Maybe you're out of propane. Maybe you live in a tiny apartment, and it's high time you stop grilling on a precarious fire escape. Or maybe you just want a burger now without digging out a bag of charcoal.
Whatever the reason, a grill pan can be a handy substitute for your trusty Weber, giving you the lovely crosshatched food that'll impress friends and help you channel your inner Food Network star. Good ones can be had starting at just $30, in a variety of shapes (square, round, oval) and sizes (petite to covers-two-burners). They can be made of heavy-duty cast iron, stainless steel or anodized aluminum, and come preseasoned, enamel-coated or nonstick.
For this test, we narrowed the playing field to tidy, single-burner pans, testing how they perform when tasked with grilling everything from your weeknight chicken breast and veggies to elegant fillets of fish. Here are our five favorites.
① Staub 12-Inch Grill Pan and Press ($250)
Photo: Sur la Table
Why We Like It: This cast-iron grill pan has the deepest ridges (a full quarter inch) of any of the grill pans we tested, giving excellent, charred grill marks and ensuring fattier foods like burgers cook high above the grease. It's also one of the largest pans on the market and comes with a hefty press, perfect for making panini and butterflied chicken. And while it's admittedly expensive for a single piece of cooking equipment, for the backyard-less American cook, it's totally worth it.
The Drawbacks: This pan is heavy. Weighing in at more than 10 pounds (without the press), it's not the most svelte cooking tool you'll own. The large surface area also means it takes quite a bit of time for the pan to warm up, though when it does, it holds onto heat beautifully.
② Le Creuset Square Skillet Grill ($180)
Photo: Le Creuset
Why We Like It: This little cast-iron number gets our vote for the cutest grill pan; the enamel exterior comes in a dozen of Le Creuset's signature bright colors, and the pour spouts are handy for draining grease. The ridges, nearly as deep as Staub's, give distinct grill marks, while the black enameled interior offers excellent release of even delicate fish, so long as you brush the pan with enough oil first. The Le Creuset is also easier to clean than some of the other cast-iron pans we tested.
The Drawbacks: The short handle gets incredibly hot, so be sure to use a thick oven mitt or towel when handling. Its smaller width (just over 10 inches) means you're going to have to grill in batches—not the most fun task in a humid apartment kitchen during the summer.
③ Cuisinart Grill Pan ($60)
Why We Like It: Cast-iron construction covered in a durable, nonstick surface means this is theoretically the Goldilocks of grill pans. During our testing, all foods lifted off the ridges with ease, and though they weren't as deeply browned, they had better markings than the aluminum-only pan from Calphalon (below). The pan is confidently hefty while still being relatively easy to maneuver and comes with a convenient helper handle on the other side.
The Drawbacks: The ridges are still shallower than we would prefer, and food can still get caught sitting in excess liquid in the pan. Shallow, sloping sides mean you'll spend just as much time cleaning splatters off your range as you will grilling.
④ Calphalon Contemporary Grill Pan ($45)
Photo: JC Penney
Why We Like It: Nonstick pans have a time and place, and knowing you won't have to spend 20 minutes scrubbing a pan after satiating your burger fix is that time and place. That's the biggest advantage of Calphalon's grill pan, made of anodized aluminum with a nonstick interior. Aluminum has a lower heat capacity than cast iron, meaning that though this pan heats up quickly, it'll never hold onto the hellish amount of heat cast-iron pans are known for. Predictably, this pan did an effortless job at cooking fish without tearing our fillet's delicate skin.
The Drawbacks: The ridges aren't quite as deep or defined as other grill pans—fattier foods like burgers or steaks end up sitting in their oil rather than above it. Also, your grill marks will never be as golden brown or defined as ones produced in a cast-iron model.
Photo: Sur la Table
Why We Like It: This grill pan is undoubtedly the best bang for your buck. It's solid, sturdy and can hold onto a monstrous amount of heat if you give it time to warm up. Decently deep ridges (around an eighth of an inch high) do a great job of marking your food, but don't be fooled by the "preseasoned" label—foods stick quite a bit when this pan is used straight out of the box.
The Drawbacks: You might feel like this pan will never get clean—food likes to trap itself in between the grooves. A short handle and lack of pour spouts, while not deal breakers, are inconvenient.
This article was originally published on 5/17/15 and was updated by Andrew Bui with additional content and images on 5/31/17.
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