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Do electric grills actually work? I put one to the ultimate backyard cooking test

Weber's Lumin compact electric grill ditches the propane and gas, but promises just as much flavor. Does it give traditional grills a run for their money?
Written by Taylor Clemons, Staff Writer
Close-up of the Weber Lumin electric grill on a table with a grill brush and spatula.
Taylor Clemons/ZDNET

Weber is one of the biggest names in grilling and outdoor cooking, with its classic kettle-style charcoal grills being one of the most popular choices. It also has a great range of gas and dual-fuel grills for backyard barbecuers and pitmasters who don't want to deal with the mess and hassle of charcoal and lighter fluid. 

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And for the grilling aficionado who doesn't want to deal with either, Weber has introduced its new Lumin electric grill.

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While electric grills aren't a new concept, most all share a similar design for their cooking surfaces: a solid plate with raised ridges to give the appearance of grill marks or a flat, steel surface that is ideal for cooking large quantities of things like burgers or vegetables. The Lumin uses a traditional, open grill grate which allows cooking juices and fat to drip down onto the heating element and lower portion of the grill itself. 

Close-up of two chicken breasts and a foil packet of broccoli being cooked on a Weber Lumin electric grill

At full capacity, the grill can fit a good two to three portions of food.

Taylor Clemons/ZDNET

When the fat and drippings hit the element or heated metal, they will vaporize and smoke, giving your meat, fish, and vegetables that distinctive charred, smoky flavor that comes with gas or charcoal grilling. The Lumen also comes with a stainless steel steamer basket that can be used to hold soaked woodchips for smoking ribs and brisket, water for steaming vegetables or thawing meat to grill, or water to use the grill as a chafing dish to keep prepared food at safe temperatures while you finish cooking.

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I was a little skeptical of just how well the Weber Lumin could mimic the taste of a gas grill, so I cooked two identical meals: chicken breasts marinated in buttermilk and Hola Island Provisions Jamaican marinade, broccoli, and tabbouleh. I cooked two chicken breasts and about half a pound of broccoli on both the Lumin and my inherited, mystery-brand gas grill. 

Pre-heating both grills took about the same amount of time; ten to fifteen minutes, give or take, which didn't surprise me. And cook times were very similar as well, which was surprising. I was fully expecting the gas grill to take a bit longer to cook at least the chicken since it allowed more airflow. 

Close-up of the Weber Lumin electric grill temperature controls.

A temperature control knob on the side of the Lumen grill.

Taylor Clemons/ZDNET

The Weber Lumin is a virtually-closed unit, with just a small opening at the very bottom of the grill to allow excess cooking juices and fats to drip down into the dedicated waste tray. This doesn't allow a lot of airflow, and the double-walled design of the lid and grill body mean that the Lumin also holds a lot more heat for a lot longer. However, both grills took about 20 minutes to properly cook both the chicken breasts and broccoli packets. Which was good because, by this point, I was getting exceptionally hungry and tired of babysitting two grills.

Close-up of the drip pan of the Weber Lumin electric grill

A waste tray to catch all the excess juice and drippings.

Taylor Clemons/ZDNET

As I made up plates for comparison shots, I thought the Weber Lumin did a great job putting char and color on the meat and vegetables. But looks can be deceiving, so I saved my judgment for what we've all been waiting for: the taste test.

When I tell you that if I hadn't cooked everything myself, I wouldn't have been able to tell which was which.

I honestly wasn't expecting the electric grill version to have much flavor at all besides what seasonings I had used on the chicken and vegetables. But the smoked and vaporized fat and cooking juices from the chicken were able to impart that distinctive grilled flavor we all want. It wasn't as strong or as nuanced as it would have been if I had grilled over wood or charcoal, but compared to propane, the plates were nearly identical in flavor. 

Two plates with identical meals of grilled chicken and broccoli with tabbouleh. One is labeled "electric" and the other is labeled "propane"

A comparison between what's cooked by the Lumen grill (left) and my mystery gas grill (right).

Taylor Clemons/ZDNET

The only real complaint I have about the Lumin is that neither the full-sized nor compact version come packaged with a stand or legs. By default, they are meant to be set on a table, which is great for apartments and condos with outdoor space so limited they can't fit both a grill and prep table. 

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But if you do have the space, I highly recommend buying the leg base -- not only to save you the panic of trying to find a way to arrange your outdoor space so the plug will reach but also so you can get a proper cover for your grill to protect it from the elements while not in use. And though Weber says the grill is safe to leave outside in the rain, I would also recommend bringing it inside your garage or tool shed if you're going to get more than a light mist or sprinkles. 

The Weber Lumin is available in two sizes, with the full-size version selling for $519 and the compact version retailing for $459. They both also come in five different colors (black, dark blue, yellow, green, and light blue) so you can match them with your other outdoor cooking equipment or show off your personal style. And if you want to buy the leg bases, they retail for $149 and $179 for the compact and full-size versions, respectively.

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