What is an infrared grill, anyway?
The advantages of infrared grilling vs gas grilling
An infrared grill is a new kind of cooking device that is taking the country's backyards, patios and campgrounds by storm. It's not exactly a new technology, but what is new is the idea of the device that employs the technology being commonly used at home. These grills are found in steakhouses and restaurants all over, but only since 2000 has the technology been put to use by several manufacturers to make grills for personal use. This is because key patents expired in that year, making the development of smaller, and better infrared grills possible. Now what was once only possible to get at the better steakhouses - a perfectly cooked piece of meat - is available to anyone who has one of these little beauties. But what is an infrared grill, exactly?
There are a couple of essential components that make an infrared grill different from a conventional gas grill. The first is the burner itself - this is a specialized device that accomplishes the conversion of propane or natural gas into infrared radiation. The heat produced by these special burners is several hundred degrees hotter than is possible with conventional gas grills. That high heat is part of the attraction of an infrared grill - it cooks meat quickly, keeping the flavorful juices and moisture in the food intact. The other important component is the grate itself - what the heat makes hot and what the food is placed on. Ceramic grates were the first wave, and some less expensive infrared grills till use them. The better, more expensive models use a high-quality stainless steel grilling grate, which has the advantage of being more efficient at holding the heat than ceramic, and of being much more durable.
There are several advantages to cooking with an infrared grill at home. The first is that with the high temperature produced, steaks and other meats simply taste better when cooked with this method. The heat sears the outside of the meat, and keeps the moisture inside, producing more flavorful results. The cooking process is easier because the heat is evenly distributed so there are no hot spots. Food cooked on an infrared grill also tastes better because the high heat vaporizes any juices that fall onto the lower portion, causing a smoky charbroiled taste in the food. The second advantage is time - it takes much less to cook a typical piece of meat than with a conventional grill. The grill gets hot very quickly, cooks faster, and cleans up better and more quickly. Finally, because the cooking and cleaning process is fast, the grill actually uses less fuel than a conventional gas grill. In the long run, it more economical to cook this way, it tastes better, and is faster.
There are some disadvantages to cooking with an infrared grill. It's definitely an expensive piece of equipment compared to a gas grill - the least expensive infrared grills available are a little over $200, and they go up into the thousands for the larger, feature-laden models. In addition, the high heat is a not adjustable to lower levels, so for some foods the grill may not be a good way to cook - anything that needs long slow cooking is not going to work with an infrared grill. If you opt for one of the grills that use the older ceramic grate technology, you'll have to be more careful - the ceramic parts are susceptible to be being easily cracked or broken, and are expensive to replace.
So, the contest of infrared grill vs gas grill is not as easily decided as it looks. While infrared grilling is clearly better for steaks and chops, for slow cooking the only choice is a conventional gas grill. The infrared grill is more expensive than a gas grill, but is more fuel efficient over the long term. Infrared grills are faster to heat up, faster to cook on, and easier to clean up than gas grills. Foods that are cooked on an infrared grill taste better because the food isn't dried out as it cooks as with a gas grill, but you can't use it for everything that you can on a conventional grill.