- The Washington Times - Monday, March 7, 2005

You might be wondering why a guy who has wandered around the world in search of — and staked his reputation on — outdoor global grilling and barbecue would decide to bring the fire inside and write a book on indoor grilling.

The short answer is because my publisher asked me to. But once I got to thinking, I realized that there are millions of Americans who live in condominiums or apartments where outdoor grilling is impractical, impossible or illegal. Also, in the dead of winter in many parts of the country, you have to be pretty dedicated to shovel a path through the snow to your backyard grill.

Perhaps a bit more philosophically, people have been grilling indoors almost since the dawn of humanity: in fire pits in the mouths of Neolithic caves, on indoor hearths known as “foci” among the ancient Romans and in the manorial fireplaces of medieval castles.

Americans routinely cooked in fireplaces in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. To see and maybe even partake of traditional hearth cookery, we can visit Old Sturbridge Village in Sturbridge, Mass., or the historic inn called Randall’s Ordinary in North Stonington, Conn.

On the other side of the Atlantic, Italians still do a great deal of indoor grilling. Consider the fogolar, a raised free-standing hearth found in the middle of restaurant dining rooms and private homes in Friuli, in northeastern Italy. In the raised fireplaces of Tuscany, bruschetta — bread toasted over the embers, rubbed with garlic and drizzled with olive oil — is prepared, as is bistecca alla fiorentina, a wood-grilled, olive-oil-basted T-bone steak.

Which brings us to the first of seven types of indoor grills: the fireplace. Yes, you can grill in the fireplace. All you need is a bed of glowing embers and a gridiron. The latter, sometimes called a Tuscan grill, is a cast-iron or steel grate with legs or a supporting rack that is set up 4 to 6 inches above the coals. Two sources for Tuscan grills are www.surlatable.com and www.spitjack.com.

Fireplace grilling most closely resembles grilling on an outdoor charcoal or wood-burning grill. If you’re skeptical about indoor grilling and are lucky enough to have a fireplace, this is a great place to start.

If fireplace cookery is analogous to grilling over charcoal, the built-in grill, sometimes called a stovetop grill, most closely resembles a gas grill. Built right into your stove, the system consists of a gas or electric heat source, a heat diffuser (metal baffles or lava stones) and a metal cooking grate.

Good ones work exactly like your outdoor gas grill. Poorly designed ones put out uneven or insufficient heat. Unfortunately, the only way to know which is best is to go to an appliance store or cooking school and ask to see one in action.

While you’re at it, make sure it’s easy to clean. Time-consuming cleanup is the biggest drawback to this type of grill. Many big-name companies make grills in this category, including Jenn-Air, Thermador, Viking and Wolf.

A free-standing grill stands on your countertop. Or, for entertaining, you can set it up right in the center of your table. All models are electric. Some function like inverted broilers; others have the heating element built into the grate. This is my least favorite indoor grill because most models are notoriously underpowered.

The grill pan does a great job of laying on grill marks even if, technically, it’s more a frying pan than a grill. The raised ridges in the bottom of the pan act just like the hot bars of a grill grate. Grill pans have the dual advantage of taking up very little space (good for small kitchens) and producing those deep and tack-sharp grill marks.

My favorites are made of cast iron with high, sharp grill ridges. Two good manufacturers are Lodge and Le Creuset.

Provided you season, clean and regularly oil them, they just get better with use.

The most popular indoor grill, to judge by sales of the George Foreman, is the contact grill. It resembles an electric waffle iron with heated ridged plates on the top and bottom. Contact grills are quick and easy to use and don’t take up much space, and because they cook from both top and bottom, you don’t need to turn the food.

This is particularly handy when cooking delicate items such as fish. I don’t consider this real grilling per se, but the better models do lay on a handsome crosshatch of grill marks. If possible, try to choose a high-wattage model with a temperature control. I like the Panini Uno by Villaware. Despite the “panini” name, it’s good for much more than sandwiches.

This brings us to two cooking devices that aren’t really grills but echo two functions of good outdoor grills: spit-roasting and smoking. If you’ve seen pitchman Ron Popeil on television’s QVC, you’re familiar with the Showtime Rotisserie and BBQ Oven.

I confess I was skeptical about this machine before I actually used one, but the fact is that it does a respectable job of spit-roasting. I’ve used it to rotisserie all sorts of things: the predictable chicken and roasts, plus a 5-pound garlic-studded tuna, bratwurst, onions, corn and even artichokes.

By the way, if you have a fireplace, there’s a cool hearth rotisserie called the Spit Jack (www.spitjack.com). One model winds up; one plugs in; and both turn out spit-roasted duck, leg of lamb and other meats blissfully scented with wood smoke.

Speaking of smoke, you can even smoke indoors, using a stovetop smoker such as the popular Camerons. The device is simple enough: It’s a rectangular metal box with a drip pan, wire rack and sliding metal lid. Just add hardwood sawdust and put it on the stove. In 20 minutes or so, you’ll have terrific smoked salmon, shrimp or even baby back ribs.

To smoke larger items such as turkeys or beer-can chicken (chicken cooked on an upright beer can), tent the smoker with foil and do half an hour of smoking, then remove the foil and transfer the smoker bottom and food to the oven, where you finish cooking it by conventional roasting.

So, you can see, there’s a lot more to indoor grilling than first meets the eye.

Among the issues in converting outdoor grilling to an indoor experience is the need to develop new techniques and flavorings, such as liquid-smoke basting mixture for brushing on chicken breasts to replicate the smoke flavor from wood chips or chunks outdoors. (Don’t worry: Liquid smoke is an all-natural product used by many of the nation’s top pit masters.)

More technically speaking, each type of indoor grill performs slightly differently, so in developing the recipes, I had to test each a half-dozen times to come up with methods and cooking amounts for each type of grill.

I have to admit that, for me, there’s something about the eye-stinging aroma of freshly lit charcoal, the whoosh of flame, the sizzle of meat hitting a hot grill. You simply can’t duplicate these indoors, although grilling in a fireplace comes close.

Will indoor grilling ever replace the thrill of outdoor grilling? Not exactly, but, armed with the right equipment, you can make some pretty terrific food, including the recipe that follows.

Cyprus souvlaki(Pork kebabs marinated with cinnamon, mint and wine)

You’ll need metal or bamboo skewers for this recipe, which was adapted from my book “Raichlen’s Indoor Grilling” (Workman). Everyone loves shish kebab.

Here’s the Cypriot version, featuring pork, not the usual lamb, perfumed with cinnamon, mint and red wine. It can be cooked on almost any sort of indoor grill, from a built-in to a grill pan to a panini machine.

The secret to great souvlaki is to use meat that’s not too lean — in this case, pork shoulder — rather than leaner pork loin or tenderloin. You can also make this souvlaki with beef, lamb or chicken.

1 pounds boneless pork shoulder (somewhat more if shoulder contains bone)

1 teaspoons coarse salt (kosher or sea)

teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 bunches fresh mint, washed and stemmed, 1 of those bunches coarsely chopped

4 cinnamon sticks

1 cup dry red wine

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

4 pitas, optional

Greek salad, optional

Cut pork into 1-inch cubes, leaving a little of the fat on. Place the pork in a large, nonreactive bowl. Sprinkle the salt and pepper to taste over the meat, tossing it to coat all sides well. Stir in the chopped mint, followed by the cinnamon sticks, wine and olive oil. Let the pork marinate in the refrigerator, covered, 3 to 4 hours. You can also marinate the pork in a resealable plastic bag.

Drain pork well and discard the marinade. Thread pork onto skewers, placing a whole mint leaf between each piece of meat.

Cook kebabs according to the instructions that follow for the grill types, until nicely browned and just cooked through. To test for doneness, squeeze a piece of meat between your thumb and forefinger; it should feel firm.

Transfer kebabs to a platter or plates and serve with the pitas and a Greek-style salad, if desired. If you have used metal skewers, warn everyone to take the kebabs off the skewers before eating, as they will be very hot. Makes 4 servings.

If you have a:

Contact grill: Preheat grill; if your contact grill has a temperature control, preheat the grill to high. Place the drip pan under the front of the grill. When ready to cook, lightly oil the grill surface. Place kebabs on the hot grill, then close the lid. The kebabs will be done after cooking 4 to 6 minutes. Give each kebab a quarter turn after 2 minutes so that all sides are exposed to the heat.

Grill pan: Place grill pan on the stove; preheat the grill pan until a drop of water will skitter in the pan. When ready to cook, lightly oil the ridges of the pan. Place the kebabs in the hot grill pan. They will be done after cooking 2 to 3 minutes per side (8 to 12 minutes in all).

Built-in grill: Preheat the grill to high. If it does not have a nonstick surface, brush and oil the grill grate. Arrange the kebabs on the hot grill so that the exposed ends of the skewers extend off the grate. The kebabs will be done after cooking 2 to 3 minutes per side (8 to 12 minutes in all).

Free-standing grill: Preheat grill to high; there’s no need to oil the grate. Place kebabs on the hot grill. They will be done after cooking 3 to 4 minutes per side (12 to 16 minutes in all).

Fireplace grill: Rake red-hot embers under the gridiron and preheat for 3 to 5 minutes; you want a hot fire. When ready to cook, brush and oil the gridiron. Place kebabs on hot grate. The kebabs will be done after cooking 2 to 3 minutes per side (8 to 12 minutes in all).

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