Picking out Your First Grill Pan
Not all grill pans are created equal. In some cases, the way a pan is made will yield very different results. Here are some things to consider when purchasing your first grill pan.
Spacing of Grill Grates
I prefer pans on which the marks are spaced at a minimum of ½ inch apart. This is mainly because I desire beautiful diagonal, diamond-shaped grill marks. When the grates are too close together, the grill marks are too close together, and then diamond-shaped grill marks make foods appear to be burnt. When using a grill pan with grates that are close together, it’s best to only have your grill marks going one way.
The flipside of a grill pan with grates spaced less than ½-inch apart is that although some foods cooked on them are not as visually appealing, they do cook a bit quicker because there is more contact with the iron. I also find that pans made this way are better for vegetables and some types of seafood. I cook mostly meats in my grill pans, so my preference is wider spacing.
Shape of the Grill Grates
Some grill-pan grates are tall, and some are short. Some are rounded on top, some are fat and flat, and some are pointed (older ones mainly). If a grate is too short, the meat in between the grates gets too close to the surface of the pan and darkens too quickly. If the grates are too thin, there is too little contact with the iron; cooking is not as efficient, and the grill marks are not as pretty. The best grill pans have grates that are close to ⅛-inch tall and ⅛-inch wide.
While lighter weights are popular with some vintage and modern regular cast-iron skillets, when it comes to grill pans, the heavier the better. A heavier pan, when adequately heated, will heat better toward the outer edges, and in a grill pan, this is a prerequisite for successful cooking. Heavier pans also maintain heat better when cold foods are added. My favorite grill pan will always be the heaviest one I can find with proper spacing of the grates.
Bigger is not always better when it comes to grill pans. If your grill pan dwarfs your burner, it will never cook efficiently toward the outer edges, no matter how long it is preheated. A good majority of modern grill pans are 10 to 11 inches in diameter, which should be suitable for the average burner on a stove. If you buy one that is larger, make sure you have the firepower to adequately heat it.