For a lot of people, grill pans can be a touchy subject. Putting them next to a real-deal, outdoor grill is almost an unfair comparison, but it's still an important one to make. Depending on what you're cooking and your desired end product, investing in a grill pan might either be a key addition to your kitchen or a waste of space and money. Understanding what this kitchen pan is best for is ultimately the determining factor in whether or not you should opt for one.
There are few things in this life that feel more empowering than assuming a power stance in front of a fully lit outdoor grill while your tender meats and crunchy veggies succumb to the warmth of the burning flames. Unfortunately for me, I will not have the opportunity to bask in this unbridled joy because I don’t own a grill, and asking a friend to use their grill would probably entail having to share my grilled food with them... which is something I do not want to do, either.
This feeling of disappointment led me to wonder if perhaps it was worth my while to invest in a grill pan as a compromise to not having access to outdoor grilling. This proposition of mine was met with mixed feelings after consulting some of the test kitchen professionals, as some were super hot (pun intended) on the perks of a grill pan, while others saw no point to this kitchen tool. If you’re on the fence about adding one of these cast-iron babies to your collection of stovetop cookware, consider what you actually want out of this pan before you make the purchase.
Grill Pan Pros
The main pro of the grill pan is its sheer convenience, according to test kitchen developer Robin Bashinsky. You don’t have to venture outside, fire up the grill, wait for it to reach a high temperature, and then scrub it down afterwards. Simply turn the knob on your stove and get your pan to a ripping hot temperature (which happens fairly quickly), thus allowing you to achieve a crispy sear and signature grilled char on your food.
Sure, it may seem like you could do this with a regular cast-iron skillet, but using a regular cast iron skillet means you need to use oil—which means you aren't going to be able to get it quite as screaming hot as you would a grill pan (we’re talking smoke points, people #SCIENCE), which only requires a misting of cooking spray.
Which brings us to another pro... a grill pan is naturally a nonstick pan of sorts. Given the structure of the pan (those grates that give your food those pretty grill marks), there's not a whole lot of surface area for the food to stick to. Say goodbye to those sore biceps from scraping down your charcoal-ridden grill after steak night. Plus, this allows you to "grill" with less added cooking fat. Not to mention, it's also a major pro for anyone who tends to fumble a bit when it comes to flipping delicate items (like fish) on an outdoor grill. There’s nothing more heartbreaking than watching your food slide between the grill grates into the flaming hot abyss.
The final pro of the grill pan is ~aesthetic.~ While this might be extremely important to some, it can be just as irrelevant to the next person. Either way, achieving those Insta-worthy sear-marks on your food is much easier to control on a grill pan as opposed to an outdoor grill, according to Mark Driskill, test kitchen manager. Yes, good-looking food doesn’t necessarily taste good, we understand, but in the name of a “like,” we support you going to whatever means that are necessary.
Related: How to Clean a Grill
Grill Pan Cons
This goes without saying, but you’re inside! One of the greatest joys of grilling is the primal feeling of being one with nature in the great outdoors, and taking this party inside is almost a crime. So huge a crime, that you might even need to get the fire department involved (JK, but not really). A grill pan (or any cast-iron situation on a hot ass stove) is a really easy way to smoke out your whole kitchen. If you don’t have a great ventilation hood, opening a door and some windows could save you from the ear-shattering screech of your smoke alarm.
Another somewhat intuitive con of the grill pan is that, it’s a pan. It’s far from your mighty Weber Grill that can house a party-sized serving of just about anything. It’s on the petite side, so it can only grill so many goodies at a time.
The Biggest Deciding Grill Pan Pro/Con
So this one is your call as to whether or not this is a plus or a drawback, but using a grill pan will not add that signature smoky flavor that outdoor grilling provides. For some people (depending on taste and what they’re cooking), they might not want to have a smoky-flavored piece of meat, but others beg to differ. If you’re a person who likes that crisp charred texture and the caramelized depth that accompanies it, but could do without the overly smoky taste, a grill pan would be a smart investment.
Sound like a fit for your grilling wants and needs in this life? Lodge is the way to go for your grill pan (and all cast-iron) needs, and you can get your hands on one right here.
If what you ultimately want out of your grilling experience is a smoky-flavored product, then you are doing nothing but wasting your time with a grill pan, as that is not a flavor experience that it is going to provide. That said, even if you do love a smoky grilled burger, do you feel the same way about fish? If you like a little smokiness here, but find it sort of overpowering there, it may be worth having both an outdoor grill and a grill pan in your cooking arsenal.