Clarification: The term "grill" is used here with the US-based term for grilling, which may differ from other countries such as Great Britain and Australia, where it is typically called a "barbecue"; Ideally it is a direct flame against one side of the food at a time, though other heat sources are not out of scope.

I live in an apartment complex where it is hugely impractical (if not impossible) to own a full-size grill. Despite this, I really want the ability to grill small amounts of meat and vegetables without too much hassle. Two possible solutions occurred to me, but I'm not sure which would be better or if there's a third option I'm unaware of:

  1. Portable propane grill (camping stove) - I don't know how practical this would be, but the ability to fold it up and store it would be nice. Do these work as well as a normal propane grill?

  2. Cast iron grill pan - I've seen many of these online that basically just sit on a stove burner and allegedly emulate a regular grill. I'm skeptical because the lack of a direct flame seems like it would affect the outcome.

Are either of those actually good options? Is there a better way that I haven't thought of? I know there are also miniature charcoal grills but they don't seem to be nearly as portable or space efficient as the other two.*

Edit: Advice in the answers/comments has led me to order a smokeless stovetop grill, because they're so cheap and allegedly pretty good there's no reason not to try it out. This is the one I decided on. In a couple days it should be here and I'll give it a thorough test and report back.

Keep the advice coming! It seems there are several other good options, so I want to float as many of them as possible for future viewers to reference.

* As for an outdoor solution: it's somewhat restricted in my area, you're allowed to have them but they must remain unconnected to a fuel source if they're within 25' of the building. That's one big reason I'm interested in indoor solutions, though I can compromise if a charcoal option seems like the way to go.

Conclusion: The stovetop smokeless grill worked out great. It's not a perfect replacement for a real grill but for such a cheap pricepoint and for its ease of use, it provides very satisfying results. The only things you need to watch out for are the fact that it doesn't cook evenly, so you have to rotate your food at least once, and it doesn't burn away oil and fats like a normal grill, though it does drain a fair amount of them; basically just go very light on the oil or you'll end up with a greasy mess.

Thanks for the suggestions, everyone!

  • 9
    @dlb Be careful about local regulations and apartment rules. I know that in many cities it's illegal to use charcoal/gas grills (even small hibachi types) on balconies or patios (or otherwise too close to multi-unit dwellings), due to the fire hazard of accidentally tipping them over.
    – R.M.
    Commented Sep 11, 2017 at 18:08
  • @R.M. Yes it's somewhat restricted in my area, you're allowed to have them but they must remain unconnected to a fuel source if they're within 25' of the building. That's one big reason I'm interested in indoor solutions, though I can compromise if a charcoal option seems like the way to go.
    – thanby
    Commented Sep 11, 2017 at 19:46
  • Please write answers as answers, folks. There've been multiple suggestions here and some discussion of them; we'd like the suggestions to be answers with proper voting and the replies to be properly grouped with them.
    – Cascabel
    Commented Sep 12, 2017 at 14:11
  • 2
    A portable camp stove is not typically a grill. It is made to be used with pots.
    – paparazzo
    Commented Sep 12, 2017 at 16:22
  • 1
    Charcoal runs the very real risk of carbon monoxide poisoning if used indoors. Too many people bringing the little portable charcoal BBQs into tents have died. Ok, an apartment will be bigger, and you could be careful with ventilation, but I'd not run the risk.
    – Clive
    Commented Sep 13, 2017 at 0:20

7 Answers 7


Another consideration is that some apartment complexes have restrictions on what type of grills can be used because of fire hazards. Where we lived many years ago we were not allowed to use charcoal or gas.

So, there are a couple of options. First would be a smaller than full size electric grill. There are many available in different shapes and sizes. Some can be used both indoors and outdoors.

This is similar to the one we had. It has a small footprint and works well where there is limited space. But there are also many small table-top models available.

enter image description here

Another option is a smokeless indoor stove top grill. This is closer to actual grilling than a grill pan and actually works better than it looks like it would. I have one that we have used for years anytime outdoor grilling has not been an option. Most are very reasonably priced and work well on both gas and electric stoves. And using two (or more) is always an option.

enter image description here

  • I looked into the smokeless grills you mentioned and you're right, they are very reasonably priced and reviews seem to indicate they work pretty well even on an electric stovetop. I went ahead and ordered one to try out because it's worth the $15 to give it a shot. If it doesn't turn out well I'll probably look at the electric options or broiler next.
    – thanby
    Commented Sep 11, 2017 at 19:52
  • 2
    Hope it works out well for you! Let us know how it turns out.
    – Cindy
    Commented Sep 11, 2017 at 20:10
  • I got one of those stove-top grills for a friend. It seems to at least work pretty well on her electric stove, but it's definitely not the same as over fire. A gas stove might give better results.
    – cHao
    Commented Sep 12, 2017 at 15:06
  1. I used one of those portable propane grills when I was in an apartment. Stoves are different. A grill will have a long burner and a grate that is meant to be cooked on. The stoves will have round burners for heating pans and the grate will be more spaced out. It does an ok job. Not a lot of heat from those little burners. It will handle a small amount of food and take longer to do it but it works.

  2. The pan won't do what you want. Even with a gas stove it just won't be at all similar to a grill.

  3. A better option is just to use the broiler of your oven. I've not had an oven that didn't include a broiler. They take a little adapting to since it is upside down but they produce a very hot, direct heat that you can use just like a grill.

  • 7
    Note that if you're looking for a smokey flavor with the broiler in the oven, America's Test Kitchen found that adding (dry) lapsang souchong tea leaves to the broiler pan can help.
    – R.M.
    Commented Sep 11, 2017 at 18:03

The grill pans are, as others have mentioned, a disappointment on top of the stove.

On the other hand, using a cast iron grill pan with the broiler is an effective combination. Adjust your oven rack to it's highest position, put your grill pan in empty and turn your broiler on high. Using a good hot pad/glove (I prefer the glove or mitten) pull out the pan, add your meat and set it back in the oven. Give that a few minutes to cook, pull it out, flip it and go again. Pre-heating the cast iron is key. Raising the meat up off the surface allow the air to circulate and give you as close to a 'real grill' flavor as you can get, and classic grill marks to boot.

A couple of 'gotchas' to look out for: 1. If you have some type of handle cover for your cast iron (silicon) remove it when doing this. 2. Watch for flare ups, if your meat has a decent measure of fat, it can render and catch fire...not a big fire, hit it with a squirt bottle, just like you would a real grill.

Here are a couple of articles that go into a bit more depth for you: http://www.thekitchn.com/how-to-broil-a-steak-in-the-ov-42896

This one also shows building an indoor smoker, but I've never tried. https://www.epicurious.com/archive/holidays/grilling/how-to-grill-without-a-grill

  • Great advice and links, the second one led me to pick up a mini smoke infuser as well because you can get them very inexpensively and use them for all kinds of food and drinks. Sounds like fun to me.
    – thanby
    Commented Sep 11, 2017 at 20:32

When you say you want a grill, all your examples are actually more like barbecues. Which were you looking for?

If you only need a grill, a George Foreman grill is one solution. It presses the food down, so there are some things it simply cannot do properly, such as cheese toast. It's OK for grilling meat though. Definitely buy one with removable grill panels - the ones with fixed panels are very hard to keep clean.

Combi microwaves can include a grill, like this Bosch example. This can give you the best of both worlds - quick microwave cooking, with a crisped/browned outside.

And with the same footprint as a microwave, you can also get countertop ovens which can grill as well. This Igenix countertop oven for example includes electric hotplates on the top too.

  • Judging by your other answers you are (like myself) British, grilling has a different meaning in the US where it is almost exclusively done with a flame from underneath, hence the BBQ style grills. (Not the downvoter but explains why your suggestions wouldn't work for US users) Commented Sep 12, 2017 at 14:58
  • I had no idea there was a terminology difference, I'll have to remember that. Yes I'm in America and grilling is referring to a single dry source of heat against one side of the food at a time, typically a flame from charcoal or propane, but those aren't an easy option for me so I'm looking for space-efficient and apartment-friendly alternatives.
    – thanby
    Commented Sep 12, 2017 at 17:25
  • I don't think a George Foreman grill was intended to cook things that could fit in a sandwich maker - I think it was intended for things that simply don't fit in a sandwich maker.
    – corsiKa
    Commented Sep 12, 2017 at 21:28

When I was in college I got a Coleman camp grill as a gift and it was fantastic. I used it through college and for the first 5 or so years once I moved into my own home before buying a full sized grill. Still use it for camping.

This looks like it's the updated version of what I have: https://www.amazon.com/Coleman-Camp-Propane-Grill-Stove/dp/B000W4VD8C/

If you want something that gives you more of a real grill feel, a friend of ours has a Coleman Road Trip Grill. They bring it to picnics and events like that and it seems to be a nice product.: https://www.amazon.com/Coleman-9949-750-Road-Trip-Grill/dp/B0009V1BDA/

You couldn't use either indoors, but both are portable and easy to get in and out of an apartment.


My experience with the same conflict has leads me to feel that the portable propane grill is the best option. These absolutely do cook just as well as a full size grill, and you can even get an adapter for a full size propane tank if you want. Id recommend against a george foreman grill or stovetop grills, as my experience is that those dont produce the same flavor and texture.

  • This is essentially repeating other answers; please don't do that. Leave it as a comment to the answer about propane grills.
    – user34961
    Commented Sep 13, 2017 at 8:54

2 Cheap ways to grill and without a bought actual grill.

A) In the city or in a town: If you are in the city or in a town, then you obviously can not make a bonfire. So then what you could do is if you have an old concrete building tube you could use it as the wall of the grill. On the top of the concrete building tube put a stove grill, and on that grill you can grill your food. You could use coal or wood exactly like a normal bought grill to burn in your grill. But this grill is pretty much for free.

B) In the city or in a town: This one is the same as no. 2 but with a difference that you use some old bricks instead of concrete tubing. You simply build a square brick shaped wall so that you get a hole about 50cm or more in the middle. See to it that the bricks are not stacked exactly on top of each other but stacked in a staircase order exactly as if you were building a house. And on the top of these bricks you put the stove grill where you grill you food. You can use coal or wood as a normal grill for this grill too. NOTE: Do not make your grill out of stone bricks, because they could explode.


  • Both grills are for a garden or anywhere outside. Note that the free solutions are all based on self building, so it is VERY important of how good you are at self building stuff. If you are not good at self building stuff (handyman), ask help of somebody who is a good handyman, and if you have no such option then I advice not to play with fire. After all making a grill by yourself is playing with fire. Of course do look up at the laws and regulations of the place you live first.

How well it is made it is of key importance behind any self made grill.

The question is mutual of "How to grill without an actual grill", it does not specify of a commercial or not commercial grill, he only makes an EXAMPLE of commercial grills compared to another solution. So there for commercial or not commercial grill answers are both fine.

NOTE - IMPORTANT: How ever for the free solutions if you do not have your own garden or small peace of soil to build a free self build grill then build it together with your neighbors and share the grill. Of course "together with your neighbors" with their approval too. On the other hand do inform yourself of the local laws or regulations on self build before you start it. Also talk with the owner of the land if the land is not owned by you with your neighbors. RESPECT them in your surrounding, is very important.


Brick home made grills:

CONSTRUCTION simplified blueprint for a brick home made grill: http://amazingribs.com/images/pix/Hog_Pit_RGB.jpg

Concrete building tube home made grills:

NOTE: My grandfather use to build all his life brick stoves in his time for many towns in Romania. Although stoves and grills are not the same thing, they are pretty much similar when we talk about wood heated stoves. He thought me some of his ideas, that is why I know how to build them or grills too, the same technique is applied, but grills are more simple then stoves.

  • 1
    @JanDoggen While I would agree that this post does not really answer the question, the OP is not opposed to an outdoor solution.
    – Cindy
    Commented Sep 12, 2017 at 8:31
  • @Cindy Missed that. Editing the question now to insert the comment answer.
    – user34961
    Commented Sep 12, 2017 at 9:15
  • Far from trees? In a forest? What kind of treeless forests do you go to?
    – corsiKa
    Commented Sep 12, 2017 at 21:29
  • @corsiKa In a forest is an outdoor situation and needs a outdoor solution. So were is your point? Away from trees in a forest means not kilometers away, it just means not next to a tree. In a forest there is not always tree near a tree, you could find more rocks too or places were it is more gravel and not trees. Just because it is a forest does not mean you find tree near a tree all the time.
    – SeekLoad
    Commented Sep 13, 2017 at 1:32
  • 2
    'How to cook without an actual grill' is the title of the post. You must read the entire post (including comments) to understand what the OP specifically needs help with. We encourage users to be as specific as possible in regard to what they need help with, so that we can give answers that are relevant and specific to their needs. In this case we are asked about options for an apartment dwelling with limited space and restrictions. How to grill in the forest does not in any way answer the question.
    – Cindy
    Commented Sep 13, 2017 at 12:12

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