks and char. The only extra feature that we found particularly useful was an audible alert that the machine was preheated.
The Criteria: What to Look for in an Indoor Grill
Serious Eats / Taylor Murray / Grace Kelly
When selecting an indoor grill, there are several factors to consider based on your needs and preferences. First, consider the size and look at your counter space and storage area, since these grills can be large. Removable grill grates make cleaning a breeze, and grates should ideally be both nonstick-coated and dishwasher-safe (we recommend hand-washing nonstick to preserve the coating, but the dishwasher is admittedly nice for super-messy jobs). Removable drip trays are essential so that fats don’t linger on the surface of the grill, creating smoke. Small features, like an LCD screen, built-in timer, or audible heat readiness indicator, were nice to have, but not strictly necessary.
What we liked: This small but mighty grill delivered surprisingly great results in our testing. Maybe we were expecting some of the more high-tech grills to outperform this simple design, but ultimately, simplicity won out. We liked the simple controls that didn’t require any fiddling or scouring of the manual to operate. The grill itself sits on a lightweight, open base with a drip tray beneath. The entire design allows for maximum airflow, so smoke can’t get trapped anywhere long enough to be noticeable. The grill also has drip holes all over the cooking surface so fat doesn’t have a chance to linger and burn. We found that this had the greatest effect on the overall amount of smoke the grill let off, more than any other feature that claimed to decrease smoke.
We also liked that the grill has no sides, so if you want to cook skewers or a piece of meat with a large bone (hello, tomahawk ribeye), you don’t have to worry about squishing it in. Cleanup was simple, and we didn’t find any tricky spots where food or gunk got stuck.
What we didn’t like: The grill plate is not dishwasher-safe, which would have been nice (though the drip tray is).
Price at time of publish: $104.
Weight: 7.7 lbsDimensions: 18 x 12.25 x 3.25 inchesTemperature range: 176-410°FCleaning: The plastic base and drip tray are dishwasher safe; hand-washing is recommended for the grill plateSerious Eats / Taylor Murray
What we liked: The rotary temperature dial was extremely easy to use. Twist it in one direction, and the temperature goes up, and the other way brings it back down. While this doesn’t offer the same precision as some other models, it might not be necessary for most cooks who just want to grill food without worrying about a temperature difference of 25 degrees or so. During our testing, it was hot when it needed to be and stayed that way. Can’t ask for much more than that.
One of the best features was the removable lid. When the lid was closed, it trapped smoke and steam as well as grease splatter. When it’s removed, the sides are open so that you can add skewers to the grill without worrying if they will fit. We also loved that all the parts are dishwasher-safe, which saves you from having to scrub in the sink. The nonstick coating didn’t ding or blemish in any way and only ever needed a light scrub with a soft bristle brush, at most.
What we didn’t like: The lid can be a bit clunky to operate, and the underside of the grill is not coated in the same nonstick finish as the top, so there were some spots that trapped food and oil. This wasn’t an issue when we cleaned it in the dishwasher, but could be a little vexing when hand washing.
Price at time of publish: $80.
Weight: 8 lbsDimensions: 16.75 x 12.25 x 6.75 inchesTemperature range: 200-450°FCleaning: Grill plate and drip tray are removable and dishwasher-safeSerious Eats / Taylor Murray
What we liked: This grill is on the upper end of what we would consider a reasonable price for any indoor appliance, but it comes with a lot of great features. Unlike any of the others in our testing, this grill can be operated as an open or contact (read: panini press) grill. We love appliances that can pull double duty, and this Breville was equally excellent at grilling kebabs as it was making a panini. The grill grates are raised enough to produce nice, brown grill marks with an excellent flavor. There are a few “smart” features (hence the name), too, like the ability to tilt the plate to whisk away oil and fats, and special sensors that can detect a sudden drop in temperature (like when you place a cold steak on) and adjust rapidly to bring it back to where you want.
Even though it is on the larger side, the grill can be stored horizontally to save space. The grates are removable and dishwasher-safe for easy cleaning.
What we didn’t like: It’s fairly heavy to pull in and out of the cabinet on a regular basis. If you want to grill on both parts of the grill (top and bottom), you have to order a separate grill plate from the manufacturer, since one comes as a griddle. The temperature dial is a bit more complicated than some of the other models and might not be ideal for someone who would prefer a dead-simple experience. Oh, and it’s pretty expensive for an indoor grill.
Price at time of publish: $320.
Weight: 19 lbsDimensions: 14 x 14 x 5.75 inchesTemperature range: 200°-450°FCleaning: Grill plate and drip tray are dishwasher-safeSerious Eats / Taylor Murray
What we liked: This grill really got close to replicating a true outdoor grilling experience. The domed lid is reminiscent of certain classic charcoal grills, and the cooking surface area is the widest of any we tested. This grill can be operated on the counter or on the included stand. We could see this being a great option for those who want to grill on a patio or deck but can’t use propane or charcoal for one reason or another. The drip tray is the deepest of any we tested and can hold almost a quart of liquid, which means you can cook for a crowd without worrying about spillage. The temperature dial is as simple as they come, though anyone looking for a more accurate temperature gauge may not like the vague number system.
What we didn’t like: It’s extremely bulky for indoor storage. The same large surface area that’s great for cooking a lot at once is also tricky to navigate in an average-sized sink during cleaning. It’s also hard to imagine the size of the kitchen that would have enough cabinet space to store this appliance, so you would likely have to find a special place to keep it (like on a covered patio). This machine drew a lot of power compared to the other ones we tested, so you’ll need to manage how many other appliances are plugged into the same breaker line.
Price at time of publish: $100.
Weight: 16 lbsDimensions: 21.5 x 17.5 inches; on its own the grill surface stands about 6 inches high; with the pedestal, it stands about 2.5 feet highTemperature range: Numbered settings, 1 to 5Cleaning: Grill plate and drip tray are removable and dishwasher-safeSerious Eats / Taylor Murray
Ninja AG301 Foodi 5-in-1 Indoor Grill: This machine was great—as an air fryer. While it claims to be an all-in-one model, we felt that the way it cooked on the “grill” setting was more like an air fryer than a grill, and it just didn’t provide good grill marks.GreenPan Premiere XL Smoke-Less Open Grill & Griddle: Heavy and bulky in a way that didn’t translate to better power or distinct grill marks. We would also like to see more smoke prevention.Elite Gourmet EMG1100 Electric Indoor Nonstick Grill: This machine had a lot of power for its small size but the lid and tiny grease drip hole did little to prevent smoke.Chefman Electric Smokeless Indoor Grill: The touchscreen panel gave us trouble out of the box, which doesn’t bode well for long-term usability.
How do you clean an indoor grill?
Depending on the grill and what item was cooked on it, cleaning an indoor grill can be a very simple affair. During our testing, we found that a simple wipe with a wet cloth or paper towel was enough to clean the grates. Tough, stuck-on bits needed a bit of a scrub with soapy water. Most indoor grills have a removable grill grate that allows for easy transport to the kitchen sink, and some have grill grates that are dishwasher-safe.
Are indoor grills actually smokeless?
“Smokeless” is a relative term when it comes to indoor grills. While indoor grills are designed to produce significantly less smoke than traditional outdoor grills, it’s not accurate to say they are completely smokeless. However, many modern models do an impressive job of minimizing smoke, making them suitable for indoor cooking without setting off smoke alarms.
Do indoor grills create grill marks?
Yes, many indoor grills can create grill marks on your food, similar to those you’d see get from outdoor grilling. The appearance of grill marks largely depends on the design of the grill’s cooking surface, the temperature, and how long the food stays in contact with the grill. Other than the visual look of the grill marks, charcoal grills may impart more char along with a smoky flavor. An indoor grill cannot replicate this exact effect.
Can you heat an indoor grill over high heat?
While no indoor grill can exactly replicate the results you can expect from a charcoal or propane grill, many of the grills we tested had high-temperature settings, which produced fantastic results for those who like their food to have a bit of that charred flavor.
Are indoor grills healthier?
Indoor grills can offer some health benefits when compared to other cooking methods, particularly traditional outdoor grilling. However, the term “healthier” can be subjective and depends on what specific health concerns you have. Many indoor grills are designed with slanted grates or drip trays that allow excess fat to run off the meat as it cooks. Many are coated in a nonstick coating, which doesn’t require as much fat to cook as, say, a stainless steel skillet.
Why We’re the Experts
Taylor Murray has been working in food and food media for over 10 years, including in award-winning restaurants. She has tested numerous items for Serious Eats, including vacuum sealers, cookware sets, carving knives, and lunch boxes. We tested eight indoor grills by grilling onions, chicken, and steak, to examine if they were really smoke-free, and if they got a nice char on the food.