Six minutes into the original 1996 infomercial for the George Foreman Grill, product-hawking queen Nancy Nelson segues from ghastly broiler-cooked hamburgers to ask former boxer George Foreman about his then-nine kids (he has a dozen now), so that the audience might acknowledge him as quite the family man. Foreman jokes with a guffaw, “I need lots of these machines.”
America concurred. In the late ’90s, the George Foreman Grill became the must-have kitchen item, the symbol of cooking convenience packaged in an appliance that claimed to reduce fat from your food. By cooking with top and bottom heating sources simultaneously and slanting the grill plates, its novel promise was that the oils from fatty meats would drip away into a collecting tray with a little help from gravity. Foreman grills soon became ubiquitous to the point of cliché, popping up in dorm rooms and bachelor pads, and seemingly gifted to every dad on Father’s Day. They were the must-have cooking appliance for everyone who couldn’t really cook.
Invented in 1994 by Michael Boehm, the George Foreman Lean Mean Fat-Reducing Grilling Machine instantaneously became an infomercial phenomenon, where it was endorsed by its congenial namesake spokesman while he was dressed in a boxing robe, delivering hokey one-liners like, “This machine knocks out the fat.” To date, Foreman claims more than 100 million units have been sold, while a number of sleeker redesigns have been introduced over the years. (The George Foreman Grill & Broil, released on QVC in September, features two non-stick grill plates, two waffle plates, and one griddle plate.) Though Foreman’s later ventures—including a Bullet-like Mix & Go blender and his steak-centric Butcher Shop—didn’t come close to capturing the same buzz, the Grill has kept his wallet well-padded. In 1999, Foreman cashed out with $137.5 million, handing over his signature and name for Salton Inc. to use in perpetuity.
For all its enduring popularity, however, no one ever seemed to notice just how shitty the George Foreman Grill is. Though subsequent versions have added improvements such as removable plates, the original is more likely to be found collecting dust in thrift-shop graveyards, rather than sitting on your kitchen counter. It’s a substandard product whose faults people only seem to pick up on after purchasing. But let’s just enumerate them now.
Want aesthetically pleasing sear marks on your pork chops? Buy a charcoal grill, and perhaps your chops will look and taste grilled. The Foreman grill works by clamping down on the meats and cooking the top and bottom simultaneously. The moisture and heat created in the cooking process have little place to go, so steam ends up recirculating between the grill plates. Steaks cooked on the George Foreman grill don’t have that appealing crusty char, but rather, come out a wet slab of protein with parallel skid marks, like those of a peeling-out Chevy Aveo (as opposed to a more boss Chevy Camaro).
“Because of the slanting of it, the fat rolls down. It’s different,” Foreman bragged. And he was right; it was different. Boehm’s innovation—basically what differentiates his grill from a glorified panini press—is the slope with which the grease from the cooked meats channels away into a janky plastic boat. But is there an actual, appreciable difference between meat cooked in its juices versus meat cooked with its fat drained away? By that logic, a ribeye steak over an open-fire grill is equally healthy as one cooked in a George Foreman grill. Are there studies showing that a steak cooked in a skillet reabsorbs so much of its oil to make the nutritional difference more than negligible? Really, the biggest selling point of a slanted cooking surface is that the oils drained away are collected into one convenient place, supposedly making the grill easier to clean. Except….
Newer models use dishwasher-safe, removable grill plates. But first-generation units are a real bear to clean. First of all, that cheap-looking plastic spatula helpfully included to scrape off the stalactites and stalagmites of petrified meat-stuff is likely still sitting in the box. Secondly, emptying the hot grease tray without spillage is a balancing feat only the Flying Wallendas could pull off.
And then there’s trying to scrub a searing hot grill with a damp sponge, a dangerous and foolish act. Most likely you give up immediately or you never even bother, and the meat bits and coagulated grease harden overnight. Three weeks later, when you use the grill again, you’ve discovered it’s hardened into a fetid piece of outsider art.
One of the more memorable details of Michael Scott’s loser bachelordom on The Office was that he owns and uses a George Foreman Grill. The joke works because Steve Carell’s character is a sad, simple man-child, stuck in a case of arrested development—and what better fits those traits than using a George Foreman Grill? That episode also demonstrates how the grill is dangerous in untrained hands, as Michael tries making bacon with his George Foreman Grill from bed, then burns the shit out of his feet. It’s no joke: Barely brush your bare skin up against the grill’s plates and you’ll soon have charred flakes of it sizzling right next to your fish filet.
Making matters worse, the original Foreman grill lacks variable temperature control, so if you’d like your steak a reddish-pink medium-rare, it’s entirely in fate’s hands. Still, while no self-respecting cook would dare slice into the middle of the steak to check its doneness, the fact that you’re cooking one on a George Foreman Grill negates that.
No sink, no oven, no problem. Let’s be clear: The Foreman wasn’t designed for feeding your (enormous) family. It was designed for 18-year-olds living from one $130 textbook to the next. Inexpensive and able to fit alongside a Gateway desktop, the Grilling Machine breaks down the process of cooking a chicken breast to a mere three minutes. You could prepare and scarf a meal down during the opening credits of The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air, and for that it is great.
But eventually, you graduate. You become a grown up with responsibilities and a proper kitchen. You learn to use a skillet like an adult. It won’t make you fatter. You learn to gauge whether meats are cooked by feeling with your knuckles. Your food tastes better. It’s easier to clean up after yourself. You pack up your shitty George Foreman Grill and take it to the Goodwill, for the next sorry sucker.