Infrared: Good or Gimmick?

It has been credited with saving the modern barbecue industry. They have been described as the microwave of the outdoor kitchen. Promising incredible temperatures, faster cooking, and phenomenal searing power, infrared grills and burners are quickly becoming the norm instead of the accessory. Many gas grills have infrared searing burners or have simply converted completely to infrared. The question is, does it really make a better steak, not to mention chicken, fish or vegetables. infrared grills can cost many times more than a standard gas grill. Many of them have more complicated components and require more maintenance and care. People will tell you that this is the energy of the sun, but it is also the same technology of restaurant heat lamps. Advocates say that infrared causes less drying, but the high temperatures can cause more burning. So, if the goal is great grilling the question has to be:

Is infrared really worth it?

April 2, 2009 at 2:22 pm

(4) TEC Infrared User says:

Infrared has its place: Beef

Nothing cooks beef like an Infrared grill. Nothing. Fire up the grill, crank it to “11″ and a 3″ thick rib-eye will be done in 6 minutes @ 900 f. (Flip every 1.5 minutes.)

Flare-ups are minor, as the fat ignites and burns itself out as it falls. (Do trim excess fat from beef, though.)

The best thing about infrared is it will make a piece of USDA Choice taste like USDA prime. It will make a piece of USDA prime taste like the finest steakhouse.

Fish? Chicken? Vegetables? Don’t bother. Use a normal grill for those. Except for searing tuna. Infrared excels at searing tuna.

Barbecue? Not on infrared. BBQ needs “low and slow” Infrared is never “low and slow.”

I set my Infrared to the highest setting — then removed the knob. You never need any other temperature than “surface of the sun.”

The only downside is that real infrared costs a lot of money. Avoid grills with those tiny little ceramic “infrared-sear” burners. The broiler in your oven is more effective.

Texas Pit Masters makes a good unit for around $1,300. TEC and Solaire will run at least $2,000. But if you take care of your grill (humidity is your enemy), it will last a decade or more.

Is it worth it? Answer: How much do you like beef?

March 31, 2010 at 11:43 am

(5) CB says:

I write a weblog called Sizzle on the Grill and it’s sponsored by Char-Broil. They’ve introduced some new infrared cookers that use newer technology than the ceramic burners and these allow for a wider range of temperatures. Before using these cookers, my only experience was cooking on my neighbors TEC and those little back-burners used with rotisserie units.

I wasn’t sure I’d like or needed the infrared – but my attitude changed after the first couple of cooks. First time I ever truly seared steak on a gas grill. And I’ve also found that the skinless chicken breasts some of my guests enjoy come out juicy too. Fish, pork, etc. all are easy to cook. And with the heat lever control, I can use the grill as I would a traditional grill – indirect cooking is possible, even smoking a bit (grills aren’t smokers but most can be set up to kinda work like one)

April 7, 2010 at 3:01 pm

(6) LDB says:

I have a grill with an infrared burner on one side for searing. I found that it makes smoking possible that I could never do before on a gas grill. Most of these grills have a lot of open space for exhausting heat on the back below the lid, so I first used aluminum foil to close this off while I experimented, then bought a small piece of sheet metal, cut it to size, and mounted it on the back of the grill to close the rear opening under the lid so it holds the smoke in the grill better.

I put a wood chip smoker box on the infrared burner, use mostly big chunks of wood (not the little chips that burn out quickly), and leave all the other conventional burners off. I put my meat for smoking on the other side of the grill from the infrared burner, adjust the infrared burner so it’s hot enough to keep the wood smoking, but allows me to keep the temperature on the rest of the grill between 200 to 230 degrees F.

If I need to fine-tune the temperature to cool it a little while keeping the infrared burner high, I stick a little piece of metal or wood under the lid to keep the bottom of the grill lid open 1/4″ or so. If the meat will need to smoke for more than an hour or so, then I refill the chip box when it quits pouring out smoke. Repeat as necessary.

Fantastic smoked flavor for roasts, brisket, turkeys, etc. You’ll be amazed at how well this works. Don’t bother trying steaks or other small cuts because they just don’t have enough time to smoke.

March 28, 2012 at 9:18 pm

(7) BBQ Bandit says:

Infrared grilling is here to stay. Two choices: Old technology with honeycombed ceramic style (or perforated stainless steel) and new technology with tube burners and heat shield defusers. Both are going to do the searing job well enough for you. Over the past several years manufacturers have improved upon the low setting range and some can get down low enough to saute. But don’t rule out traditional grilling systems. Properly designed and properly infused with infinite control valves and regular searing burners, you can certainly still sear meat the old fashion way. What’s really great is that you have an option and most manufacturers are offering traditional burners with infrared internal or side burner attachments. The new Saber infrared grill is reasonably priced at $799 and up. The Saber similar to TEC (original patent holder) system employs “emitters” located over the burner system (Saber uses stainless steel perforated emitters and Tec uses glass). I’ve sold TEC in the past. Excellent quality but you’ll pay much more for it than for the Saber which is new to us.

We’ve carefully reviewed it from a quality and sturdiness point of view……… passes our quality control requirements. Expect heavy duty all commercial grade stainless steel tube burners, emitters, cooking grids and some external stainless steel options.

September 11, 2012 at 3:36 pm

(9) Russ says:

I love to grill, I mostly use charcoal and wood chips but have been looking at getting another gas grill. My last gas grill was a Colman. I paid around $500 or so for it but it was worth every penny. I had it on an uncovered porch without a grill cover and it lasted for years in the southern South Carolina Humidity and when it started falling from rust and weather Coleman sent me all the replacement parts from the burner and grates to the bottom tub of the grill and bolts. I lost the grill when a tree fell on it.
My question is this, most gas grills have a side gas burner that rarely gets used, does anyone make an attachment to go over the side gas burner with a diffuser and grate that you can use to sear steaks. I know you can get Infra-red models with an infrared side burner for this but it would be nice to be able to add this to a traditional side burner. I have designed a prototype that will work but I am wondering if anyone makes one already. My unit is used by removing the pot holder grate from your grill and just sitting this one in its place.

Thanks for the information and thanks to everyone contributing to this site I have learned a lot.

September 11, 2012 at 3:48 pm

(10) Russ says:

I have been looking like I mentioned before at the infra-red grills. The part that concerns me is there are a lot of complaints about the grates and cleaning difficulties. If this happens with steaks then wouldn’t it be a nightmare with the heavier BBQ sauces when they drip on the grate? I have also seen many posts about the parts failing from humidity and rust. Depending on what I am cooking I sometimes use vinegar based sauces and since the acidity is high wouldn’t this cause the parts to fail from corrosion even faster?
I have been looking at some of the charbroil commercial along with the Webber brands and the hollow grill grates seem a little flimsy even on the models at $400 – $600 price range. The hollow grates would heat up fast but they would not hold heat very well.
Thanks for the input.

November 15, 2012 at 2:14 am

(11) GrateGrills&More says:

I’m employed in sales at a bbq store (Oldsmar, FL) we’ve been in business 16 years. I personally have a TEC that is used. I have a regular grill too but haven’t used it in a long time. (All our employees have TEC, Sterling 2′s)

A true infrared burner is made with ceramic. We like the Broilmaster R3, it's a good entry infrared grill that will get many years of uses. I personally like the R3 burners, they take up the entire space front to back. The sterling II burners take up 2/3 of the space.

So the run down on infrared. Instead of a traditional stainless burner, its uses a ceramic burner that has hundreds of little holes in it. When the fuel is turned on, it disperses evenly throughout the burner. True infrared burners tend to not, develop cold or hot spots in our experience. The average observed life of a ceramic burner is about 8-10 years on average. For these grills, there are no briquettes or heat tents. The surface of the burner is around 1700 degrees. Any liquid that falls onto the burner vaporizes. Any solid turns into ash. At the cooking grids, you're getting just over a 1000 degree’s. That is twice as hot as a maintained traditional gas grill. On a traditional grill, you get the sear marks from the preheated cooking grids. Infrared produces the sear marks, opposite. What is exposed to the burner gets the sear marks. Also with an infrared grill, you do not close the hood. Clean up is super easy. When you finish cooking, cover 1/2 the grill at once with heavy duty foil, flip the burners to high, and wait 5 minutes, repeat other side and turn off.

Any residue on the cooking grids will be charred white. Lightly brush you are done.

November 15, 2012 at 2:15 am

(12) GrateGrills&More says:

[PART 2] Essentially you are cooking food at twice the temperature in half the time. But why does this matter? The result, are amazing. People are used to eating dry meats off a grill, but it shouldn’t be that way. Infrared gives you the exact opposite. Meat that is so juicy that you can literally squish the juices out with a spoon. You won’t believe the results until you see it in person. Like your steak rare? You will love infrared. Don't be fooled that it's only for searing. No! You can do more. Infrared is good for many things bad for some. If your trying to use the grill as an outdoor oven, like for cookies or bread, infrared would be a bad suite. If you want to use the infrared grills as a smoker for a long slow cook, again it's a poor choice. The burners get low, but not at 200-225 low. You can get a light smoky flavor, but nothing more intense. Regardless of the medium you use, via chips/chunks/pellets. You can do some indirect cooking, however. Planks (alder,cedar,cherry…,etc), Himalayan Salt Blocks, stone slap are at your disposal.

We have lots of information, visit us.

With most grills in the industry, you get what you pay for. Cheap “infrared” will not give you the cooking experience that you deserve, nor will the above be applicable.

My vote is GOOD

December 7, 2012 at 7:24 pm

(13) Susan says:

I use the sear burner exclusively. It makes the best fish you can buy. Crispy on the outside, nice and moist inside. Won’t use a regular grill again.

June 19, 2013 at 6:26 am

(14) Paul says:

I’ve just started messing with the GrillGrates that are supposed to turn any grill (charcoal, gas or electric) into an infrared grill. So far seems awesome, no flare ups even with burgers, excellent sear marks, and I’ve got under $80 in them and I *think* they will last forever. Or at least, outlive several grills. It does get hotter with the grates over your regular grate, and it seems to be easily distributed. The flipping tool that came with them is cool too and is what originally got my attention and interest.
Steaks come out looking amazing. I’m going to experiment with making the skin on chicken legs or thighs this weekend with them. Wish me luck.

July 17, 2013 at 8:24 am

(15) Danieoh says:

Infrared is like cooking in the oven. I miss the flames touching the foods. They take forever to heat and once the grill is opened it loses all the heat never attaining that wonderful sear in spite if their sear setting, which I feel is just for show. I wish I could convert in back to a regular gas grill. Can’t wait until it rusts and we have to buy another!

July 31, 2013 at 5:12 pm

(16) bill says:

I have been using one for several years. I just ordered a new burner to have on hand as the original is looking a bit ragged, some mesh burned out, etc. We use it a lot. I have noticed a drastic decline in the availability of reasonably priced IR grills. I am a serious cook and I cannot imagine being without IR…the real one that get very hot very fast……..not a piece of metal with a bunch of holes in it. One trick I have learned is to buy bagged sirloin at a place like Costco. Grind it up, make 5-6 oz patties and cook it for 75 to 90 seconds on a side and you have perfectly marbled sirloin steak………often my guests ask for ”hamburger” instead of a nice sirloin or NY. For really thick cuts of beef, chicken or fish just sear it quickly, get some nice grill marks and finish it off on the top shelf at 350-400 to desired ”doneness”………..’zat a word? My bbq has 3 normal and 1 IR burner. I would prefer a 50/50 mix…..I use the IR probably 10x as often as the normal burners.

August 1, 2013 at 1:51 am

(17) Brian says:

I have heavily used a Napoleon Prestige ceramic IR grill running natural gas for a few years and I could not be happier. I converted the 2 conventional burners to IR, so now my grill is all IR. The previous post summarizes most of the advantages well. I prepare most of my grilled foods by searing now, which takes it to the next level compared to conventional grilling. As for lower temperature cooking (like potato wedges), I get what I want by turning the burner on low and moving the food to an area that’s not directly above the burner. I also smoke with it using a “a-maze-n” smoker tube filled with wood chips, and now that I have learned to use it well, I make incredible ribs and churrasco. As for the disadvantages of ceramic IR claimed by Saber- these are all quite untrue. And for CharBroil brands’ version of IR – don’t fall for their deceptive marketing – their “IR” is semantically correct but at the wrong wavelength to do any searing.

August 11, 2013 at 11:41 am

(18) Josh says:

I have owned an IR for years now. On my third one. BEST INVESTMENT for searing steaks burgers and chops. Takes a little learning but once you do- your weight gain will begin.

November 5, 2013 at 12:46 pm

(19) Dan says:

I’ve owned a Tec Patio II Grill for ten years. There is no better grill for steaks, ribs (I grill barbecue racks of beef and bison in 10 minutes).

Now, that being said, cooking a whole chicken is follow on the old infrared grills, the flame ups are terrible from the grease.

The new Tec infrared’s have a patent on a new technology that is supposed to be flame-up (and thereby food burn) resistant.

March 3, 2014 at 2:36 pm

(20) Nick says:

I have been using a TEC for a couple of months and I love it. I have a smoker for low and slow and this grill is for grilling and a lot of other stuff.

Grilling steaks and chicken no problem. With the rotisserie, you can turn out amazing rotisserie chicken. I even cooked a 14 lb turkey on that rotissery. It was as good if not better than turkeys I have cooked in the smoker, oven and deep fryer.

With the TEC glass emitter plate it works just like an glass top electric stove. you can put your saute pan on the grill and cook your sides or put your pot of bbq sauce to heat up.

TEC makes a fryer/steamer that fits over one of the burners to add versatility. It takes about 8 minutes to get the fryer oil up to 350. Fresh french fries with that burger? How about some chicken tenders for the kids that don’t like the steaks? I have used the steamer to cook frozen and fresh vegetables.

TEC also makes a griddle that fits over one burner. I can turn out hashbrowns and eggs like a short order cook and not heat up the kitchen.

The versatility and control of this grill is amazing. I can’t speak for other infrared grills, but if they work like the TEC, they are worth the money.

March 26, 2014 at 12:32 pm

(21) Shadows says:

I am a BBQ purest. I do not even use a gas grill! Natural charcoal and/or wood are the only way to grill. I would be ashamed to use one of these and call it grilling.