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Cheap Indoor Electric Grills Buying Guide

George Foreman grills (and Salton, their distributor) dominate the indoor grill market, which is also populated by models produced by DeLonghi, Hamilton Beach, Cuisinart, Sunbeam, and Sanyo, among others. Prices range along a wide spectrum, starting at about $15 for a small sandwich/panini press and climbing to $150 or so for a high-end grill that might offer features like a nonstick cooking surface made of bronze, stainless steel components, variable heat, and the ability to prepare breakfast, lunch, or dinner on one small appliance; the Cuisinart Griddler GR-4 (starting at $115), for example, functions as an open grill and a double-sided contact grill, a panini press, and a griddle.

Cheap indoor electric grills may be a lot more basic than their fancier cousins but they produce foodstuffs that are no less appetizing.

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BBQ Grills and Hot Dogs
To help you decide which low-cost electric grill to fire up, we've prepared a rundown of features you want to have and an assessment of how budget models perform.

Electric Grills Type.

The vast majority of cheap indoor grills fall into one of two categories. Contact grills have two surfaces that close around and cook the food from both sides at once and often feature hinges that "float" to adjust to the thickness of whatever is being grilled. Open grills have a single cooking surface, which means the food must be manually flipped part way through the cooking process. Cheap contact grills include the George Foreman GRP4 Next Grilleration (starting at $50) and George Foreman GR10B Champ (starting at $20), and the Hamilton Beach 25219 (starting at $30). Sanyo makes several inexpensive open grills, including the HPS-SG3 (starting at $40), the HPS-SG2 (starting at $35), and the HPS-SG4 (starting at $50).

Each type of grill has its pluses and minuses. Contact grills tend to warm up faster than open grills -- approximately three to six minutes compared to 10 to 15 minutes with an open grill. Budget contact grills also cook faster and generally take up less counter and storage space than open grills. An open grill, however, produces clearer grill marks and does a better job cooking thicker fare (you know that 1-inch thick steak you've been eying at the butcher?), and some comparative electric grills reviews (at WSJ.com, for example) say open grills produce more of a seared flavor.

Some models do double-duty as both open and contact grill, but these tend to be more expensive and outside the Cheapism price range. Examples of combination grills include the Cuisinart Griddler GR-4 and the Breville XX800GRXL (starting at $170). The Biggest Loser AG-1300-BL (starting at $50) and Hamilton Beach 25325 Meal Maker Express (starting at $59) are two moderately-priced models that function as both an open and contact grill.

Indoor Grills Smoke Level.

Because this category of electric grills is designed for indoor use, potential users may be concerned about smoke. But not to worry. For the most part, smoke production is not an issue with cheap indoor grills. Contact grills should be (and usually are) completely smokeless, although open grills may produce a small amount of smoke. Putting water in the drip pan, as Sanyo instructs users of its HPS-SG3, eliminates almost all the smoke, according to users and experts. And despite some manufacturers' recommendations to lightly oil the surface of an open grill, consumers find that ignoring these instructions, especially when grilling fatty protein (like meat and poultry), keeps smoke to a minimum. For safety's sake, though, keep a fire extinguisher handy in the kitchen and place the grill near a vent or window.

Review continues below

Electric Grills Fat Reduction.

With public health alarms sounding about obesity and nutrition, electric grills hold obvious appeal. They easily outshine pan/stove-top cooking when it comes to separating food from fat and grease. All cheap electric grills have some sort of drainage system, which lets fats and oils drip into a tray or trough that can be removed for cleaning later. The Hamilton Beach 25219 and George Forman grill plates, for example, sit at a slight tilt to ensure your steak or burgers don't stew in their own grease as they cook; a consumer who eats a lot of bacon notes her appreciation on Amazon of this design feature on the George Foreman GRP4 Next Grilleration. Indeed, user reviews of almost every model we researched commented on the health benefits of grilling, with several consumers attributing significant weight loss to frequent use of their low-cost electric grills.

Inexpensive Indoor Electric Grills Cleaning.

BBQ mavens know full well the joys of cleaning the grill when the party's over. Grilling surfaces on indoor grills, on the other hand, are nonstick and easy to clean. Some models, including the Sanyo HPS-SG3 and George Foreman GRP4 Next Grilleration, feature removable grill plates that can be washed by hand or put in the dishwasher. Reviews on Epinions tout this particular feature of the Hamilton Beach 25325, and Eldergadget.com reviewers say the dishwasher-safe plates of the George Foreman GRP4 are senior-friendly. Many user reviews we read cite removable, dishwasher-safe grill plates as a key selling point, regardless of make or model, and owners of the GRP4 say this design element is a marked improvement over older George Foreman models that were hard to clean.

But all cheap indoor grills are not created equal, and some have plates that cannot be removed. This caused an obvious problem with earlier generations of electric grills - because you can't immerse an electric appliance in a sink of water - and put off many would-be owners who worried about sanitation. Advances in materials technology have overcome this obstacle, and today's nonstick surfaces can be wiped down with a spot of soap and damp cloth, sponge, or paper towel. Grill plates on the George Foreman GR10B Champ are permanent, but the unit comes with a special cleaning sponge; one cook suggests dedicating a toothbrush to this task. A handful of users, however, find cleanup tedious with the GR10B, with one noting on Epinions that grease tends to accumulate on the underside of the grill and requires some effort to remove. Complaints also abound about difficult clean up with the Black & Decker GR100 Family Size Griddle (starting at $30); users express irritation in reviews on Target and Epinions about food that burns and sticks and is hard to wash off, and grease that accumulates in the drainage channel and other nooks and crannies that is a challenge to remove. One Epinions reviewer says rubbing some olive oil onto the griddle before its maiden voyage has kept her GR100 free of burnt areas and stick-on mess.

Indicator Lights.

All electric grills need to preheat before you throw on that burger or veggie kebob. But putting your hand on the grill to determine if it's hot enough is never a good idea. Fortunately, most budget electric grills have a little light that lets you know it's in warm-up mode and then turns off (or changes color) when it's time to sizzle. The Sanyo HPS-SG3, Hamilton Beach 25219, and George Foreman GRP4 Next Grilleration all have an indicator light; one user post on Amazon says it's important to wait for the light to go out on the GRP4 or the top grill plate won't be as hot as the bottom. The mid-price Hamilton Beach 25325 has a timer that dings (too softly, say users) and automatically shuts off the grill when your food is done cooking.

Controls.

Indoor grills never get as hot as their outdoor cousins or even the broiler in your kitchen. The heat on electric grills may be as low as 200 degrees and max out at 400-450 degrees (broilers can hit about 600 degrees). Some budget electric grills let you control the temperature, sort of. The Sanyo HPS-SG3, for example, offers two temperature ranges -- 200-250 or 300-425 -- but numerous consumer reviewers complain on Amazon about the difficulty of finding just the right place on the dial for the temperature they want. A few budget electric grills reviews on Epinions and Associatedcontent.com say that the thermostat on the Sanyo HPS-SG3 is useless, although reviews on Walmart are a bit more enthusiastic about the temperature issue.

But such controls may be a superfluous feature. Given the relatively narrow range between high and low on most inexpensive electric grills, some expert reviewers say you'll probably want to cook at the highest setting regardless what you're preparing. The absence of temperature controls on the George Foreman GRP4 and GR10B and the Hamilton Beach 25219 - all small contact grills - doesn't seem to bother most consumers, as the subject surfaces only occasionally in their online reviews of cheap electric grills.

Do note, however, that most budget grills don't have an on/off switch; the appliance turns on when you plug it in and turns off when you pull the plug from the outlet. Again, in the interests of safety, always be sure to unplug the grill when you finish cooking.

Size.

Before you start shopping for an inexpensive indoor grill, ask and answer a few basic questions: Are you cooking for one, a family of six, or some number in between? What kind of foods will you be grilling? How much counter space is available? Reasonably-priced indoor electric grills come in a variety of sizes. Among the open grills, the Sanyo HPS-SG2 has 120 square inches of cooking surface and the HPS-SG3 features 200 square inches, which is two-thirds the size of a standard outdoor grill and can hold about 10 burgers. The George Foreman Champ GRB10 is one of the smallest contact grills, at 36 square inches, and is best suited for one person/one serving; the larger GRP4 Next Grilleration has 72 square inches of cooking surface, which users say is large enough for a big steak or three 4-ounce burgers.

by Maralyn Edid (Google+ Profile)

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