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For some, infrared grilling is the present and future of barbecue. From the even heat distribution to the elimination of flare-ups, there is a range of benefits.
Knowing how an infrared grill works should help you decide whether you are ready to start cooking with one. Its use of radiant heat is worth learning, if you do need to explain to your guests how you cooked that steak so quickly.
An infrared grill is not for everyone. You may specialize in low and slow barbecuing, for which an infrared grill will not be of much use.
If time is at a premium and you want to quickly sear your food or cook a couple of steaks then an infrared grill can soon become indispensable.
They also tend to be more expensive, bigger and heavier than their grilling counterparts which is worth considering. In this guide, we will also break down the pros and cons of an infrared grill so you can make the best decision.
Here is the science bit. You cannot see infrared radiation, usually you cannot even feel it as the wavelengths are that short. Infrared energy forms part of the electromagnetic system, though it remains invisible to the human eye.
Your remote control uses infrared radiation yet when you magically change the channel, the infrared radiation that’s used is imperceptible but you know it is there.
It is only when the infrared wavelengths get longer that you can actually feel them and that’s from the heat they emit.
Infrared energy is absorbed by Earth as heat from the sun which is then used to keep the planet’s inhabitants warm.
About half of the sun’s energy is infrared which we can feel when objects are heated up yet we cannot see that process with our own eyes.
Back to the grilling. While there are widely available charcoal and wood pellet grills, an infrared grill uses gas. You could buy a wholly infrared grill, or find a traditional gas grill with an infrared burner or two.
For an infrared grill, the gas acts as the heat source and that intense heat is accumulated on the emitter plate which can be made out of steel, ceramic or glass.
Whichever material is used, the surface is designed to emit the heat specifically within the range of the infrared wavelength.
Without using direct heat, infrared grilling is an ingenious way of using a barbecue. When using a typical gas grill, the flame directly heats the grates on which your food is cooking.
In an infrared grill, the infrared element sits between the flame and the grates.
That means it uses indirect heat as the element is heated by the gas which then distributes this intense heat onto your food.
By using the heat generated by the gas flame indirectly, any flare-ups are absorbed by the infrared element rather than your food.
This method of cooking also means that by using radiant heat there is an even heat distribution.
That one feature alone can be difficult to get used to as such an intense heat can be bewildering to use at first resulting in undercooked or burnt meat.
Instead of going all out to buy an infrared grill, you could purchase the heating elements to use on the gas grill you already own. Do check the gas grill itself beforehand and perhaps even consider checking with the manufacturer whether the installation is possible.
This is always an advisable step as it can be difficult and increasingly dangerous trying to install the heating element. Due to the effort of installing the heating element, you would need to weigh up how much you truly need that intense heat and quicker cooking time.
Due to how relatively new to the barbecue scene infrared grills are, there is a lot to consider that you may not have thought of. Yes, they can preheat really quickly and get up to an incredibly high temperature.
That may be ideal if you simply want to cook a steak within a couple of minutes and retain all those delicious juices. An infrared grill can also provide a great sear.
However, for fish, vegetables, and other cuts of meat, you would require a longer cooking time at a lower temperature to get them ready for the table.
There is a lot of science that goes into how an infrared grill works, specifically how it locks in moisture. This relates to the specific type of heat a grill uses.
A conventional grill would use convective heat where hot air transfers the heat to the food. That is why when you close the lid on your grill while cooking, this creates a constant temperature as the hot air cannot escape.
Essentially, it is circulating under the lid much like an oven does.
One of the drawbacks of convective heat is that food tends to dry out quickly which is where you may want to consider this new technology.
An infrared grill does not heat the air but produces heat waves which generate an intense heat on the grill which is transferred directly to the food.
Instead of relying on hot air, the more readily available heatwaves seal in the moisture leaving your food more tender and full of delicious juices.
Should your guests not be aware that you have an infrared grill, the premium quality of their barbecued food may become a talking point. You can still take the credit for the flavorful brown crust and the juicy meat while delivering a science lesson.
It is worth noting that infrared grills can emit a much higher heat from this method of producing heat waves rather than relying on the air to be heated.
A typical infrared grill could produce a temperature upwards of 1,000 °F, even up to 1,200 °F. You may be surprised to learn that a conventional grill may only generate half that at 550 °F.
Even a Kamado-style charcoal grill that can quickly cook a pizza may only generate a temperature up to 750 °F. That is still an efficiently hot heat for cooking yet an infrared grill can go even higher. It also takes less time to heat up an infrared grill than more conventional grills.
Typically, you only need two to three minutes to get the heat going which is a lot quicker and saves time on preheating. Compare that to a conventional gas grill which can take around ten minutes to fully preheat. A charcoal grill can take even longer at around 20 to 30 minutes.
This is down to convection cooking as a charcoal and gas grill is only heating the air with the food floating above it. An infrared grill uses an emitter plate that retains the heat and emits the infrared heat waves which is a far quicker method of heating.
Less time worrying about preheating means more time entertaining guests and getting them fed promptly.
This rapid heating time can work wonders for a steak. This is one piece of meat that you want to cook really quickly. That is if you want to gain a flavorful brown crust on the outside but retain a deliciously tender and juicy pink interior.
Even just a few more minutes of cooking can result in a tough steak that no one truly wants to cut into.
With a cooking temperature upwards of 1000 °F, you may only need a single minute on either side to get your steak just right.
That also means some serious searing for your vegetables and fish too. A grill that can get to such a high heat, that fast is also safer too as bacteria is killed in no time at all.
Infrared grills use a heating element that distributes the heat and also acts as a protective barrier. Any juices or fat that does drip off your food is instantly vaporized which makes cleaning easier while still keeping the smoke and aromas.
Instead of having your food open to the flames, the emitter plate collects the heat to cook your food. Without the chance of a flare-up occurring, there is no possibility of your food being subject to the odd burn that could occur with a traditional gas or charcoal grill.
That emitter plate also means that cleaning after your barbecue is also more straightforward compared to traditional grills.
As you are cooking, the fat and meat juices drop to be collected by the emitter plate. Do not worry about the smoke and aromas as these go back to your food for enhanced flavor.
The emitter plate collecting the fat and juices also means that the combustion chamber in your grill requires limited cleaning too.
If you truly want to make the process of cleaning your grill easier there is a quick tip. Really quick in fact as you can turn up the heat on your infrared grill and turn any loose debris to ash. Once it has cooled down you can simply tip out the ash and dust it down.
As well as a distinct lack of flare-ups you should also ensure an even heat distribution with an infrared grill. One of the occasional pains of barbecuing is trying to work out where most of the heat is on the grill.
This is especially true of charcoal grills where you may spend a while moving or poking the briquettes until you get a reasonable heat distribution.
With an infrared grill, the emitter plate eliminates the prospect of cold and hot spots. That means less chance of your meat being burnt in some places yet undercooked in others.
There is often the temptation to believe that meat is done just because you can see some burnt patches yet this often is not the case. Enjoy a grill with an even heat distribution to cook your food on and revel in how well cooked everything tastes.
With a better, and more even, heat distribution you can also save energy. That is down to the infrared grill using radiant heat which results in less hot air and energy being lost during your cooking.
Not only is this a more efficient method of grilling, it also reduces cooking times and uses less fuel. You could find that an infrared grill uses a lot less gas, maybe even half as much as you would expect to use.
This could save you money and reduce your carbon footprint.
Of course, all that intense heat and quicker cooking time come at a cost. You may be able to find a small, portable infrared grill if you have a $500 budget, then again you could get a much larger conventional grill.
If you do want a full-sized infrared grill you are likely looking at an outlay over $1,000, potentially double or triple that. That is if you wanted an infrared grill that was around the same size as a regular four-burner gas grill.
You may need to ask yourself whether you truly need such an efficient grill to cook all that food in such a short amount of time.
Especially if it works incredibly well for steak yet you have to really turn the heat down to cook anything else. While you could use that high heat for searing, the rest of your barbecue food will require a lot longer, on a much lower heat.
That includes fish, burgers and vegetables which need to be thoroughly cooked.
The comparatively quicker cooking time may even be too fast for a lot of people. Certainly, if you are used to cooking your steak for a couple of minutes (and have done for years), you will likely be skeptical.
Seeing is believing and you may destroy a few expensive steaks through testing that theory out. Once you have used an infrared grill for your steak you may be wowed but it can take some getting used to.
While an infrared grill can get up to an incredibly high heat rapidly, it can prove difficult to control. There are some barbecue experts who prefer taking their time over their grilling.
The cooking element of the barbecue experience is something to enjoy along with the entertaining and the odd beer. Certainly, catching up with a friend while you turn over a sausage is part of the fun.
With an infrared grill, you may find yourself spending too much time and energy focusing on your food and the temperature. It only takes a couple of minutes of neglect for a steak to be ruined and food to be burnt.
Using an infrared grill also means making the effort to check the temperature before you put food on, and continuing to check it.
With a gas or charcoal grill you can try to gauge the temperature with your hand yet that proves dangerous with an infrared grill. Such is the intense heat on an infrared grill you may burn yourself.
If you like to experiment with your barbecuing, you may have to look around to find the right infrared grill for you. Sure, if you only ever cook steak then an infrared grill is ideal.
However, if you wanted to go low and slow for a beef brisket then you would need a temperature of around 100 °F. That requires an infrared grill with a variable temperature system that can turn the heat down.
Some infrared grills may not even go that low and some foods will prove far too delicate.
You may also consider a hybrid grill which includes an infrared grill as an option alongside the traditional gas or charcoal grill. With this type of grill, you can still quickly cook your steak and sear everything else to save some time.
However, you then have to quickly shift your food onto the conventional grill to make sure it is completely cooked through. That bonus of saving time is a nice thing to have yet is it truly necessary?
As infrared grills were typically designed for use in commercial kitchens due to their cooking speed, they are not designed for portability.
While they remain great at rapidly cooking meat and searing pretty much everything else, they do come with their own requirements.
If you were to splurge for an infrared grill, it would take an effort to install due to its bulk and heavy weight. Were you to move house, it may be a case of leaving the grill for the next homeowner due to their difficulty at being transported.
TEC actually invented infrared grilling over 40 years ago. Their products have stood the test of time and to this day remain the leading manufacturer of pure infrared grills. All of their products are proudly made in the USA and are highly rated by experts.
Lynx Grills are the best of the best when it comes to high end gas grills. Most of their built-in and freestanding grill offerings come standard with one infrared trident burner standard, however you can replace the other ceramic burners for infrared trident burners at no extra cost.
Blaze offers one of the most robust lines of outdoor kitchen products, and most of their grills are kitted with rear infrared burners and rotisserie kits.
There are certain reasons why you may want to consider an infrared grill. With their quick cooking times and increased energy efficiency, you could have a juicy steak on your plate within ten to fifteen minutes.
That is certainly a talking point yet you may want to spend more time at your barbecue. More time catching up with friends and family over a beer while you leisurely turn over a burger.
Definitely, an infrared grill makes light work of cooking a steak yet fails to be much use for a lot of food. That includes fish, vegetables, and larger cuts of meat you want to cook low and slow.
Their sheer size and weight could also pose a problem. Then again, there is the energy efficiency, even heat distribution and easier cleaning to consider.
An infrared grill can undoubtedly be convenient yet you have to ask yourself whether that’s what you want in your barbecuing experience.