I remember a time when people only thought of Ninja as a blender they saw on an infomercial. Today, the company has come to dominate the kitchen aisles at Target and Walmart. They make an appliance for just about everything — food processors, coffee makers, juicers, cookware, ice cream makers and even indoor grills. No word yet on the brand's expansion to outdoor grills, but the indoor grills — called the Ninja Foodi Grill, starting just above $200 full price — have become increasingly popular since their 2019 release. Ninja markets them sort of like an Instant Pot that grills instead of pressure cooks. Could it actually replace your grill? We tested it to find out.
Maximum efficiency: It takes very little doing to cook in the Ninja Foodi Grill. On virtually any setting, its preheat times are significantly shorter than full-sized ovens, and because the machine has preset programs for most standard items (chicken breast, steak and so on), there's no getting up from the sofa to check cooking progress. Unlike an oven set to broil or any temp above 400, it doesn't super-heat the air in the room it's located either, so you're not opening windows or turning on the A/C for cooking respite.
Dishwasher-safe: There are many attachments, odds and ends used in cooking with the Ninja Foodi Grill (splatter shield, grates, grease catch, etc.). Initially, I didn't realize all of them were dishwasher-safe, so I found myself washing each piece — cracks, crevices and gaps included — by hand. My advice read the manual in full before cooking. You won't lose 20 minutes of your life scrubbing between grates.
Non-grilling functions: The cooking functions not in the name of the Foodi Grill are very good. The air-frying function does what any good air fryer should: preheat quickly, cook fast and deliver a satisfying crunch with minimal oil or fats required. It bakes well enough, too, which makes sense considering air frying is essentially baking by another name. I made a tray of brownies that came out perfectly.
The Not so Good
More oven than grill: Ninja's clever countertop multicooker does many of its jobs well, but it's not going to replace a grill. Enameled cast iron grates can do the trick if the heat source — charcoal, gas or otherwise — is powerful enough, but the Foodi Grill isn't reaching the blazing temperatures found in charcoal grills or gas grills with infrared burners (both reach well above 800 degrees). What makes grilled food great and different from food cooked indoors is sky-high temperatures, and the Foodi Grill isn't cutting it in that respect. The grates will leave grill marks, but grill marks aren't what you're after either; you want a full sear, which you won't get from the machine.
The best way to mimic the sear achieved on a hot grill indoors is still a cast-iron skillet, though you will have to deal with lots of smoke in your kitchen, which is a problem the Foodi Grill doesn't have.
RIP countertop space: No matter which size Foodi Grill you get, be prepared to lose a significant percentage of your open countertop space. The appliance is wide, tall and generally awkward to lug around. Heed the same advice given to those interested in a heavy Dutch oven: if you're willing to keep it in the kitchen all the time in its own dedicated space and will use it regularly, fear not.
Also, because there's so much enameled iron inside, it's not light.
While the grill feature is more imitation than evocation (it just doesn't have the requisite firepower), the Foodi Grill is consistent, intuitive and fits nicely within the Ninja kitchen appliance universe. If you're willing to temper your expectations and understand the grill function is more aesthetics than taste, you're good. Therefore I wouldn't recommend the Foodi Grill as a replacement or stand-in for a grill, but it executes its many other functions to a high degree of consistency.