Over on my Grill Pan Tips page I wrote about not using your grill pan for fatty foods like hamburgers if you want to avoid splattering and smoky messes.  This doesn’t mean you can’t grill burgers indoors though, just that you might want to use a different tool.

A double contact electric grill, where the food is cooked by heating elements on the top and bottom, can do a decent job of grilling a burger indoors.  I can’t really make a recommendation as to which indoor grill would be the best as I haven’t used enough different ones.  What I have found is that while an electric grill can make an okay burger you really have to step up your grilling game if you want these burgers to stand out.  A burger cooked on an electric grill will not have the same depth of flavor that you get when your burgers bath in the smoke from juices vaporizing on smoldering charcoal.

I like to think of things in terms of equations:

  • (Good meat) + (Great grill) = Excellent Burger (When we cook outdoors)
  • (Good meat) + (Good grill) = Okay Burger (When we cook indoors)

As our indoor grill choices are limited and are unlikely to ever become great, it is pretty obvious that if we want to make excellent burgers indoors that we are going to have to improve the quality of the meat we are working with.

The easiest way to improve the quality of your hamburger meat is to buy a roast and either grind it yourself or have your butcher do it for you.  There is simply no comparison between freshly ground beef and ground beef that has been sitting in a plastic shrink wrap container for four days.  Any decent supermarket will be glad to grind a chuck roast for you and at most will charge an extra ten cents a pound for the service.  If you want to go even higher end, have them grind a brisket for you instead!  Obviously stay away from the leaner cuts like an eye of round or bottom round roast as burgers made from those would just dry out.

In addition to tasting fresher, meat that has just been ground is cleaner and safer then ground meat that has been sitting around.  Ground meat has a tremendous amount of surface area exposed to the atmosphere which means that bacteria can grow quite rapidly.  Pre-packaged ground beef should always be cooked to well done to insure food safety as bacteria has had a long time to multiply.  By contrast, freshly ground beef can be safely consumed at medium rare.  If you don’t like medium rare then at least try for medium, to benefit from the extra flavor and juiciness.

If you want to grill burgers indoors I suggest you use a double contact grill and compensate for the lack of grill flavor by grilling freshly ground meat to medium or medium rare.