How Do Electric Grills Work

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Updated June 27, 2022

The four most common types available — charcoal grills, gas, electric, and infrared — all have significant differences in basic functionality, so if you’re wondering how do electric grills work, there are some things you need to understand in order to find the best grill for your needs.

KEY TAKEAWAYS:

  • Electric grills cook food similar to gas grills, but without the intense direct heat of open flames.
  • Electric grills are portable, with most being small enough to place on a table, countertop, or other food prep surface.
  • Electric grills use a heating element either embedded in the cooking surface or below it, making it the safest to use indoors, unlike gas and charcoal models.

Electric models such as the George Foreman grill have advantages over other types when it comes to portability, cost, and versatility, but depending on what you want out of your grilling experience, they’ve got some disadvantages as well. While you’re looking at how they work, you might want to also look at how grills create a spark. It might also help you make the best choice to take a look at how grills are measured.

Insider Tip

Electric grills can be used outdoors and indoors and are a great option if you want a grill option year-round.

How Do Electric Grills Work?

Unlike charcoal and gas grills, which depend on an open flame system, infrared and electric grills use an internal heating element as a heat source to cook food. The basic functionality of an electric grill gives it some advantages over any other type of grill, as well as some drawbacks.

Indirect Heat

Electric grills are plug-in appliances that use standard AC power to heat a dedicated heating element, though some models use infrared heat as well. This heating element is usually embedded within the cooking surface itself, which supplies even, consistent heat, usually through a non-stick surface. Sometimes, the heating element is installed underneath the cooking surface, which often lowers the maximum heat available but is safer for both food and the user.

Size

In part, because their heating element is so discrete (as well as its fuel or power source), electric grills tend to be compact, making them easy to place on a countertop, table, or other food prep work surface. This also makes them easier to clean and store when not in use, meaning they don’t become just another piece of outdoor or indoor furniture to make space for.

Portability and Versatility

A benefit of their small size, compact design, and safer operation is that electric grills can be used both as indoor grills and outdoor grills, or even as tabletop models. This means grilling isn’t seasonally restricted and allows for making meals in the kitchen that combine grilling and other cooking methods easily. Their small size and lack of an external fuel source also make them highly portable, so you can easily pack most electric grills and take them anywhere.

Flavor

For the smoky flavor of classic BBQ, charcoal is the only real option, but the complete lack of a flame makes electric grills even less adept at creating some grilled items than even gas grills. Their lower maximum heat also means they’re not a great option for some tougher cuts of meat which require intense heat with less cooking time to cook evenly.

Warning

Electric grills aren’t capable of the high grilling temperatures of charcoal, gas, and infrared grills, making them less suited to cooking tougher cuts of meat that require intense heat.

F.A.Q.S

Are electric grills safe?

Yes, the small size, lack of an open flame, precise temperature control, and lower maximum heat makes an electric barbecue the safest grill type. Though any cooking appliance with exposed cooking surfaces can be dangerous, electric grills are safe enough to use indoors, and definitely safer than a portable gas grill.


Can electric grills be left outside?

It’s generally not advisable to leave electric grills outside. Electric grills have multiple components that are vulnerable to water damage and other environmental hazards. While a charcoal or even a covered gas grill may be fine in the rain, even a covered electric grill could easily be ruined.


Will an electric grill create smoke?

Charcoal grills are generally the only kind that produces a lot of smoke and are the best choice for authentic grill flavor. Though other grill types can produce some, electric grills generally produce none because of their lack of open flame and lower maximum temperatures.


STAT: Electric grills generally produce 80% or less as much smoke as other grill types. (source)

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