Infrared grills are making waves in the outdoor grill market but getting past all of the marketing claims to figure out which ones are the best can be tough!
There are three different types of infrared grills on the market that vary significantly in technology and price.
- 100% Infrared
- Partial Infrared
- Hybrid Infrared
100% Infrared Grills (Tec and Solaire)
TEC pioneered infrared grilling and has always led the field. TEC grills are top of the line and feature heavy duty stainless steel construction. TEC grills are pure quality and have price tags that reflect their excellent build materials.
All TEC grills operate by firing a gas burner underneath a glass panel. The glass panel gets hot and emits the IR radiation that cooks your food. Here is what the glass panel looks like:
This panel sits between the burner tube and the cooking grates which essentially eliminates the possibility of flare ups.
This is a hard set up to properly describe but the video below does an excellent job of showing you exactly how this grill works.
Solaire, like TEC, produces high end stainless steel grills that are built to last. However, Solaire takes a different approach to infrared grilling than TEC.
Solaire grills use an enclosed burner box that heats an infrared emitting ceramic element.
The IR burners on a Solaire grill are directly below the cooking grate so flare ups will happen although they will be short lived.
The grates on Solaire grills are V shaped to trap the grease and drain it away from the burners as much as possible. The grills come with a nice little tool that gets inside the V grooves for easier cleaning. It is worth mentioning that Solaire uses this design to make a very nice portable infrared grill as well.
While the TEC and Solaire grills are capable of incredible searing they suffer from the same drawback. These grills are amazing at high temperatures but don’t really offer low temperature grilling. The temperature range on these grills goes from Hot to Damn Hot.
The TEC solution to this problem is to add on a Smoke grid with a water well.
By adding a water buffer and raising the grate further from the IR panels TEC claims that you can grill or smoke in the 250F range.
In a similar manner Solaire offers a heavy duty water pan that can be inserted between the grate and the ceramic IR burner.
The 100% infrared grills from TEC and Solaire are beautiful high end grills but I would not buy one. These are amazing grills for high heat searing but I like a little more versatility and bang for my buck at these price points. At these prices I would look at a six burner Weber Genesis or Summit.
If you are not too worried about the price tag and simply want the best infrared grill then buy a TEC.
Partial Infrared Grill (Char Broil)
The Charbroil TRU Infrared grills are classic examples of partial IR grills. CharBroil uses the same burner tubes that you will find in non-IR grills but obtains infrared radiation by heating a steel plate that is directly below the grilling grate.
Here is a quick look at the Charbroil TRU Infrared grilling system
I am calling this a partial infrared system because the infrared emitting metal plate contains a bunch of small holes that still allow hot gases from the burners to reach your food. CharBroil says that this system operates with a minimum of 65% infrared heat. This metal plate system is used on the Commercial and Signature line of gas grills.
Char Broil has a second infrared system that they use on their electric Patio Bistro, Kettleman charcoal grill and lower end Performance gas grill. This system uses the cooking grate itself as the IR emitter.
While the Char Broil designs are not as sexy as a ceramic burner they get the job done. What is more important is that the simplicity of the design allows these grills to be manufactured at a fraction of the cost of a TEC grill.
The CharBroil system will not get as hot or sear as well as the grills from TEC or Solaire but it will still put down some great looking grill marks. Because these grills use traditional gas burners you can grill at a much wider range of temperatures than you can with a 100% infrared grill.
I have really mixed feelings about the Char Broil infrared grills.
The grills work extremely well and are designed to affordably bring infrared grilling to the masses. On the flip side, the internals on these grills build up rust like CRAZY! These are budget grills that will only last for 2-3 years.
Hybrid Infrared Grills (Sedona by Lynx and Napoleon)
Hybrid infrared grills combine the temperature flexibility of a traditional gas grill with the searing power of infrared burners. This is typically accomplished by putting both types of burners in the same grill.
There are two approaches to hybrid infrared grilling that are best demonstrated by Napoleon and Sedona.
Sedona grills by Lynx are ultra premium grills that are simply stunning. I have tried taking a picture of one of these at my local grill store but the highly polished stainless steel reflects so much light that it ends up looking like a starburst….so here is a stock photo instead 🙂
The Sedona concept is simple. The burner on the left side of the grill is a traditional gas burner while the one on the right is a ceramic infrared burner.
Many manufacturers of built in insert grills go a step further and allow you to simply swap out a standard burner for a ceramic infrared burner whenever you want
Other manufacturers, like Napoleon, provide grills that use standard burner tubes for the primary cooking surface but have an infrared side burner for searing steaks. Often these grill will also include a rear infrared burner for use with a rotisserie.
I like the concept of a hybrid infrared grill. It gives you the flexibility offered by a traditional gas grill with the high heat searing provided by infrared.
Benefits of Infrared Grills
.A standard gas grill is a glorified hair dryer. You blow hot air over your food until it is cooked. An infrared grill is different because it heats a solid surface to high temperatures and the surface emits radiation that cooks your food. The radiant heat on an infrared grill is typically much hotter than you get with a standard gas grill.
The general consensus is that meat retains more moisture on an infrared grill because it cooks faster (higher heat) and you are not blowing hot air over it like you do with a gas grill.
Also, because there is a solid surface of some time between the flames and your food flare ups are greatly minimized on an infrared grill.