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Worth some hassles, but be aware of them first!
on November 8, 2006
Summary: a good grill with quirks that get in the way of it being great. It's a huge improvement for cleaning, and it has a nicely-sized 4-burger grill plate. It doesn't get quite as hot as the "old-style" models, and if you don't learn its quirks you can ruin perfectly good meals.
I had an "old style" Foreman grill, one of the smaller ones with permanently attached plates, for years. I loved it - especially how you could get the grill scary hot and get some great crusts on grilled meats. But man, I hated cleaning it!
Eventually, it died, and I wanted something that answered my two biggest complaints: small size of the cooking service, and something that was easier to clean! This grill looked like the answer.
Bottom line: I *want* to love it, I really do! And it does answer my two biggest complaints, so I'm continuing to use it, but it has a couple of quirks that keep me from loving it. So close! But here's my experience.
HEATING: decent performance but can OVER-heat and ruin a meal
This grill has a "variable" temperature setting. I'm not sure how accurate it is, because I generally use it at the top temperatures to try to get the same performance as the "old" style grills, which got wicked hot.
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Here is one of the MAJOR cautions: this grill can OVERHEAT!
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When it gets "too hot" the brain seems to freeze, the grill shuts off, and the display blinks little dashes at you, and that's all it will do until the grill has cooled off for a 5-10 minutes. Unfortunately, this means it is impossible to grill for extended times at max temperature, and if it happens when you're in the middle of cooking, it can ruin a meal. I have talked to one other person with this same grill, and they had a similar experience. So, beware - this MAY be a problem that they can/will fix, or it may be in the design and something you just have to live with.
I personally have found a workaround: I pre-heat to 400 degrees, one setting short of the "max" of 425. When it has pre-heated (5 minutes), just before I put on the food, I turn the grill up to 425. The result is that, within my normal cooking times, the grill comes on and stays on the whole time, but doesn't overheat. I don't get quite the satisfying crust I would like, but it's adequate. And if you DO lose the "brain" due to overheating, don't panic - there's a lot of energy stored in those plates, so just leave the food on and let it cook a little longer than you planned, and you'll probably save your food (also, see my comments about the "coasting" cooking technique at the end of the review). But beware: if you pre-heat to the maximum setting, it may go brain-dead too soon for you to even finish cooking.
Some other observations: the heat isn't quite as uniform as the old sealed plate style, but it's not bad, and probably can't be much better, given the "removable" plate design. Once you learn the hot spots, there's always someone in the house that wants food either more well done or rarer anyway, so I've learned to put this to my advantage!
GRILL PLATES: Big and Removable and Cleanable (and a little finicky)!
YES, finally, the plates are removable! Yes, they are finicky! But, yes, you can learn to live with them. When I first got the grill, the top plate was especially hard for me to get attached properly. But if you look carefully, understand how the latches work, and learn the correct placement, this can become a non-issue. The only thing I do now is always double-check the plates after I attach them by tugging on them, but once they're connected properly, I've never once had one just "come off."
The size is a big improvement over other grills. They're wider than they are deep, so unlike some other Foreman models, opening the grill is pretty easy even with cabinets over the grill. The size and proportions makes putting 4 burgers on possible, and I've also cooked three good-sized steaks at the same time. You do need to know where your hot spots are, and depending on the food size/shape, you MAY want to open the grill halfway through and rotate the pieces, but this seems to affect browning more than the interior cooking, which has always seemed pretty even to me.
Cleaning them is a joy compared to the old "sealed" style plates. I can drop them both in a sink with hot soapy water and let them soak, and just brush them clean with a nylon brush. If you get to them quickly after cooking, probably all you need is some running water, soap and a sponge. It's a huge improvement for cleaning, and well worth the trade-off of somewhat uneven heating.
FOOD SIZE: beware the thickest steaks and the thinnest burgers
The "sliding hinge" on this grill seems to be a little limited. On thick steaks over 1", the grill doesn't seem to get quite "wide" enough to give even heat; on very thin items (somewhere around 1/4", the plates seem to far apart to heat properly. But for foods within than range of 1/4" to 1" (most burgers, chicken breasts, average steaks), it seems to work just as well as the old style grills.
OTHER: just a couple of things to mention
Time: it doesn't do anything except beep; it doesn't shut the grill off or anything. I use the default of "5 minutes" just to time my pre-heating.
Cooking Style: I have developed what I call the "coasting" style of cooking. It's a takeoff on "resting" that seems to work well. Basically, I cook a food at the hottest temperature I can get without the grill overheating (see above), and about 1/2 to 2/3 of the way through I shut off the grill (but leave the food cooking). For instance, with a 5 or 6 oz burger patty, I pre-heat the grill to 400, then put the burgers on and set it to 425, and cook them for about 3-4 minutes; then I turn off the grill completely, but leave the patties on for another 3-4 minutes. The result is a nicely browned burger, still juicy in the middle, with no need for additional "resting." Same technique works with steaks and chicken, too! This helps me work around with one real quirk of the grill - the "overheating" - but also gives very nice results on the cooked foods, too.
Well, that's about all I can think of to mention on this grill. I am really not happy about the overheating problem, which is to me a pretty major design flaw, but the joy of grill plates that are removable and easy to clean keep me from going back to the "old" style. I've learned to live with and work around the problem, and for me that makes it worthwhile. But it also keeps me from wholeheartedly recommending this grill, which would otherwise be a 5-star winner in my book.