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Stovetop Cast Iron Grills - Mark, sear meat just like on a cookout

Miss the taste of grilled goodies when it's too cold to grill outside?

Or worse yet, do you live in an apartment with no space for an outside grill at all?

With the soggiest weeks of winter approaching, it's worth it to consider a good, heavy iron or anodized aluminum grill pan for stovetop use.

There are many types to choose from: a plain cast iron model is the least expensive, but must be seasoned and cared for like any other cast iron. A pre-seasoned cast iron pan is more expensive but convenient; it still must be cleaned gently, dried immediately and oiled each time you use it.

You can also find enameled cast iron, which is somewhat nonstick, seasons with use, and eventually becomes totally nonstick but it's pricey.

Finally, the folks at Cook's Illustrated recommend aluminum, but I've had a shiny aluminum grill pan that warped over high heat and was quite "sticky." Heavy anodized aluminum works better. Grill pans with nonstick coatings such as Teflon are not recommended, as the whole point of a grill pan is high-heat cooking, and nonstick coatings don't hold up under high heat.

I would recommend a pre-seasoned or enameled cast iron pan, or one of heavy anodized aluminum.

Grilling on metal is not exactly like an outdoor grill, and not exactly like searing in a flat skillet either, but somewhere in between. You get the crosshatch marks and a nice charred flavor, but not the smoke of wood or charcoal. If you want a smoky flavor, a marinade or rub made with smoked paprika or smoked salt can add it.

A superhot grill pan will smoke on its own, however, especially with foods that release a good bit of fat, such as salmon. You'll want to turn on your exhaust fan and remember that thick metal holds heat, so turning off the heat under the grill doesn't lower the temperature of the cooking surface for a long time.

Many of the rules for grilling on cast iron are the same as those for grilling over charcoal or gas.

1. Bring the food to room temperature before cooking it. Refrigerator-cold meat will not cook evenly on any type of grill.

2. Let the grill pan preheat adequately. You shouldn't use super-high heat, but do give the pan time to get very hot. Letting it set over medium heat for about five minutes should give you the heat you want. A drop of water should "skitter" over the surface and evaporate immediately when the pan is hot enough.

3. Lightly oil the food or grill surface before placing the food on it. To lightly oil, wipe it on with a clean towel. Never pour oil into an iron grill pan. You're not frying here.

4. After placing the food into the pan, leave it alone! After a minute or so, check to see if it can be moved. If so, you can turn it clockwise a quarter turn to get hatchmarks, but only flip it over once.

5. Never puncture the meat with a fork of any kind. Use tongs to move and turn it when necessary.

6. A very thick piece of meat or fish can be seared on the pan and then finished in a low oven so it doesn't get overly-charred on the surface before the center is cooked. This is one disadvantage to a grill pan versus an outdoor grill there is no "cool corner" to place the food in and no lid to close for those last gentle moments.

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