An Introduction to Cooking With Infrared Grills

About half a dozen years ago or so, infrared grills became all the rage among home cooks looking to replicate the beefy, charred flavor found only at high-end steakhouses. The first one I saw was at my friend Ryan's house. A serious steak lover, Ryan got his hands on a portable, table-top infrared grill that was retailing for several hundred dollars--and by several, I mean more than five and less than a grand. Like I said, Ryan is serious about steaks.

Not long after I saw that model in action, infrared grills started popping up in several other friends' backyards and prices moderated as manufacturers flooded the market with this new-to-the-consumer technology. Ever the neo-Luddite, or really just a cheapskate, I resisted the infrared urge and kept on grilling with my Weber kettle bought on clearance at Target when I worked there in college. With my employee discount, I think I paid about $40 for the thing and I'm still using it more than 15 years later.

What exactly makes up an infrared grill? Despite the techie name, infrared grills are not equipped with some kind of gamma ray device that nukes your food like a microwave. Instead, propane-fueled burners super-heat an emitter plate made of ceramic or stainless steel that sits below the grates. The photo above illustrates what the system entails on my Saber 500 infrared grill with the grate in place on the left, then the grate removed in the middle to show the emitter plate. On the right is the burner itself with both the grate and emitter plate removed.

This three-part system prevents hot air from drying out your meat, and by protecting the burners, the design prevents dripping fat from causing dangerous flare-ups. The resulting radiant heat is super-hot, reaching temperatures in excess of 700 degrees, much hotter than conventional gas grills.

There's a reason high-end steakhouses rely on infrared heating systems. The high heat quickly sears the meat, creating that delicious, flavorful exterior. Remember, searing meat does not lock in the moisture, but an infrared, radiant heat system, because it cooks quicker and creates less exposure to hot, dry air, does result in a juicier steak. That's why steakhouses use it and why the home griller serious about steaks should consider investing in an infrared grill for the patio or backyard.

Personally, I'm new to using an infrared grill, having just got my hands on a new Cast 500 model from Saber. Later this week, I'll break down the Saber Grill and give you some initial thoughts on my experience with it.