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Understanding Infrared Grilling

March 2, 2011

Understanding Infrared Grilling

Industry Experts Give Helpful Advice to Make the Correct Choice Among the Many Available Grills

Cooking

Charcoal vs. gas; infrared vs. conventional. What does it mean?

We all like to eat good, tasty food. Everyone who grills outdoors wants to achieve or exceed “restaurant quality” results, and to do so consistently. For this discussion we want to focus on direct heat cooking (most frequently done) as opposed to indirect (like smoking). With direct heat cooking the food is usually placed over the heat rather than to the side.

With so many grills to choose from and new ones entering the market all the time, many people are confused. Sales hype and too much conflicting information make it difficult to make an informed decision. In this short space I hope to give you practical facts to help you with that decision.

When people say they like charcoal better than gas, they are usually referring to the taste of the final product. They feel they have more control over the fire, more consistent heat and a hotter fire. In some respects, this is true. When the coals turn white hot, that’s when to put the food on because you can sear it properly. Then you finish the cooking process by moving the food to a less hot area which yields juicy, succulent food regardless of whether it is meat, fish or vegetables. Gas grill manufacturers have tried to simulate that cooking process while giving the chef the convenience of gas (easy to light, continuous heat settings, less mess).

Everyone is familiar with the actual gas grill results that keep people searching for a better grill or keep the ”traditionalists” using charcoal:

  • There are hot and cold spots because the burners clog and rot so you have to keep moving the food around
  • if it is cooler out, it takes longer to cook, so results vary
  • you have to keep the grill cover closed so you can’t watch the food
  • the fire is not really hot enough to sear the food so the entire cooking process is really drying out the food

Grilling is a simple matter of the relationship between the type of food, heat and time. By following guidelines and modifying them through your experience to match your specific tastes and degree of doneness, it will allow you to consistently achieve great grilling results. Unlike infrared grills, the problem with conventional grills is their inability to be consistent.

With a conventional gas (natural or propane) BBQ grill, your food is actually cooked using an indirect source of heat because you are really heating the air between the heat source and the food. It is referred to as convection heating because it is similar to cooking in an oven. Conventional grills have burners usually made from a metal (steel, stainless, cast iron, brass) tube with 35 or 40 jets and will reach a temperature of approximately 450°-600°.  It doesn’t get hot enough to sear and you have to cook with the lid down to hope to maintain a consistent temperature. If there is a metal piece between the burner and the grate or ceramic “briquettes”, sometimes called a “flavor enhancer” or “flare-up” retarder, the heat at the grate will not reach 600°. Attaining temperatures above 600° is very important for searing. Meats need to be seared at temperatures of at least 650° and 700° to lock in the flavor and juices.

How Infrared Cooking Works

With a charcoal grill, when the charcoal turns white, it is producing heat at approximately 1200°, which is infrared heat. Infrared cooking is nothing new. It has been used in commercial kitchens for 50 years. In restaurant kitchens, infrared burners are called Salamanders and are positioned over the food. Going back to the concept that grilling is a matter of the relationship between the  food, heat and time, infrared burners produce a consistent heat so that restaurants can produce consistent quality and doneness regardless of the type of food! Every time you visit a Morton’s or Capital Grille, that’s how they get it right every time.

To achieve this same consistency and cooking quality for the home grilling market, several years ago the Thermal Engineering Corporation (TEC) obtained a patent to position an infrared burner below the food in a grill. These grills are powered by either natural gas or propane. They led the revolution that continues to this day with infrared grills. The burners in these grills are rectangular shaped ceramic, stainless or inconel units with approximately 300 gas jets that reach a temperature between 1200° and 1400°. At these temperatures, you can truly sear food. These burners allow the cook to achieve white hot charcoal temperatures in 3 minutes, and maintain that temperature for as long as the cook needs to! That is the breakthrough of infrared grilling!

This is how the infrared technology works: as the burner is heated to a very hot temperature, it starts to emit infrared radiation which cooks food and is independent of the ambient air temperature. A good example of this is when you are standing in the shade but you put your arm in the sun; your arm warms up. That is infrared heat!

Using infrared heat to cook will make your foods taste more flavorful as the high heat locks in the moisture and natural juices. The thing to remember when cooking on infrared burners is to keep the grill lid open, sear for the appropriate short time, and use the two other settings on the control knob, medium and low, to finish the cooking process depending on the type of food. If the burner is left on high, you will burn everything. However, using your heat/time relationship and experience, you can cook anything and everything: meat, chicken, fish and vegetables. These grills heat in 3 minutes and food cooks in half the time of ordinary grills. And because of the consistent heat, the cooking times are unaffected by the air temperature because you are not heating the air to cook like with conventional burners. So a steak cooks the same in the winter as in the summer! Just remember your time and temperature relationship.

The Grill Market

After TEC’s patent ran out, around the year 2000, there were only 2 companies making all-infrared grills: TEC and Solaire. The traditional grill and well known indoor appliance companies (Viking, DCS, Dacor, Wolf, etc.) spent time and money pooh-poohing the need for infrared heat in grilling rather than embracing the technology. Over the next several years, a segment of the market was converted to grilling with infrared heat so the traditional grill companies were forced into offering their own infrared burners. Typical initial infrared burner introductions by these companies were in the form of rear rotisserie burners which they contended was the only time necessary to use infrared heat. With some of these companies, this continues today. While this is an excellent use of infrared burners, it neglects the 99% of the other cooking that occurs on the grill.

Most of the traditional grill companies now sell an infrared burner option in the normal burner position (with conventional burners in the rest of the grill). They market these as “sear zones” and instruct their customers to sear the food on the infrared burner and move it over to the conventional burners to finish it. This is required with some manufacturers because their sear zones don’t have a temperature control; they only work on “high”. Others have temperature controls, but they still instruct the cook to move the food over. While this works, it effectively reduces the cooking surface area of the grill by as much as ¼ to ½ of your cooking area depending on the number of burners. If a manufacturer is instructing the use of a grill in this manner, a better option might be to purchase a “sear pod” or separate infrared burner that can be built in alongside the built-in grill. The obvious downside is the chore of transferring all of the food from the “sear pod” to the grill.

Many of the outdoor kitchens today employ several types of grills depending on the type of cooking being done. Just like indoor kitchens where several cooking appliances from different manufacturers (“Best in Class”) are used, the outdoor kitchen offers the same opportunity for “Best in Class” cooking appliances. Consider the type of cooking required and employ the best appliance for each job. Some of the popular products are Ceramic “Egg” smoker grills powered by charcoal, high output “Power Burners” that can boil large stock pots for lobsters, crabs, crawfish and shrimp, pellet grills and many others. I believe you will find the infrared grill ideal for direct-heat cooking. The infrared grill has made it possible to char broil steaks and other types of barbecuing that could formerly only be done with commercial equipment. The infrared technology is easy to use and will have you barbecuing great tasting food in a fraction of the time that it takes with traditional gas and charcoal grills.

For more information on infrared grilling, please visit DANVER Stainless Steel Cabinetry online www.danver.com.

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Latest Gourmet Grilling Option for these Sizzling Summer Days: The New Saffire Grill

July 22, 2010

Are you looking for a luxury grill that cooks food with precision heat? Well, during the prime heat of summer coupled with upcoming Fall cook-outs, we are thrilled to introduce our new Saffire Grill and Smoker to our extensive list of quality outdoor kitchen products. The ceramic Saffire Grill and Smoker produces gourmet quality steaks, seafood, pizzas and barbecue every time, through precision heat control and ceramic construction.

Many types of ceramic grills are available, but we have found one that fits with our cabinetry and offers unrivaled flexibility in the grill family. Whether hosting a party or cooking a family dinner, the Saffire Grill’s versatility and precision cooking is a perfect addition to any outdoor kitchen.

This grill’s heat-efficient construction allows it to smoke food for several hours with a limited amount of charcoal. Minimal air flow prevents fires and allows food to retain its moisture. The Saffire Grill sustains temperatures from 200 to 800 degrees Fahrenheit to ensure even cooking for several hours.

The exterior of the Saffire Grill does not retain as much heat as a standard charcoal grill, making it a safer option for an outdoor kitchen. Plus, our Saffire has a self cleaning mechanism when heated to high temperatures, which greatly minimizes maintenance. With a quick start-up of less than 10 minutes, the Saffire Grill is also an excellent option for a quick outdoor meal.

Check out a couple of our favorite summer recipes using the Saffire (courtesy of Food Network).

Sixteen Spice Smoked Chicken

Grilled Corn on the Cob

For more information on the DANVER Saffire Grill and Smoker, or to design your own outdoor kitchen, visit www.danver.com or call 888.441.0537.