Pros: Cooks food quickly, you don't have to turn the food over
Cons: Food doesn't taste that great, no on/off switch, loose drip tray
My husband and I LOVE to grill! We use our gas bar-b-que grill all year long, rain or shine. When our old bar-b-que finally fell apart, of course it happened to be the middle of winter, and trying to find a gas grill off-season in North Idaho is next to impossible.
I decided to try one of those new indoor contact grills, because I thought it would be handy to have an indoor grill as well for inclement weather, and just to have another grilling option.
I looked over the choices available at our local Wal-Mart, and decided on the Hamilton Beach HealthSmart Contact Grill because it had the biggest grilling surface. Looked to me like I could grill two VERY large t-bone steaks, or four smaller steaks, or say about six hamburgers, all at once.
~ Design and Features
The Hamilton Beach HealthSmart Contact Grill is fairly heavy and somewhat large at about 14" by 13" with the lid down (not grilling surface size.) The actual grilling surface is about 13" by 8".
It has a very pleasing outward appearance. Mine has a glossy black exterior finish. The grilling surfaces are non-stick.
There is a floating hinge on the cover so the top grilling surface will adjust to the thickness of the food you are preparing.
A plastic drip cup is included that slides into the front of the grill to catch the liquid and grease runoff during cooking. I'm not fond of the drip cup design. It just sits there, but is not really attached in any way to the grill itself. If you pick up the grill, the drip cup is still sitting where you placed it. It took me a while to understand the drip cup does not clip on, or actually attach to the grill.
There is no on/off switch. The grill is turned on when you plug it in, and is turned off when you unplug it. There is a red light on top of the cover that illuminates when the grill is on.
Also included is a small plastic cleaning tool designed to assist in cleaning the grill surfaces.
~ How Do Contact Grills Actually Work?
This was my first experience using a contact grill. Contact grills have two grilling surfaces, the bottom where you place the food, and the cover, which you close down over the food. The food then is cooked on the top and bottom simultaneously. This design allows food to cook much more quickly than conventional outdoor gas grilling. The grill surfaces are non-stick surfaces with a raised grill pattern. Grease flows down and away from the food into the drip cup.
~ Cooking with the Hamilton Beach Contact Grill
Before using we are told to wash the cooking surfaces of the grill with a damp sponge and a small amount of dishwashing detergent.
Before each use the grilling surface should be brushed with oil or sprayed with a nonstick cooking spray. This should be done BEFORE you turn on (plug in) the grill.
The grill needs to preheat for about 6 minutes with the cover closed. After the grill is preheated, raise the cover and place the food to be cooked onto the grill, and then lower the grill cover. You must be sure the drip cup is in place whenever the grill is actually cooking food.
The operating instructions suggest the following cooking times, just to give you an idea of how long it takes to cook certain foods:
Beef Strip Steak, Boneless (8 oz.) 5 min.
Boneless Chicken Breast (4-6 oz.) 5-8 min.
Frozen Boneless Chicken Breast (4 oz.) 10-12 min.
Hamburger (4 oz.) 5-7 min.
Hot Dog 5 min.
Boneless Pork Chops (4 oz. 3/4" thick) 6-8 min.
And remember, these are the FULL cooking times, because you don't have to turn food over. In my opinion, this is the best thing about contact grills.
After food has cooked for the proper amount of time, use a hot mitt and carefully lift the grill cover and check food to see if it is cooked to your liking. You shouldn't cut food on the non-stick grilling surface though.
If the food is done to your preference, remove the food and unplug the grill. Let it cool slightly before cleaning.
~ My Results with the Hamilton Beach Contact Grill
We first tried steaks on the contact grill - I can't remember now what kind of steaks, but probably T-bones or rib steaks. When I first put them on the preheated grill they sizzled nicely. I put the cover down and waited the suggested time. I could hear the meat sizzling, and steam was coming out from the grill. At the end of the cooking time I checked the steaks and I assumed they must be done, but they had a kind of gray color to them. Hmm...not all that appetizing to look at. There were those dark grill marks but with grayish meat in between the marks. The steaks tasted, well, steamed. Kind of yucky actually. Certainly nothing like you'd expect from an outdoor gas grill.
Another time we tried chicken breasts. They came out pretty good - better than the steaks anyway. And they cooked very quickly.
Another time I tried a recipe from the recipe book included with the grill for Orange Glazed Pork Chops, which came out great. A glaze is made from orange marmalade which is poured over the pork chops while they're on the grill. When the chops are done, the glaze which has accumulated in the drip cup is poured over the chops prior to serving.
Hot dogs cook nicely on the contact grill as well, and don't roll off, as I've heard can be a problem with some grills.
While I haven't tried all the different things suggested in the recipe book, here are some other ideas for a contact grill:
Ham and Cheese on a Bagel
Guilt-Free Hash Browns
Toasted Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwiches
The gill cannot be immersed in water, and cannot be cleaned in the dishwasher. The grilling surfaces do not detach.
After the grill has cooled slightly, you'll need to empty the grease cup. The grease cup can, however, be washed in the dishwasher. To clean the grill, wipe the cooking surfaces with a paper towel to remove drippings. Then use a damp sponge with a little bit of dish detergent and scrub the grill surfaces. Rinse out the sponge and wipe clean. Then use a clean, damp cloth to wipe surfaces again.
A little cleaning tool is included that fits between the grids to help scrape up any burned-on bits of food. This tool is pretty neat, and does help.
I've found that ease of cleaning depends mightily on what you've been cooking. Sugary sauces are a pain to clean up. Hot dogs and steaks aren't so bad. Sometimes I've just wiped the grill surface with a paper towel and it was fine. Other times I've spent WAY too much time trying to clean the darn thing after a meal.
~ Final Thoughts
Don't let the word "grill" fool you. Cooking on the Hamilton Beach Contact Grill is nothing like a bar-b-que or gas grill. It's a whole nother ball game, folks. I was hoping this might be a good substitute for our outdoor gas grill, but that isn't the case.
If you want to cook up a chicken breast quickly, say for a grilled chicken salad for instance, the contact grill is fine. Hamburgers come out okay. Grilled veggies are nice on the contact grill. Foods cook quickly, and if you don't have any other grilling options the Hamilton Beach Contact Grill might be perfect for you. But in my book it's a bulky, space gobbling appliance that I rarely use.