The popularity of infrared grilling has been growing in recent years, with proponents praising both the energy efficiency and the cooking abilities of their infrared grills. There has been a lot of buzz lately from barbecue enthusiasts who say that these grills deliver a flavor like char-broiling, but with a shorter preheating and cooking time. While early models were a bit pricey, inexpensive models are now becoming available and infrared grilling is becoming accessible to the average barbecuer.
Infrared grills work by a different principal from conventional grills. In conventional grills, a gas flame is used to heat the air, which moves around the food and transfers the heat to it. This is a relatively inefficient way to get the heat to the food. No matter how closely you position your burgers, it’s inevitable that a lot of the hot air will rush right by without even touching them. The problem is that you’re not directly heating the food itself; you’re heating the air and then trying to put your food into it. By its nature, this process is going to waste a lot of heat. Much of the propane is being burned up for nothing, which is bad for both the griller’s pocketbook and for the environment. Because this lengthy transfer of heat happens rather slowly, food is cooked slowly and has a chance to lose many of the natural juices and flavors during the process.
On the other hand, an infrared grill uses the same gas as the conventional grill, but in a different way. The gas is used to generate heat that is applied to a ceramic tile, which becomes superheated and starts radiating infrared energy. Food that is placed over the tile is cooked very quickly, allowing juices to be locked in rather than cooking out. This produces moist, tender meat that has gotten enthusiastic reviews from grillers. The tile heats up very quickly so you can start cooking right away, and the shorter cooking time means that less fuel is used. Heat radiates evenly from the entire surface of the tile, allowing very even cooking.
Afterwards, the cleanup is a snap. Infrared grills are so hot that any residue is reduced to ash, which will be easy to rinse off when the grill cools. The thick, greasy buildup that occurs on conventional grills simply doesn’t happen with infrared grills. The tile will remain clean even after countless uses.
Having said this, it should be acknowledged that infrared grills do have certain limitations. Because the tile gets so hot, low temperature is not an option. The same fast, hot cooking that locks in flavor can be a disadvantage in some situations. You can’t cook things “low and slow,” and vegetables and fish tend to get cremated. The high temperature also causes quick, heavy charring of meats, which contains chemicals that pose certain health risks. While some charring is good, an infrared grill can give you more than you need. Another problem is that infrared grills are rather complex devices that tend to be large and immobile.
Manufacturers are already coming to terms with these issues. Some newer grills are now capable of both infrared and conventional cooking, allowing a wider range of temperatures. Infrared grills will probably always be bigger and more cumbersome than their conventional cousins, but there are now some models coming on the market that are advertised as portable.
While the price of infrared grills is coming down, it is probable that they will always be a bit more expensive than conventional grills. However, these units are extremely durable, and when properly cleaned and maintained they will perform flawlessly for many years. Considering the savings on fuel, it’s obvious that the infrared grill will pay for itself in time.