11/21/2013 03:46 EST | Updated 01/25/2014 04:01 EST

Indoor grills provide a speedy supper-time solution rain or shine

TORONTO - If you crave the flavour of grilled food year-round but don't want to venture outside to use the barbecue in colder weather, an indoor grill may be the answer.

The electric appliance, widely available in many sizes and price ranges, is ideal for those who don't want to brave the elements or who live in apartments or condos, says Ilana Simon, author of "125 Best Indoor Grill Recipes" (Robert Rose Inc.).

"The indoor grill is perfect for people like me that really love to cook and love to have that barbecue flavour but maybe aren't necessarily that comfortable being out there, especially in the winter, grilling outdoors," Simon said in an interview from her Winnipeg home.

The appliance, which can be set on a counter or table, requires little fat for cooking and a meal can be rustled up quickly, often in about 15 minutes of cooking after preparation and marinating because the grills tend to work quickly.

There are two styles available — the contact grill has a hinged lid with the two sides providing heat, which cuts down on cooking time and eliminates the need to flip food, while the hibachi version has a single grilling surface.

The indoor grill also provides an extra surface to cook on if you're feeding a crowd and your oven is in use, says Simon, who was a food columnist for the Winnipeg Free Press for 12 years and has written cookbooks on fondue and ground meat.

"I've discovered through my younger son it's great for college kids," she says, explaining that he co-opted the big family grill to use with his roommates.

"I'm told they did lots of burgers and they did hot dogs ... and they did chicken breasts and other things that are quick and easy to put together."

Simon had been using an indoor grill for a number of years before beginning work on the cookbook so had a repertoire of recipes, but she was still surprised at how versatile the appliance could be.

"I tried everything from burgers to fish to appetizers and even some desserts. Most people wouldn't think you could do anything dessert-like on an indoor grill, but really with a little creativity you can."

She's included recipes for such sweets as grilled caramel pound cake, fruit kebabs and grilled bananas reminiscent of end-of-meal treats served in some Mexican restaurants and came up with a way to capture the gooey essence of smores without a campfire.

She's adapted recipes for foods that would normally be deep-fried like chicken nuggets — "you get the nice crispy flavour on the grill but using way less oil ... way less mess, way healthier."

Simon says she loves grilling vegetables, such as zucchini, potatoes, onions and portobello mushrooms for meatless burgers, along with grilled cheese sandwiches, tuna melts and paninis on fancy buns and using salami or turkey, asiago or smoked cheeses.

"Salmon is one of my favourites as well because it just turns out so moist and takes such a short amount of time."

One common error newbie grillers make is leaving food on the grill too long, leading to dryness. Simon provides a range of times in her recipes and suggests starting with the shorter time given, adding extra if necessary to ensure items are fully cooked.

Another mistake is adding too much oil to the grill. A light spray of vegetable or olive oil from an aerosol or spray pump bottle is generally enough for most non-stick grills.

When buying an indoor grill, think about what size will work for the number of people for whom you're cooking. If it's more than two, you'll want a larger cooking surface. Some grills will accommodate six to eight burgers or four steaks, for example.

Some grills are ridged on one side and flat on the other and can be flipped, depending on whether you want grill marks on food.

Some grills have variable temperature settings.

A removable grill makes cleanup a breeze and many of the new grills are dishwasher safe, Simon adds.