The pros and cons of infrared gas grills: Fact vs. Fiction


What are the pros and cons of infrared gas grills?

The truth is it really depends on the infrared design for a particular make, product line, or even model. Like most folks you’d probably be interested in an infrared grill if you knew it provided some advantage or benefit. If they were better at searing, low and slow cooking, smoking, with no flare-ups and easy clean-ups we’d all take a look see.

So we took a look and the answer does indeed depend on what you get. A bit of history about infrared technology in general, and for gas grills specifically will help you understand why it’s a bit of pain trying to find an answer to this question.

20th century technology

Bill Best, developed the technology in the 1960s, primarily to give automakers a faster way to dry the paint on cars. That led to him founding Thermal Electric Corp. (TEC). and a patented technology for high-end grills for professional cooks and wealthy consumers soon followed.

When his patent expired in 2000, grill companies saw a future in America’s backyards. So now there are many implementations of infrared and they range from marketing BS and hype, to some really beautiful elite infrared gas grill designs and manufacturers.

Char-Broil TRU infrared is a product line you may have seen in Home Depot, Lowe’s or Wal-Mart. They actually have more than one design and it’s important to know the difference when comparing them to other brands. The pros and cons of the various Char-Broil TRU infrared models is covered below.

Char-Broil formed a strategic alliance with Best’s company to develop a new generation of burners known as the Char-Broil TEC series. A glass shield has replaced the fragile ceramics  to provide even heat distribution and shield the burners from drippings.

But, Char-Broil isn’t your only option when considering an infrared barbecue grill. There are a number of other manufacturers to consider. And you may want to consider a portable gas grill. Since infrared grills are capable of so much power, a portable can provide plenty of punch. Check out our post on the world’s most powerful portable grill – it uses infrared technology to get the job done.

We think the Signature line is the only one worth considering. You’ll get better grates and an entirely different infrared system than on the cheaper model lines.

In general, a well-designed and implemented infrared design will yield some common benefits – much like cooking with gas is different than cooking with charcoal. So, in general, you should expect the following benefits from an infrared gas grill.

Infrared gas grill pros:

  • It sears – vastly superior to regular gas grills – >800 degrees

  • It barbecues low and slow – oven-like temp control

  • No hot air – less dry more moist

  • No flare-ups. No charring

  • Even heat – no hot or cold spots

  • Heats up quickly – 30% quicker

  • Easy to clean – depending on Brand/Model

Infrared gas grill cons:

  • Can be expensive – nicer ones start at $1000

  • Some designs are terrible/marketing hype – they are:

    • Tough to clean

    • Ineffective

    • Under-powered

    • Cheaply made

Best and worst infrared gas grill designs

To give you an idea of what’s out there and what the various designs cost, I’ll cover a few of the more popular ones, in a wide range of prices so you really get a sense of context. Most folks have a sense of the difference between a Viking range and a Kenmore whereas the difference between a Char-Broil and a TEC might not be so clear to most folks.

We’ve all seen the Char-Broil brand wherever we see grills – and yet TEC is not a brand many folks have heard of. Indeed most folks equate Char-Broil’s TRU infrared with the technology itself. So lets do a comparison and cover some things to watch out for when shopping for an infrared gas grill.

Things to watch out for with infrared gas grills

Let’s start with Char-Broil. They’ve got 4 product lines covering at least 2 completely different designs for infrared. The key features and differences between them are important. Prices for these barbecue gas grills have a gigantic range. Most folks aren’t even aware of how high-end the market for gas grills goes. The table below shows a range of gas grills with infrared technology ranging from $230 to $4000. Needless to say, there’s a lot to consider so let’s get into it.

Char-Broil TRU-infrared technology -does it work?

There are a couple of versions of infrared with Char-Broil. I’ll keep it simple for you – simply avoid the Performance product line. The TRU-Infrared in this case consists of mainly some porcelain-coated grates which are endlessly bashed for constantly clogging up and being impossible to keep clean. They do make a special brush, but unfortunately the recommended cleaning practice is to bring the grates to the sink and wash them with warm soapy water using the special brush. If you’re like most people, the idea of carrying grates to the sink for hand washing defeats one of the major benefits we love about grilling or smoking meat – the quick and easy clean-up we do with a wire grill brush.  If I have to drag it to the sink – forget about it.

The Signature and Commercial product lines have a much better set-up. These models feature porcelain-coated grates just like the other line but in this case, they are cast iron. This makes them more durable and given the design changes, much easier to clean. There are far fewer complaints about this system design and you’ll get stainless steel burners and a number of other features. If the Char-Broil Signature series entry-level 2-burner is too spendy at around $279 it’s probably best if you just abandon the idea of getting an infrared grill.

Some of the best brands for infrared gas grills

Even though Char-Broil is likely the name you’ve heard – and perhaps you’ve even heard some negative reviews – don’t assume that infrared doesn’t offer any advantages. What you really want to do is check out the manufacturers that are building high quality infrared designs. You’ll be amazed by what a little more research will reveal.

Here are some of the top brands for infrared barbecue gas grills that we love:

Napoleon

Napoleon is a Canadian manufacturer that gets rave reviews. The price range on these starts at around $1000 and runs up over $2000 for some of the nicer models. Now remember, at this price point you can buy any Weber you want, a really nice pellet grill, or look into built in gas grills. So, if the advantages of infrared are what you want then Napoleon is a good place to start for the nicer side of infrared. Check out their entire line here.

As Napoleon describes on their website: Inside the grill you will find Napoleon’s unique porcelainized cast iron WAVE™ cooking grids that will give you beautiful grill marks. Under that you will find the stainless steel sear plates. They spread the heat evenly throughout the grill and vaporize the grease from your food producing the amazing grilled flavor that you love. Under the sear plates and the burners is the full width tapered grease pan that is completely removable for easy cleaning.

Solaire

Another higher end brand is Solaire. They can top $3000 but I was really impressed with their portable infrared propane gas grills. Many models to choose from and very high quality burners and grates. The Solaire infrared burner is really quite cool and enables the table-top model to perform like grills in a much bigger form factor. Their popular Anywhere Portable model packs 14,000 BTUs of infrared power, heats up 30% faster than non-infrared. We love the Solaire portables – these folks are really worth a look.

TEC

Last on this short list is Bill Best, the inventor of infrared heating technology and his company TEC. High end and expensive, these TEC infrared grills are really worth a look. They are beautiful. They manufacture both full-size and portable models. If there’s any downside to the TEC grills it’s that they are expensive.

The portable models start at about $1200 and run up over $2000. But it’s really a full sized cooking surface with the versatility of a portable. You’d impress everyone by pulling this grill out at the next tailgate party. It’s a work of art.

The full size infrared grills from TEC start at $3500. These are not for the faint of heart but if you have the money they are arguably the best infrared gas grills you can buy.

Conclusion

So, the Pros of infrared gas grills are many and the cons are few – mostly cost for a good design. A good infrared grill does everything a gas grill does, only much much better. Beautiful low and slow cooking followed by a scorching sear makes the appeal significant and quite real. Invest the time into understanding what the pros are and ensuring you are getting them in the design and model you choose to purchase.

Like so many other things, you generally get what you pay for in these grills. Avoid buying cheap marketing hype. Then walk through a rational decision making process. The one piece of advise I’d give you is take a look at the cost of a grill over time. There is a significant difference in build quality and durability in these infrareds, just like regular gas grills and everything else. $1000 is a lot for some to spend on a grill – but if you shop wisely that grill can last you 10 years or more. As my grandmother used to say, “Don’t be penny-wise and pound foolish”. In other words, a cheap grill today may cost you more in the long run.

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