Watch the fat drain off your food
"We invented grilling right after we discovered fire," the Tefal OptiGrill's recipe booklet proudly proclaims. (Without archaeological evidence to suggest that Tefal engineers were around in prehistoric times, it's safe to assume they're referring to our cave-dwelling ancestors.)
"One can easily imagine the succulent smell of the first piece of meat that accidentally fell on the embers," the booklet continues. "Probably the most exciting discovery of humankind!"
The OptiGrill is now here to fulfil your desire to cook slabs of meat, but without the Fred Flintstone vibe. Instead, this appliance sits on your kitchen bench ready to grill meat, fish, vegetables, fruits and sandwiches.
Any cooking novices afraid of over- or under-cooking their food will find the six pre-programmed modes handy, as well as the automatic sensor that beeps at each stage of cooking. If you're really clueless, there's even a cooking level indicator that changes to a particular colour depending on whether the food is rare, medium or well done.
Like other health grills before it, fat drains away into a drip tray, resulting in a less calorie-laden meal. But for all the OptiGrill's seemingly idiot-proof bells and whistles, is it really a substitute for your trusty frying pan or oven?
Fiona Mair, home economist from CHOICE's test kitchen, cooked a variety of foods on the OptiGrill and rated its cooking performance as very good; with an average of 12 minutes cooking time (including preheat mode). For consistent cooking, the instructions recommend that food be even in height and not exceed 4cm in thickness. Results from two rump steaks were very good; meat was tender and juicy with only slightly uneven browning. The salmon was slightly dry in areas, but good overall. Where the grill really excelled was when cooking bacon to well done. It was non-greasy and crisp; fat pleasingly drained off into the drip tray.
Ease of use
Despite its impressive cooking performance, the OptiGrill did generate a fair bit of smoke during the preheating and cooking stages, and occasionally food did slide on the hotplate; defying the spikes on the bottom plate which are designed to hold it in place. Bear in mind, too, that the outside can become dangerously hot and there are no non-slip feet.
And, at 37cm wide by 37cm deep (including the drip tray), the OptiGrill does take up some valuable kitchen space and there's no way to store it vertically or lock the hinge. The exterior, including the handle, can also become very greasy if you're cooking meat, and the char-grill grooves on the hotplate, although removable, can be fiddly to clean. The fact you need to cook food that's at a uniform height can also be limiting.
If you have a large family, the hotplate measures 20 x 30 cm, so it's really only suitable when cooking for two people at a time; with the possibility of four depending on the type of food.
The OptiGrill's a great alternative to a basic sandwich press as it can do a lot more, and we did like its automatic sensor. But you'll also need to consider the smoke and grease it generates, the effort required when cleaning, the space it takes up in your kitchen and whether, with an RRP of $230, you're better off sticking with your prehistoric roots and cooking on your outside barbie.