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Everything You Need to Pull off a Proper Indoor BBQ, According to Grillmasters

These expert-backed products help you take the barbecue inside and leave the smoke outside.

indoor grilling
Photo: F. Altamirano/Shutterstock; Illustration: Maitane Romagosa/Thrillist
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Summer is looking a lot different this year, and that’s especially true if you live in a city. Chances are your cramped apartment building doesn’t have an outdoor patio or grill. Or maybe you do have a sliver of outdoor space via your fire escape, but don’t you dare make a fire on the thing you’re supposed to use to get out if your food goes up in flames. There’s no need. 

Living somewhere that lacks proper outdoor space isn’t enough to keep summer food cravings at bay, though. In fact, with the arrival of warmer weather and social distancing keeping us from a lot of the “normal” summertime fun, we’re more ready than ever to sink our teeth into charcoal-charred ears of corn and seared smash burgers. 

Not content to miss out on all the deliciousness of cookout fare this summer, I talked to restaurant owners, cookbook authors, and other outdoor cooking pros about how I can recreate fiery grilled food inside my tiny Brooklyn apartment. Luckily, they happily shared creative ideas to make it work -- even in the smallest of spaces and with the shittiest of exhaust hoods. So open your windows and stock up on ingredients because here are all the different expert-approved ways you can “grill” inside this summer.

grill pan
Neoflam non-stick grill pan | Maitane Romagosa/Thrillist

Get your hands on a grill pan

Sometimes all it takes to make you feel like you’re eating a summertime feast are a few bold grill marks. Crispy char lines are basically a requirement for kabobs and make most any meat leaps and bounds better. Fortunately, that picture-perfect sear is pretty easy to recreate inside.

Elizabeth Karmel, a grilling expert, cookbook author, and the founding executive chef at Hill Country Barbecue in NYC, said a good grill pan will do the trick. These pans have raised ridges that mimic grill grates and come in cast iron, like this version from Staub, or nonstick. Karmel said she typically prefers to cook with cast iron for its heat-holding properties, but nonstick versions like this colorful one from Neoflam work wonders on chicken breast, fish, or other delicate food you want to give pristine grill marks.

Cameron's Stovetop Smoker
Cameron's stovetop smoker | Maitane Romagosa/Thrillist

Add some smoke with a (safe) indoor option

That smoky flavor you get from cooking on a hot grill or using an outdoor smoker is hard to recreate indoors. You can’t create too much billowing smoke without forcing your building to evacuate (or worse!), but there are indoor stovetop smokers that let you safely create just enough smoke to add some serious flavor your meat.
 
Karmel said she’s utilized this Cameron’s Stovetop Smoker for years. Each one comes with sample wood chips in hickory, alder, oak, and cherry, and as they heat up at the bottom of the pan, they create smoke that will waft up to flavor the meat sitting on a rack above. 

When she was tasked with teaching classic barbecue techniques to students at the Institute of Culinary Education, Karmel said this Cameron Smoker was the first thing she reached for. “The food absorbs just a kiss of smoke,” she said. “I've used this for all of my classes and if you're living some place that you can't go outside but you want to make barbecue, it's really a great option.”

Dash Sous Vide
Dash sous vide | Maitane Romagosa/Thrillist

Pull out the sous vide

If you’re not already a proud owner of this beloved kitchen gadget, prepare to be converted. With a sous vide, you’ll vacuum seal your steak, ribs, or other barbecue meat in a bag, place it in a pot of water, and use the device to heat up the water to a precise temperature, leaving the meat (or veggies!) super tender, juicy, and flavorful like no other method can. Oh, and by the way, this version from Dash also has a cooling function so you can make a giant bath to keep your beer, wine, and cocktails ice cold -- just like you would at a “regular” outdoor barbecue.

But don’t just trust me, take it from Meathead. He’s a true barbecue expert and the man behind the lauded and popular grilling website AmazingRibs. He also literally wrote the book on using sous vide for barbecue, Sous Vide Que Made Easy. In it, he details how the method will give you insanely tender meat. And while whatever you sous vide will like be pretty ugly when you take it out of the bag, he said if you finish it off with a hard sear on a ripping hot cast iron skillet, it’s “loaded with flavor” and mimics what you’d accomplish on your best grilling day.

Wright's Liquid Smoke
Wright's Liquid Smoke | Maitane Romagosa/Thrillist

Use liquid smoke or smoked spices

He may be an outdoor cooking loyalist, but Meathead also said there’s a quick and easy way to give your food smoky flavor without actually setting off your fire alarm. Liquid smoke is a little “cheat” that is made by condensing real smoke to get the flavor. He and the team over at AmazingRibs slightly prefer Wright’s Hickory Liquid Smoke, but Colgin also makes a good version and either can be a great substitute if you don’t have access to the outdoors.

You can use liquid smoke in marinades or baste it on throughout the cooking process, but just be sure not to douse your food with it. “You have to be careful because too much can be too much,” he said. “But if you work with it carefully, you can get an outdoor-like flavor with it.” Another way to add smoked flavor in a more subtle way is by adding some smoked paprika, garlic, salt, or other spices from your spice rack, he said.

Bonjour Chef's Tools Torch
Bonjour Chef's Tools Torch | Maitane Romagosa/Thrillist

Play with (a very, very small) fire

At his restaurant, Ox, in Portland, Oregon, Greg Denton and his wife Gabrielle lean into the Argentine style of outdoor cooking with a giant wood-fired grill. The James Beard award-winning chefs prefer to cook around the fire, hence the name of their excellent cookbook, but Denton said a cooking torch typically used for creme brulee could be a great indoor hack.

Leave your steak, chicken, or other meat to rest in a dutch oven and before closing the lid, use a professional cooking torch, like this one that’s currently 40% off, to light a small wood chip that you will leave inside to smolder with the meat. “You'd be amazed at how much smoke that would put into it,” Denton said. “And that will definitely make you feel like you just grilled at home because it has that real smoke flavor.”

Porter Road
Porter Road | Maitane Romagosa/Thrillist

Upgrade your meat selection

The hallmark of Argentine-style grilling is a large cut of meat grilled low and slow until it’s nearly cooked all the way through. So if you don’t have access to an actual flame, the style of grilling that the Dentons favor at Ox is perfect for you.

Denton recommends using an off-cut or something you wouldn’t typically grab at the grocery store. Check out Porter Road, an online butcher that delivers exceptionally high-quality meat (and a variety of it), for cuts like blade steak, lamb shoulder chops, and others that may be new to you. Then you can give it that dark exterior on the stovetop before cooking it at a low temperature in the oven (or vice versa), and if you really want to do it Argentine-style, tie up some herbs to make an herb brush and use that to periodically brush the meat with a salty brine.

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Liz Provencher is an editorial assistant at Thrillist. You can see what she eats on Instagram.