on March 12, 2016
After looking over all of the George Foreman grills, I was struck at how primitive they are. The cheapest ones are not the easiest to clean, the more expensive have removable heat plates that are still difficult to clean, and all are pretty "dumb." I then wondered "what happens if I bump up my price expectations?" which was when I came across the T-Fal GC702. It is the first grill I ever bought. I now have about 4 months of experience using it and can offer my thoughts on it.
For starters, its heat plates are "non-stick" and easily removable by single buttons on the side. This makes cleaning quite easy. I first followed others' recommendations by spraying PAM on the plates before cooking, but the smoke was more than I could bear. Plus, it tends to burn itself into the plates, making cleaning difficult and leaving a residue on the plates, even after a thorough cleaning. I then bought a good plastic scrub brush ("OXO Good Grips Electric Grill and Panini Press Brush"), and it's been a breeze to clean since. I simply run the plates under a bit of water, let them sit for about a minute, and the scrub brush easily cleans everything off. Piece of cake!
What makes this grill unique is the meat thickness sensor in the hinge assembly. You must power on the grill with the nothing in the grill, which the sensor interprets as the time to ramp up the temperature. You input whether you want to first defrost the slab of meat, or if its not frozen already, as well as the kind of meat you will be cooking: chicken, meat patties, steak, fish, hot dogs, or sandwiches (grilled cheese, presumably). The unit's smarts then take it from there to do the next step, which is when you open the grill and insert the meat. The thickness sensor then knows how thick the meat is and adjusts its timer accordingly. If it's to defrost the meat first, then the defrost timer starts, based on the meat's thickness. If no defrost cycle is called for, then the cooking timer starts. It's a pretty decent sensor and timer, and gets you pretty close to where you want the cooked meat to be, be it rare, medium, or well-done.
Part of this process if the simple "cyclops light" in the grill's handle. When the unit is first heating up, the light is purple, and slowly turns blue. When the grill is up to temperature, a little beeper goes off, alerting you that you're ready to start cooking. As the meat cooks, the light first turns yellow ("rare") and beeps, then continues as it turns orange ("medium") and beeps, followed by red ("well") and beeps. You can lift the lid any time during the cooking cycle without upsetting the cook time sensor. I've found that these indicators get you close to where you want to get it, although my sense is that they tend to overcook based on the sensor light color. Personally I prefer juicy chicken and slightly red steaks. Each of these desires, I've come to learn, can be accomplished by the "rare" timer. Typical grill times are: warm-up time, 6 minutes. Cook steak to a bit more than rare, 5 minutes. Cook chicken to juicy, 6 minutes.
I've come to disfavor using the grill's defrost function, as it tends to over-char the meat. Instead, I use my microwave's defrost capabilities, which are quite good, and then cook the meat with the grill. The microwave's defrost cycle tends to cook the meat slightly, but since the meat is going into the grill in short order, so what?
There's a little plastic drip pan in the front of the unit that I've found is only needed when cooking hamburger patties. Chicken breasts and steaks never seem to drip. The pan removes and inserts very easily, and is very simple to clean.
I thought that the grill would really smoke up my kitchen, but the only smoke it has generated came from the PAM I sprayed on the plates in my early stages of cooking with it. Since I stopped with the vegetable spray, there is zero smoke from it!
I have the luxury of owning a nice little thermal imaging camera and was curious to know how hot the lid got when cooking. To my surprise, it is a balmy 90 degrees F, so you won't burn your hand on it. Where you have to be careful is around the edges, where the removable grill plates jut out. Those WILL burn you at over 300 degrees F! However, I suspect that ALL grills offer the same exposure to high temperatures at the edges. It is probably not unique to the T-Fal grill.
The first time I attempted to use the grill, I also wanted to bake a potato using my 1100 watt microwave while the grill did its thing. My 20 amp breaker, which was handling both appliances, then popped. No surprise there, but it made me want to know what the power draw of the grill is. It is rated at 1800 watts (as are most of the other larger grills on the market), which means about 15.6 amps for 115VAC. If my breaker was 15 amps, then the grill would have popped it all by itself. (BTW: my house wiring is 12 gauge, rated for 20 amps.) The meter indicates that my voltage is high, 126VAC, which takes the current up even higher — 16.6 amps, about 2100 watts! Thus, this grill really sucks the (electrical) juice! Potential buyers should be aware of this and make sure that they will be plugging into a 20 amp breaker circuit lest you be popping breakers with it!
Other than that, I love the T-Fal grill. It has completely changed my cooking style, as primitive as it is. I no longer broil meat in my oven. Why bother?
If you have the budget, I highly recommend this grill over any other of the cheaper Foreman grills. Sorry, George!