Indoor BBQS - Not as Crazy as you Think
When you consider the weather in the UK, the question of barbecuing indoors is a pretty obvious one. Either you don't trust the rain to hold off long enough to even start the lighting procedure or, worse, it's started pouring down part way through and now you need a 'plan B' for your soggy chef's apron and half-cooked chops. Well, the good news is that anything that you would cook on your outdoor barbecue, can be cooked indoors. It won't be exactly the same and it certainly won't feel the same, but all is far from lost.
First of all, the obvious point. You cannot move your outdoor barbecue into the kitchen (or even the garage) and start striking matches. It's a real fire risk and both charcoal and gas barbecues give off carbon monoxide which outside isn't a problem and you don't even notice it; inside, in an enclosed space, you're asking for trouble.
What you need is a grill that is designed for use indoors and there are two basic types. There's the open grill, which is basically a plug-in hot plate (known in Spain as a plancha, virtually every kitchen has one) onto which you place your food and treat it just like a barbecue; except the temperature is easier to control. Some plates are smooth, some are ridged; the ridged ones leave the charred stripes on the steaks and burgers and can help fool the eye that you're eating something cooked outside. The other option is a contact grill which has lid that is basically a second hotplate and when closed cooks the food top and bottom at the same time; you can have stripe-making ridges on these too and without the need to turn the food they do have shorter cooking times. The most famous contact grills are those endorsed by a certain ex-heavyweight boxer which claim to be better for you because the fat released by cooking drains away; you'll probably have seen them in most supermarkets. One big advantage with both types of indoor grill is consistency; the heat is constant wherever you place the food, there are no hot spots or cool spots or flare-ups.
That said, there are a couple of myths about these indoor machines. The first is that they are healthier. People who worry about barbecue food tend to talk about the carcinogens in burnt fat and meat. Well, the shocking news is that people can also burn their food indoors. Really, it's about the chef, not the grill. The other misunderstanding is that indoor grills are healthier from a fat content point of view. The general view is that grilling is better for you than frying and while not every survey or study bears that out, the point here is that whether it's outside on a barbecue or inside on a plancha, you're still grilling the food. There's really not that much difference.
Just like outside, you have to pay attention to what you're doing. If you wander off then your food is going to burn. One good thing about indoors is that you'll notice quicker; the chances are that your kitchen smoke alarm will tell you. Outdoors, any smoke just floats away and the absent-minded chef probably doesn't notice until the burgers are indistinguishable from the briquettes. A good way to cut down on the smoke indoors is to take off any excess fat from the meat (it's the burning fat that gives the most smoke) which has the side benefit of making that steak a little better for you.
As for what to cook, you can cook anything that you'd normally do outside: burgers, sausages, steaks, kebabs, you name it. One thing to watch out for is that the drainage on an indoor grill isn't quite the same as a barbecue; if you've done a lot of marinating you might want to remove any excess from the food before slapping it on the grill otherwise it's just going to burn on to the hot surface. Likewise, when basting food on the indoor grill, go sparingly; don't slap it on with a four-inch brush.
In the end, whether you think indoor barbecuing is even possible probably depends on what you like about barbecues. If, for you it's all about the smoky flavour of the food, smell of the charcoal, the way your appetite is always sharper when you eat outdoors, then sadly, you're not going to have that in your kitchen. You can buy smoky barbecue sauce and starve yourself beforehand but it's just not going to be quite the same. However if you like the social aspect of barbecues, getting together with a group of friends to talk and eat good food (yes, the food will still be good) and drink a cold beer or two then you can still have that.
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