How to use a grill pan

An essential skill every serious griller should know is how to use a grill pan.  There are times that we just can’t fire up our outdoor grills.  Maybe the weather is nasty, you ran out of propane or you are living in an apartment where grills are not allowed.  Don’t let these obstacles prevent you from enjoying and perfecting the art of grilling!

Grill pans are under utilized in most kitchens because many cooks do not understand how to use them.  Initial attempts at using grill pans typically results in a smoke filled kitchen and food stuck to a gunk filled pan that is a pain in the neck to clean.  This article will take you through some of the most important steps towards getting the most out of your grill pan experience.

Start with a non-stick grill pan.  Life gets so much easier when you start with a good non-stick grill pan such as the Lodge Pro-Logic seasoned cast iron pan or the Simply Calphalon Non-Stick grill pans.  Many enameled grill pans are available but these typically will not become non-stick until they have been properly seasoned through many uses.  Greenpan makes enameled cast iron grill pans that are coated with a non-stick polymer and are sold through the Martha Stewart and Todd English cookware lines.  The Les Creuest enameled grill pans are not non-stick.  Make sure you know what you are getting!

Select food that is easy to grill.  This sounds simple but it is amazing how often we make life hard on ourselves.  Choose food that is sturdy and won’t fall apart if you have to give it a little tug to make it release from the grill; think pork chops not tilapia filets.  Portabella mushrooms, sliced zucchini and red bell peppers are excellent candidates for a grill pan.  A boneless skinless chicken breast that you have pounded and shaped to a uniform thickness will be much easier to work with than a bone-in chicken leg quarter.  A thin lean cut of beef like a flank steak will be much easier to grill than an inch thick fatty hamburger.  Life is hard enough; don’t feel obligated to make it harder.   

Prepare your food for success.  Avoid marinades based upon high fructose corn syrup and use ones based upon vinegar, soy sauce, hot sauce or lime juice instead.  Sugars will burn on a grill pan resulting in a smoke filled kitchen, bitter food and a nasty pan.  To get the best grill marks on your food make sure it is dry and has warmed to room temperature.  Remove food from marinades, wipe dry and lest rest on a counter for 30 minutes prior to grilling.

Keep your heat at Medium or below.  Many people make the mistake of thinking that since they are grilling they need to have really high temperatures.  It is the recommendation of every major manufacturer of grill pans to never turn your heat above medium.  Give your pan about five minutes to warm up over medium heat and it will be plenty hot enough to cook your food while leaving beautiful grill marks on the surface.  At no point should a grill pan ever be smoking hot.

In summary, start with a good non-stick grill pan and never turn your heat above Medium.  Choose food that is easy to grill, avoid sugary marinades and make sure the food is dry and warmed before grilling.  You will not get the exact same flavor as you do when grilling outdoors but you can still have a lot of fun while cooking delicious and beautiful food.