How to Grill When You Don't Have a Grill

Grilling is one of those summertime staples, like watermelon and potato salad. But if you live in a city where outdoor space is hard to come by, it's also not something that's all that easy to do. In New York City, you can bring your little charcoal grate to the park, or claim one of the communal grills available there, or, if you're very lucky, fire up something on your roof, but for many people, grilling outdoors is just not easy to do. In my years here, I have spent a lot of time attempting to improvise a grilling situation with little luck—mostly, whenever there's a chance to grill on vacation, I jump at it—and eventually conceded that burning down my apartment is probably not worth giving my chicken that right-off-the-grill flavor.

But if you, like me, can't grill outdoors for whatever reason, you don't need to despair. There are a few things you can do to replicate, or at least gesture at, that classic summer hot-off-the-grill taste. 

Cooking dinner shouldn't be complicated

Get a Good Grill Pan

Likely you already know this trick if you live in an apartment without grilling capabilities, but a grill pan can really come in handy to replicate those sear marks and get some of that grilled taste into your steak. The one that I have in my apartment is this double-sided cast iron griddle. Does it quite fit my extremely stupid oven that came with my rental apartment? Nope. But does it get hot enough to get decent grill marks on stuff? It sure does! Cast iron has the advantage of retaining heat really well, so once you get it very hot, it's a great surface for searing.There are all kinds of other models, so pick what's right for you. But remember that for meat, you might need to trasfer the thing you're grilling from grill pan to another pan to finish it in the oven, so it's useful to have a grill pan that you can also put in the oven. 

A Culinary Torch Is Your Friend

Maybe you already have one of these knocking around from the time that you attempted to make creme brulée, or maybe you like making s'mores at home. Either way, for blackening food in a concentrated way, a kitchen torch is easier to control than your broiler, and it can help get the same pockets of charred flavor that you would on the grill, particularly when it comes to vegetables like peppers and corn. 


Add Some Smoky Spices

No, not every ingredient that's "smoked" tasted the same as something that's been near actual smoke, but including those in a marinade or rub will add to the flavor of whatever you're cooking. Try using smoked paprika, like in this Smoky Dry Rub, or cumin, as we do in these tacos. Chipotle peppers can add a smoky note to a salsa or a sauce. 

If You’re Really Serious, Make an Indoor Smoker

I've never actually done this, to be extremely clear, but you can actually make a smoker inside, bearing in mind that it's a good idea to disable your smoke detectors before you try anything like this. According to the New York Times Magazine, a wok filled with wood chips and covered with a grate and heavy foil can operate well as a smoker, which will defintiely make things taste more like an outdoor barbecue. Alternatively, you could also invest in a smoke gun, which will add cold smoke flavor to whatever you aim it at. Pizza? Why not! If you can't go outside to grill, bring the outside grilling to you. 

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