The grilling season is upon us and you’ve spent several weekends cleaning up your yard and patio/deck getting ready for the summer parties. Now you’re thinking about replacing your old gas grill.
You’re familiar with gas grills. But recently, you’ve heard about infrared grills. And like me, you want to know what the differences are, and which grill is best for you. When I first heard about infrared grills, I searched online for information. I can’t remember how many stores I also visited to learn as much as I could. I was able to eventually find what I was looking for, but the information was scattered all over. I have gathered some of this information and put together this page so you wouldn’t have to waste time searching all over, like I did. If you are looking for best infrared grill, check out my top 10 at here!
And now on to the detailed comparison. Before we get into the differences, we need to understand how infrared grills and conventional gas grills are similar. Obviously, both are used for grilling whatever you may have to cook like meats or a smorgasbord of vegetables.
Another thing they have in common is that both infrared and gas grills use gas as their heat source, either natural gas or propane. Infrared grills can also use electricity as the heat source, but the majority of the infrared grills currently available use gas.
Heating / Cooking
Basically, the main difference between infrared grills and gas grills is the way the heat is transferred to what is being grilled. This section may get a bit technical, but please bear with me. I’ll try to keep it short. If you want to skip this part, just scroll down to the Grilling Temperature section.
There are 3 basic methods for transferring heat from the heat source (gas flame) to whatever is being grilled. All grills, whether they are charcoal, gas or infrared can cook your food with a combination of all three methods. The trick is to maximize the best method and reduce the undesired methods. The first heating method is direct heating. This is where the heat source (flame) is in direct contact with your food. In grilling, this happens mostly when there is a flare-up and results in uneven cooking and burning of the food. This is definitely not desired and can ruin an otherwise enjoyable barbeque.
The second method for transferring heat is convection. This is the primary method of heating produced by gas grills. Convection heat is where the air around the gas flame is heated and circulates inside the grill. This circulation transfers the heat from the flame to the food being grilled. However, in the process, the circulating air also tends to dry the food, much like a hair dryer dries your hair.
The third method for transferring heat is radiation. This the primary method of heating produced by infrared grills. Charbroil claims that their Tru-Infrared technology provides about 85% infrared heating and 15% convection heating. A typical gas grill provides anywhere from 5 to 15% infrared heating and 85 to 95% convection heating. And of course, if there are flare-ups while grilling, direct heating comes into play and can become the most important.
Infrared heat is produced when an object is heated and it then radiates heat in the form of infrared radiation. In the case of infrared grills, the object being heated is a ceramic or metal plate or grid between the gas flame and the food being grilled. Typically, the plate contains a lot of small holes. These holes are designed to intensify and focus the infrared radiation towards the food. The infrared radiation strikes the food and is converted to heat at the surface of the food. This may sound similar to microwaves, but the effects on your foods are very different.
Microwaves are radiation that penetrates the food about an inch or so and then converts to heat, effectively cooking the food from the inside out. Although good for heating coffee, microwave cooking of meat results in a dry, tasteless lump with a partially cooked and un-appetizing surface. Infrared radiation does not penetrate into the food, but converts to heat at the surface, effectively searing the outside of your steak, burger or whatever you are grilling. As you probably already know, searing your foods before cooking the inside of the food locks in juices and flavor. I don’t know about you, but I would rather have a steak with a nice seared outside and a pink and juicy inside any day.
The infrared heating plate or grid is generally located closer to the grilling surface than the gas grill’s flame. This closeness, along with infrared radiation heating, combine to focus and concentrate the heat on the food being grilled. Highest temperatures are produced at the surface of the food in infrared grills. As a result, the actual cooking temperatures in an infrared grill can easily exceed 700 degrees.
In conventional gas grills, temperatures are highest at the burners followed by the top of the grill, way above the food being cooked. And you would be hard pressed to get anything above 600 degrees with a conventional gas grill. In addition, the design of infrared grills results very minimal loss of heat since the flame is not openly exposed to the air like gas grills are. This is especially evident when you open the grill lid. The temperature of infrared grills do not drop nearly as much as conventional gas grills do.
Flare-ups and Safety
Safety and control while grilling are other significant factors that differentiate an infrared grill from a gas grill. You might think that infrared grills are more hazardous than gas grills because the infrared grill can cook at higher temperature.
As a matter of fact, the heat produced by infrared cooking is under much greater control and more evenly distributed at the grilling surface. Infrared cooking is sometime referred to as a flameless way of cooking. The flames in an infrared grill are contained below or behind the heating plates or grids. Consequently, there is less chance of flare-ups and fire accidents than when using gas grills where the flame is exposed to the open air.
Efficiency and Grilling Time
In this era of higher fuel costs, fuel efficiency of your grill can become important, especially if you do a lot of grilling. Without a doubt, infrared grills are considered far more efficient than the conventional gas grills.
There are 2 main reasons for this. The first is that the heat from the flames is trapped by the heating plate or grid. This produces higher temperatures with less gas burned. Infrared grills are also more efficient because the cooking temperature doesn’t drop anywhere near as much when you open the grill to check on your food or to flip it. The grill doesn’t need to reheat every time you open the lid. As a result, the foods cook faster, plus you can cook more foods in a short period of time.
Some users of infrared grills report 1/3 less gas used and grilling times cut by a quarter or more.
The most important aspect of grilling is taste. Taste, above all else, is why we grill foods on the grill. And this is where infrared grills shine. The radiant heating and higher temperatures achieved with infrared grills combine to sear the outside of your food very quickly without drying it out.
This allows greater retention of the natural juices and maintains the natural flavors of the food. Conversely, gas grills tend to dry your foods and are more prone to flare-ups, which can cause burning and if bad enough, may give your food a bitter taste.
Infrared Grills cost about 15% more than conventional gas grills. In general, Charbroil grills with their Tru-Infrared System are about $50 more than comparable conventional gas grills. Grills with Weber’s Sear Station typically run $100 to $150 more than grills without the Sear Station. In my opinion, getting perfectly seared and juicy grilled steaks far out-way the small additional investment.
So, What Type of Grill is Best for You?
To sum it all up, infrared grills are far better than gas grills, especially when grilling meats that require high temperatures to sear the outside. When grilling soft vegetables or fish, the higher temperature potential of infrared grills is not necessary and can actually be harmful.
Conventional gas grills are more forgiving when it comes to lower temperature grilling. But with proper attention and a bit of practice, an infrared grill can do a great job of grilling just about anything. For me, infrared grilling is the only way to go, since I tend to grill a lot of steaks, burgers and chicken with some fish and vegetables. If, however, you mostly grill fish and vegetables, then a conventional gas grill or a grill with both conventional and infrared grilling areas may be your best choice.