Gear Review: Cooking with the Saber Cast 500 Infrared Grill

As I mentioned Monday I'm the new owner of an infrared grill from Saber. Though I've had the thing for more than a month, the hulking, shiny beast sat untouched for weeks. It was so new and shiny that I hated to get it dirty. Plus, I was a little intimidated by the thought of grilling at such high heat. Finally, this past weekend, I screwed in a new propane tank and fired the thing up.

But before we get to that, let's talk a little bit about the assembly process. Saber claims the grill can go from parts in a box to ready to fire in 45 minutes. Now, for anyone who has put a grill together, you know 45 minutes is a pretty optimistic goal, but I can tell you the company was spot on with its estimate. Nearly the entire grill, from the shell and shelves to the burners, emitter plates, and grates are crafted from 304 stainless steel and it all comes together with just 26 bolts and a few screws. In fact, all you need to assemble the grill is a 7/16-inch wrench or socket and a Phillips screwdriver. I put the grill together myself, but it would have gone a bit smoother with a second person. Still, it's doable solo.

The designers at Saber were tasked with building a premium infrared grill line that surpassed all others on the market--and at a better price. Now that's a tall order, especially with some of the top-line brands on the market, but my initial impression is they met their goal. The quality of the construction is some of the best I've encountered on a home grill. There was a small crease in one of the stainless steel panels that I didn't notice until it was put together. Whether it came from the factory that way or the crease was caused my manhandling it, I can't say. Besides that flaw, which I easily pounded flat with some light taps from a hammer, it was impeccable and, in my opinion, overbuilt.

From what I understand about infrared cooking, the Saber system is a sound one. At the heart of it all are three separately controlled propane burners, each set below its own emitter plate and grate. All totaled, this creates a 500-square-inch cooking surface that can be divided up into three heating zones for direct and indirect cooking. The combination of the emitter plates and burners blocks any sort of flame from reaching the meat and conversely any flammable grease from reaching an open flame. Saber claims this will all but eliminate any chance of flare-ups.

To put this claim, as well as the zone system to the test, my initial firing would call for a notoriously difficult-to-grill cut of meat--a whole chicken, cut spatchcock style. Chicken fat is about the worst culprit for causing flare-ups, and cooking the bird whole presents a whole set of challenges for keeping the breasts moist without overcooking the thighs and legs.

After going through the recommended pre-heating procedure, I oiled down the grates with canola and placed the bird breast down, closed the lid, and went back into the house to prep some vegetables. I was away for maybe seven minutes, but it was enough to sear the skin. Initially, I thought I had ruined the meal, but a quick check with the flashlight showed the skin a dark brown, rather than black. Still, I realized there would be some babysitting required since we had a long way to go until the breasts came up to temp. However, at no time did I see any flame jumping from the burners. The fat merely sizzled away upon dropping onto the super-heated valleys below the pinpoint-sized emitters.

I turned off the middle burner and set both outside burners to medium, which still kept the surface temperature--as read by the three individual grate-level thermometers--in excess of 500 degrees. From here, I kept a close eye on things, though did have time to go back and forth from the kitchen to get the corn on the cob and asparagus ready for the grill.

I didn't time the cooking process, but I'm guessing it was more than 30 minutes before a digital thermometer poked into both the thigh and breasts registered a safe 165 degrees. Saber says the infrared system protects the meat from the drying effects of hot, convective air, resulting in a moister finished cut. I can't say for sure why, but this chicken was probably the moistest I've ever grilled, despite the fact I didn't even brine the bird, which I usually take the time to do. I was also not expecting a true grilled flavor, thinking the lack of exposure to flame would preclude it. Again, not the case.

So, does the Saber beat out my tried-and-trusted Weber charcoal grill? Well, that's a strong challenge and only time will tell as I gain more experience cooking over infrared. There is a bit of a learning curve here as such high heat presents a new challenge. (My asparagus ended up a bit crisp, but still edible.) I will say, so far, I'm pretty impressed, and the Saber has replaced my older gas grill that I still use on occasion when I'm too lazy, or hungry, to start a pile of charcoal.