Kitchen gadget: The grill pan/griddle

A grill pan is a handy alternative when you can't cook outdoors

On those rare Southern California days when the weather is not glorious and warm and absolutely perfect, there are alternatives to cooking outdoors.

Grillmeisters, meet the grill pan.

A flat pan -- sometimes square, but most often rectangular -- the grill pan comes equipped with ridges so you can grill your steaks and burgers indoors when the weather is less than cooperative.

When looking for a grill pan, consider these tips: Look for a heavy, pre-seasoned cast iron grill pan; sure, other materials are lighter and may be easier to handle and clean, but cast iron heats evenly, without hot spots, and retains that heat better and longer than other types of cookware. Also, look for a pan with deep ridges -- ridges act like a grill rack, holding the meat while the juices drain; the deeper the ridges, the better the grilling and draining. Finally, consider size. While smaller pans may be stowed away more easily in a tiny kitchen, a larger pan will give you more room to work (great if you're cooking for a big family or company, or want to grill something substantial, like a large fish or tri-tip).

One other thing to consider is a dual-purpose pan. Many larger grill pans, like the Lodge pan pictured, double as griddles on the other side. A definite plus when you're flipping pancakes or mastering your grilled cheese sandwich.

Grill pans can generally be found at cooking and home supply stores, as well as online. Prices vary depending on make, material and size. A small (1-burner) pan typically starts around $15, and a larger pan can go for as little as $20.

One last tip: To mimic the oven-like effects of an outdoor grill lid, invert a metal baking pan over your food as it cooks. Not only with the pan contain some of the splatter as the food cook, but it will retain some of the heat so the food cooks more quickly and evenly throughout.

Cooking is fun — at least it should be! No matter how long you’ve been in the kitchen, there is always something new to learn, whether it’s a simple twist on an old technique, or a handy tip to save time and energy. In this series of short videos, I demonstrate a variety of kitchen tips, ranging from how to hold a chef’s knife for maximum control to using a spoon to peel fresh ginger. If you have any gadgets, kitchen tips or questions you'd like me to explore, leave a comment or shoot me an email at noelle.carter@latimes.com.

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