Meat for all seasons: What's at 'steak' on indoor grills

George Foreman may have given all his sons the same name, but his grills are a different matter. There's the Big George, the Double Champion, and the lean machine that stoked the coals of indoor barbecues - the original George Foreman Grill.

For apartment dwellers who don't have room to flip burgers on their narrow patios, and for those who refuse to shiver outside in Februaryas they sear chicken, indoor grills are a boon, offering new - and warmer - chances for low-fat, low-stress meals.

Sam Grawe, an associate editor at the San Francisco-based "Dwell" magazine, compared five indoor grills to see which was best. Prices of the tested grills rangedfrom $29.99 (the original George Foreman) to $1,670 (Alpes Electric Barbecue). But the grill guru found you don't need bells and whistles - or the Alpes' motorized kebab skewers - to cookluscious, juicy burgers that will make lettuce wilt in anticipation.

Most of today's indoor barbecues, says Mr. Grawe, work in similar ways, with cooking plates or coils to warm the grills.

The George Foreman, in contrast, operates like a waffle iron, squeezing food between two grill plates to cook it quickly, and letting fat slide off in ridges, pulled by the gravity of the slanted design.

The Delonghi Alfredo Healthy Grill ($79.99) has coils built into the grill top, so the actual cooking surface self-heats; and the Le Creuset 12-inch Skillet Grill ($130) - a colorful glorified fryingpan with no cords or switches - sits atop your stove, with a ridged bottom to give steak those all-important charbroil lines.

Grawe suggests consumers pay special attention to how grills disassemble: The Delonghi plastic bottom pops into the dishwasher for easy cleaning, while the Krups Canyon Deluxe Smokeless Indoor Grill ($125) tends to char its drippings, making the tray tough to clean.

One concern with indoor grills is their tendency to smoke, as fat seeps out of meat and sizzles on hot coils below. "Anything with a lot of fat smokes a lot," explains Grawe. And the smoke intensifies when you scoot or flip the food, sending down streams of grease. Krups' "smokeless" grill came with meat-specific settings, but besmirched its name when it sent crackling plumes toward the ceiling.

George Foreman grills bill themselves as "mean, lean fat-burning machines," with patented grease-sucking grooves. But the lack of an on/off switch means you have to plug in and unplug the apparatus to operate it. That, along with shoddy construction, and the closed-lid design that flattens meat and makes cheeseburgers messy, melty prospects, kept the Foreman low on Grawe's list.

Le Creuset's skillet offers less fat reduction - because grease can't drip to a plate below - but lets you grill meat in its own sauce. It also stores easily, amid your otherpots and pans.

The clear winner, Grawe says, was the Delonghi, which cooked excellent hamburgers with nary a waft of smoke - and is affordable to boot. The Alpes Electric Barbecue, though lavish with its permanent stoveside installation and lava rocks, seemed more than amateurs would need.

To be sure, this is not your parents' - or your backyard - barbecue. "One thing you're lacking to an extent is that charbroiled taste," cautions Grawe. But other benefits are there: less fat, sealed-in flavor, and a sense of bringing the outdoors in.

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