Grill Tray: Everything You Need To Know and Our Picks

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Are you craving for a barbecue feast, but you don’t have the time (or the weather) to grill outdoors?

No problem: as long as you have a grill tray, you can grill indoors and throw a mini barbecue party any time you want.

You may be asking, “Will I get the authentic barbecue taste?” It depends on the quality of the pan and the way you use it.

Here’s what you need to know about the grill tray: what are they, how to use, and our 3 favorites.

What is a grill tray?

A grill tray (also called a grill pan or a griddle pan) is a long pan with raised ridges. The ridges are at least half a centimeter high and about two centimeters apart.

These helps sear the food and leave the characteristic grill lines, and allow excess fat to drain off.

How do I use a grill tray?

Grill trays are really easy to use. The trick is to let them pre-heat for five minutes on medium-high heat. It has be completely hot, so your food is evenly cooked and you get those gorgeous grill marks.

Once the grill tray is hot, lower the heat to medium-low and then place the sliced food. Make sure you don’t overcrowd the pan: the temperature will drop, and the food won’t cook evenly.

When you place the food, don’t touch them until they’re ready to flip. You can lift the food periodically to peek when it’s ready.

Total cooking time depends on the type of food and the thickness of the slice, but as a general rule vegetables will take 7 to 10 minutes, fish will take 10 minutes, and meat will take 12 to 15 minutes.

Do I put oil on the pan?

It depends. If you’re using a non-stick pan, you don’t have to. If you’re using a cast iron, you may want to spray or brush a thin coating of oil so the food doesn’t stick.

Just don’t put too much oil, or you’ll end up frying your food. The oil will also burn and leave a bad taste.

Alternatively, you can brush your food with oil—or even better, an oil-based marinade.

That will prevent food from sticking to the grill tray, infuse flavor, and prevent meat from drying out while it’s on the pan.

For food safety, use a fresh marinade, and not what you used to soak the meat overnight.

Always use an oil with a high smoke point, such as canola, soybean, corn oil, etc. Don’t use olive oil, unless it’s specifically made for cooking.

What are the best tips for grilling food on the stove?

  • To get deep grill marks, periodically press the meat down with a spatula as it cooks. Some grill trays also come with drop lids that press down on the meat.
  • To get a cross-hatch pattern, rotate food by 90 degrees before you flip.
  • Cut the meat into thin, small portions so that it cooks quickly and evenly.
  • If you’re grilling steaks or chicken breast fillets, pound it flat before cutting into desired sizes. Pounding will help make it more tender, and also ensure that they’re the same thickness.
  • Pat any meat and vegetables with a paper towel to remove excess water before you add any seasoning. If you placed them in a liquid marinade, let the meat drain first. If you get the pan too wet, you’ll end up stewing your food instead of grilling it.
  • To mimic the smoky flavor of outdoor barbecues, add a few drops of liquid smoke to the marinade, or cover the pan while you grill.
  • If you notice the grill is getting clogged with burnt bits in the middle of cooking, rub half an onion against it. It will remove build-up and also add a nice hint of flavor to your food.

Our 3 Favorite Grill Trays  

The most important factor in choosing a grill tray or pan is even heat retention. If it doesn’t heat up, you won’t get the sear and your food won’t cook evenly.

That’s why you should stay away from grill pans that are too lightweight and flimsy. You won’t get the results you want, and you’ll just end up throwing them away.

From the beginning, get a high quality pan that will do the job and last for years.

Here are our three favorites.

1.      Lodge Cast Iron Grill Pan

Cast iron holds heat really well, and is best for creating the deep sear. Plus, you can use them in the oven as well—grilling your steak on the stove, and then finishing them off in the broiler.

However, cast iron is expensive, and you’re not going to be grilling everyday.

That’s why we love this Lodge grill pan: at $32, it’s pretty affordable but still made of very durable steel and carbon alloy. It will last for decades!

We also like that the pan is pre-seasoned and ready to use. The metal surface can also be scrubbed clean with steel wool, which you can’t do with an enamel-coated pan.

Grill trays can get really dirty really quickly, especially if you use marinades that contain sugar. Easy clean-up is a must!  

2.      Calphalon Premier Hard-Anodized Non-stick Grill Pan

Non-stick pans are easy to clean, but the cheaper ones get scratched easily. So, if you’re going to choose non-stick, might as well invest in this Calphalon grill pan.

It’s made of 3 layers of hard-anodized aluminum, and can even be used safely with metal utensils.

The Calphalon can also be used in the oven up to 450°F —not as high as a cast iron’s maximum temperature, but good enough if you just want to broil or bake your food instead.  

It can also be used on electric, gas, and glass-top stoves.

The Calphalon also retains heat well—no cold or hot spots—so your meat gets cooked evenly, and you can get some fairly pronounced grill marks.

Tip: if you want to make the grill marks more pronounced, when the meat is almost cooked, baste it with a marinade that contains sugar. This will caramelize and create darker grill lines.

3.      Jean Patrique Whatever Pan

If you’ve got limited kitchen space, then this may be the best grill tray for you. Since it has deep sides and a pressure-release lid, you can use it for grilling, braising, searing, sauteing, and even steaming.

Aside from being versatile, it is made of very durable cast aluminum. It also as a steel base that helps ensure even distribution of heat.

The non-stick coating is easy to clean: once it’s cool, just let it soak in soapy water in the sink, and the dirt just slides right off.

We also like that you can use it any kind of stove and even a campfire. You can also place it in the oven up to temperatures of 482°F (just leave out the lid).

Honestly, cast aluminum won’t be as durable as cast iron, but you’ll get good use from it for several years. Just take care of the non-stick coating by following instructions for cleaning.

Ready, get set, grill!

Armed with a good grill tray or pan, you can whip up a delicious barbecued dish in less than 20 minutes—and you don’t even have to build a fire.