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By Cook's Illustrated Published October 2005

Indoor Grills

Published October 2005

How we tested

Thanks largely to George Foreman's Lean Mean Fat Reducing Grilling Machine, indoor electric grills have become common kitchen appliances. But the champ now has plenty of competition, so we brought seven models, all priced under $80, into the test kitchen for some culinary sparring. We grilled hamburgers, salmon, zucchini, grilled cheese sandwiches, and thick Cubano panini (roast pork, ham, and cheese on sub rolls). The following features separated the winners from the losers.

Fat drainage is one of the popular selling points for many indoor grills, but in our tests the removable reservoirs on four models never filled with much, if any, fat. The moats surrounding the other three grills never overflowed, even after two batches of hamburgers.

Removable grill plates are easy to clean, but we noticed a tradeoff in performance. The grills with removable plates had noticeable hot spots or a top plate that ran hotter than the bottom. The grills with fixed plates produced even heat across their grilling surfaces.

With both a top and bottom heat source, an indoor grill will take roughly half the time of conventional stovetop cooking. However, aside from the speed, hamburgers and salmon didn't gain anything other than some attractive grill marks. With a few extra minutes, a skillet could have done just as well and offers more possibilities (like deglazing the pan to make a sauce). On the other hand, indoor grills made shatteringly crisp sandwiches and panini.

The size of the cooking surfaces ranged from 62 square inches to 110 square inches. While the largest grill could accommodate five burgers or two large panini, the smaller grills could handle just two burgers or one panini at a time.

We used an infrared thermometer to measure the temperature of the cooking surfaces when fully preheated and found slight variations that didn't correlate with performance. A better gauge of performance was the width of the ridges (the portion of the cooking surface that actually touches the food) and the distance between those ridges. Models with wide, closely spaced ridges have nearly half their cooking surface in contact with the food. Narrow, widely spaced ridges meant that just a fraction of the cooking space was in contact with the food. This means less heat applied to the food, less browning, and sandwiches that are less crisp.

In the end, our testing revealed one clear winner if you like grilled sandwiches, but for burgers and fish we found a heavy pan is just as good.

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The Results

Winner
Recommended

Design Trifecta 360 Knife Block

Admittedly expensive, this handsome block certainly seemed to live up to its billing as “the last knife block you ever have to buy.” The heaviest model in our testing, this block was ultrastable, and its durable bamboo exterior was a breeze to clean. Well-placed medium-strength magnets made it easy to attach all our knives, and a rotating base gave us quick access to them. One tiny quibble: The blade of our 12-inch slicing knife stuck out a little.

$248.64*
Recommended

Schmidt Brothers Downtown Block

This roomy block completely sheathed our entire winning knife set using just one of its two sides—and quite securely, thanks to long, medium-strength magnet bars. Heavy, with a grippy base, this block was very stable. An acrylic guard made this model extra-safe but also made it a little trickier to insert knives and to clean; the wood block itself showed some minor cosmetic scratching during use.

$141.90*

Schmidt Brothers Midtown Block

This smaller version of the Downtown Block secured all our knives nicely, though the blade of the slicing knife stuck out a bit. With a base lined with grippy material, this block was very stable. An acrylic guard afforded extra protection against contact with blades but made it a little harder to insert knives and to clean; the wood itself got a little scratched during use.

$67.99*
Recommended with Reservations

Swissmar Bamboo Magnetic Knife Block

This small, scratch-resistant model had a stable, rubber-lined base and could hold all our knives, though the blade of the 12-inch slicing knife stuck out a bit. But inch-long gaps between its small magnets made coverage uneven and forced us to find the magnetic hot spots in order to secure the knives. Its acrylic guard made it safer to use but harder to insert knives and to clean.

$49.93*
Not Recommended

Messermeister Walnut Magnet Block

This handsome block was done in by its shape—a tippy, top-heavy quarter-circle that wasn’t tall or broad enough to keep the blades of three knives from poking out. It lacked a nonslip base, and its extra-strong magnets made it unnerving to attach or remove our heavy cleaver. Finally, it got a bit scratched after extensive use.

$129.95*

Epicurean Standing Knife Rack 12"

This magnetic block sheathed all our knives completely, though with a bit of crowding. But it was hard to insert each knife without hitting the block’s decorative slats on way down, and because the block was light and narrow, it wobbled when bumped. Worse, we couldn’t take it apart, so splatters that hit the interior were there to stay. Additionally, the outside stained easily, and when we wiped it down, the unit smelled like wet dog.

$99.95*

Kapoosh Rondelle Knife Block

This model stabilized knives with a mass of stiff, spaghetti-like bristles that shed and nicked easily after extensive use, covering our knives with plastic debris. While all our knives fit securely, several of the blades stuck out, making this unit feel less safe overall. Finally, though the bristles could be removed and cleaned in the dishwasher, their nooks and crannies made this block hard to wash by hand.

$24.99*

Kuhn Rikon Vision Knife Block, Clear

This plastic block required us to aim each knife into the folds of an accordion-pleated insert that was removable for easy cleaning but got nicked easily with repeated use. Because we could only insert the knives vertically, longer knife blades stuck out; a cleaver was too wide to fit. The lightest model in our lineup, this block was dangerously top-heavy when loaded with knives.

$35.88*