Grilling a steak outdoors often isn't an option, either because of the weather or -- if you're an apartment dweller -- because there's simply no place to set up a grill. A compact indoor grill, with its electric heating elements, is sometimes the most convenient alternative. Indoor grills don't provide the blast of intense heat you can generate with an outdoor grill, but they can still turn out a tasty steak.
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Electric grills vary widely in design, with some incorporating the heating element right into the grill, and others placing the element a few inches below the surface. Separate heating elements generate more smoke, which adds flavor to your steak but poses a challenge for ventilation. A few upscale grills offer a special high-temperature setting for searing meats, but they’re the exception. Most indoor grills, especially those at lower price points, generate modest heat at best. For those that offer adjustable temperatures, the highest temperature setting is usually modest by grilling standards, so the cook time will vary based on which model you have.
Prepare your steaks ahead of time, seasoning them and trimming any excess fat from around the edge. Slashing the fat in a few places can help prevent thin steaks from curling as they cook, making it easier to achieve a consistent degree of doneness.
Insert the drip tray -- if removable -- into the grill, and preheat the grill according to the manufacturer's instructions. If your model has variable heat settings, choose the highest or searing setting. Preheat the grill for 15 minutes, or until its own heat indicator signals that the grill is ready for use.
Spray or brush your steak lightly with oil to help prevent sticking, and lay it gently on the hot grill. Lay your steaks on the preheated grill. Space them generously, as each steak absorbs much of the grill's heat. If they're too close together, they won’t brown properly.
Grill your steak on the first side until it's well-browned by the hot grate, then turn it and brown the second side. The time required for browning will vary widely, depending on your grill's power, so lift one edge of the steak periodically with your tongs to judge its color.
Cook thin steaks of 1/2 inch to 3/4 inch thick on the high-temperature or sear setting for the duration of their grilling time, turning them frequently for approximately until they reach your desired degree of doneness. Steaks 1 inch or thicker should be thoroughly seared on each side then cooked at a lower heat until they're done. Either reduce your grill's temperature to 350 degrees Fahrenheit, or -- if it's a deluxe model with separate heating elements on each side -- set up one side at high heat and the other side at moderate heat.
Test your steak by inserting an instant-read thermometer horizontally into a thick section of muscle. A rare steak should read 120 to 125 F, a medium-rare steak should read 125 to 130 F and a medium steak should read 130 to 135 F. Thin steaks can be difficult to measure properly with an instant-read thermometer, so judge by eye or, if necessary, cut into one in an unobtrusive spot to check for doneness.
• Thin, supermarket-cut steaks of 1/2 inch to 3/4 inch cook well on grills with a high-temperature searing function, but should be avoided if your grill is the low-temperature variety. It's difficult to brown them adequately without cooking them to well done.
• To improve the browning effect of your electric grill, rotate the steaks in place, like the hands of a watch, as they cook. Unlike a real grill, the only browning comes from the hot grate itself, and spinning the steak brings more of its surface into contact with the bars.
• If your grill doesn't have a removable drip tray, you might be able to speed cleanup by lining it with heavy-duty aluminum foil. Some manufacturers explicitly advise against this, so check your owner's manual to be sure it's appropriate for your grill.