One of the latest trends in outdoor grilling is the growing popularity of the infrared grill. Once a feature only available on high-end models, infrared technology has gone mainstream, showing up in grills at many price points. But what is an infrared grill and should you be thinking about adding this latest technology to your grilling arsenal?
Today, we take a closer look at infrared grills and help you decide whether this technology is right for you.
What is an infrared grill?
Infrared grills use infrared technology to radiate intense heat directly to the food you cook. To truly understand how infrared technology works, it helps to know that there are basically three ways to cook your food – conduction, convection, and radiation.
Conduction involves the direct transfer of heat from one object to another. When you fry eggs or sausage in a frying pan, you are using conduction. The burner on the stove heats the pan and the pan’s hot surface makes contact with the food.
Convection uses a flow of hot air or water to cook food. You’re using convection when you boil pasta in water or roast a turkey in your oven. Traditional gas grills use convection to create a flow of hot air around the food. Some conduction is also involved with conventional grills, since the hot grates of the grill also transfer heat to the food on the grill.
Radiation, the method used in infrared grills, uses a form of electromagnetic energy to send heat directly to the food. Most infrared grills sandwich an infrared burner between conventional gas burners and the cooking surface. The gas burners heat the infrared burner, and that burner sends intense heat directly to the food on the grill surface.
Radiation or radiant heat is also in use when you turn on the broiler element in your conventional oven or use your microwave oven to make a baked potato. Charcoal grills also produce a small amount of infrared energy (or radiation) when the coals get really hot.
Benefits of Infrared Grills
Quick Preheat/Fast Cooking Times
Infrared grills heat up faster and can generate much higher temperatures than most conventional grills. In fact, it’s not uncommon for an infrared grill to reach a temperature of 700 degrees F (370 degrees C) in under 7 minutes. This translates to faster cooking times, especially for solid, dense meats like steak, which can cook in as little as 1 minute per side. Plus, with faster preheating, grill enthusiasts will look forward to grilling more often, even when they may be short on time.
Uniform Heat Perfect for Searing
Infrared grills produce heat evenly across the entire grilling surface. This means less hot and cold spots and more uniform heat distribution. At high temperatures this even heat is perfect for searing steaks or chops perfectly.
Use Less Fuel
When compared to conventional grills, infrared grills use less gas to attain the same temperatures. That means you’ll cook more meals for less money.
Easy to Clean
Since infrared grills can attain such high temperatures, it’s easy to clean your grill after cooking. Simply turn on the infrared burner to incinerate food particles into ash for easy removal.
Types of Infrared Burner Systems
The most common type of infrared burner system features a ceramic surface mounted on top of a stainless steel burner system. The ceramic surface produces hundreds of tiny flames that create intense, yet even, heat very quickly. The cooking surface will heat to temperatures ranging from 600-1000 degrees F. This type of burner is great for searing meat; however, most ceramic burners are unable to cook food at lower temperatures.
Radiant Glass Panels
TEC, the original inventor of infrared technology for grills, recently introduced a radiant glass panel system that features a cooking grid built on top of a radiant glass panel. The glass panel produces even heat distribution in a range from 200-900 degrees F, making it a solid choice if you want intense heat for searing and lower temperatures for cooking other types of food.
Heat emitter systems feature a burner made from a stainless steel tube with a metal heat emitter panel positioned over the burner and a cooking grid on top of the emitter panel. These burners produce even heat distribution in a range from 300-650 degrees F. While hot enough for searing, heat emitter units aren’t able to produce the intense heat of other types of infrared systems.
Cooking on an Infrared Grill
While there are certainly advantages to using an infrared grill, there is a bit of a learning curve, especially at first. Because infrared grills heat up so quickly and reach temperatures up to 1000 degrees F, it’s easy to overcook meat or even burn it if you aren’t paying close attention. For that reason, first-time users aren’t likely to get a perfect steak. It takes some practice to get the hang of cooking at higher temperatures for shorter periods of time.
Some infrared grills allow you to cook vegetables, shrimp, or other delicate foods at a lower temperature setting, but many don’t have this feature. If you want the ability to cook some foods at lower temperatures, look for an infrared grill with this capability or invest in an infrared hybrid grill that combines an infrared burner with conventional burners for more versatility.
Are Infrared Grills Safe?
Infrared grills aren’t any more dangerous than their conventional counterparts. While infrared radiation is involved, this type of radiation is completely different from nuclear radiation that results from the disintegration of unstable atoms at nuclear power plants or during a routine X-ray. The term radiation in this case simply means that heat energy moves through the air in waves. In fact, just about everyone has a radiant heating device in their homes called a toaster. Toasters use electricity to heat elements that radiate heat directly to the bread, resulting in beautiful, brown toast.
That said, infrared grills can pose health risks, due to the high temperatures their burners can attain. A recent TheSpruceEats.com article warns, “When cooking on infrared, it’s very important to keep a close eye on foods. Since your cooking time is reduced, you can burn meats very quickly. Burnt food always presents a cancer risk and needs to be avoided at all costs.”
So now that you know some of the unique advantages of infrared grill technology, should you invest in an infrared grill? That decision will largely depend on your preferred grilling style. If you’ve always wanted to achieve that steakhouse sear or love the idea of cooking food quickly, infrared technology might be the perfect addition to your grilling arsenal. An infrared grill can still be a good choice if you’d love to combine intense heat with cooking at lower temperatures. Just be sure to choose a model that cooks in your preferred temperature range or ask about hybrid grill models that combine infrared and conventional technologies.
Still have questions about infrared grills or want to see grill models up close? Check out Grill Central at LanChester Grill & Hearth, located in Gap, PA, where you’ll find a huge selection of top-quality grills for the serious grill enthusiast.