Are Infrared Grills Worth the Cost? Pros and Cons Compared

steak seared over indirect grill

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If you’re in the market for a new gas grill, you’ve probably been bombarded with the term “Infrared”. If you listen to the sales reps, they say it’s a ‘must have’ feature when shopping for a grill.

Infrared burners promise incredibly fast searing, perfectly even heat distribution, and the ability to hit temperatures you could only dream of reaching with a commercial grill.

But before you shell out extra cash, it’s worth understanding how infrared works, and the pros and cons of infrared grilling.

Related – The best Infrared grills

How does infrared cooking work on a gas grill?

On a gas grill, an infrared plate sits above a typical gas burner. These plates can be made of ceramic, glass, or metal.

The heat from the flame is absorbed by the infrared plate and then transferred to the grill grates and food as infrared heat.

Infrared side burner on the Napoleon Phantom Prestige

When cooking with infrared heat, other methods of heat transfer also happen within the cooking chamber.

  • The cooking grates absorb heat from the infrared plate. The heat is then transferred to the food via conduction at the points where the food comes into contact with the cooking grate.
  • Some convection also occurs as the hot air moves around inside the cooking chamber and is reflected off the dome.
  • Conduction also occurs when the surface of the food absorbs the heat, and the heat is then transferred toward the center.

Are infrared grills worth the cost?

The key to grilling flavorful meat, especially steak, is searing at high heat. One of the biggest benefits of infrared is that they can get blazingly hot (think 1000-1500°F) fast.

The folks over at Embers Fireplaces & Outdoor Living did a blind taste test of steaks cooked with Infrared and on a normal gas grill.

  • In their test, they found that the steak cooked over the non-infrared burner stuck to the grates more and took longer to develop sear marks
  • While the steak cooked over the infrared burner, developed a great crust with dark sear marks
  • In their opinion, the steak cooked over infrared was juicier

The steaks were all cooked on the same grill, so it was a good comparison.

Here are a couple of extra points to take into consideration when weighing up if one of these grills is right for you.

  • Infrared will cook your food incredibly fast, so you need to stay on your toes. With thick steaks, you can actually burn the outside before the inside is cooked.
  • If you regularly sear steaks for large groups, then the speed at which you can churn them out is a selling point
  • Because the grilling surface is usually close to the burner, dripping fat is usually burnt up and produces smoke that flavors the food.

OK, but how exactly does infrared work?

Before we drill down into the pros and cons of grilling with infrared, it’s worth understanding a little bit of the science behind it.

Infrared burners use radiation to cook food.

  • Infrared radiation heats food when electromagnetic waves of energy are emitted from a heated surface. Infrared burners work off this principle.
  • These waves travel at the speed of light and can travel in any direction. This means that they are extremely efficient at heating food.
  • Some may worry that these ‘electromagnetic waves’ could harm their health. However, if you consider that one example of infrared radiation is the heat that comes off the glowing coals of a fire, it is clear that this is a perfectly natural heat transfer system.

TEC, or the Thermal Engineering Corporation, introduced commercial infrared cooking technology in the 1980’s. However, it was not until the early 2000’s that infrared griling really started to take off. This is because the patent on the technology expired. All of a sudden, infrared grills started to pop up all over the place.

What are the pros of cooking with an infrared grill?

The undeniable truth about infrared burners is that they cook lightening fast. These burners are capable of getting up to around 700°F in seven minutes, and some can max out at 1500°F.

  • With a grill that hot, you will be able to sear your food really quickly.
  • Because infrared gets so hot, it incinerates grease without causing any flair-ups
  • Being so fast and hot, infrared cooking is energy efficient as well. You will be able to cook more food in a shorter amount of time, using less fuel.
  • Infrared grills produce very even heat, without the hot and cold zones you often get on gas grills.
  • Manufacturers also make the claim that cooking with an infrared grill will lock in more juices.

However, there is still conjecture surrounding these claims. When searing your meat, you are caramelizing and browning the surface as the Maillard reaction takes place. While a brown and crispy surface may appear to lock in juices, whether or not this really happens is still debated.

Disadvantages of cooking with an infrared grill

Without making some adjustments, the advantages can quickly become disadvantages when cooking with infrared.

  • The intense heat put out by infrared grills can quickly burn food. When cooking delicate meats like fish, the heat put out by infrared can be too intense.
  • For that reason, you will get the best results if you cook sturdier meats, such as steaks, especially when you are first using your infrared grill.
  • Manufacturers have come to realize that an all infrared grill is not very versatile due to the intensity of the heat they produce.

For that reason, most grills now offer a “sear zone”. The rest of the grill heats the food a more traditional way, such as with gas burners. This way, after a very short time on the infrared burner, your meat can be moved back to the non infrared part of the grill to finish off (or vise versa).

This is the case with one of our favorite models, the Napoleon Phantom Prestige.

This different way of cooking can take a little while to get used to, which can put people off using infrared grills initially.

There is also concern that burnt food, and particularly burnt meat, causes cancer. While it is true that certain compounds created when meat is cooked have been linked to cancer, there is still more research to be done.

In the meantime, if you are concerned, a good rule of thumb is to avoid burning your meat (not that you ever do that, right?)

Different Types of Infrared Grills

Not all infrared grills are the same.

They all cook using infrared radiation, but you can get different cooking systems that fall under the general infrared banner.

BBQGuys.com has one of the best selections of Infrared Grills online, as well as a lot of good information if you want to learn more.

We’ve summarized the main types below:

Ceramic Infrared

According to TEC, pioneers of the infrared burner concept, the first plates used for infrared burners were ceramic.

The ceramic plate sits above a stainless steel burner. The plate then produces many tiny flames across its entire surface, meaning a very intense, even heat is produced.

The temperatures these burners reach range from 600-1000°F. This type of burner can be prone to flare ups, due to the naked flame on the ceramic plate, which is just a few inches below the food.

Stainless Steel Tube Burner & Metal Heat Emitter

This type of infrared system is commonly found on cheaper, entry level grills.
These burners do not get as hot as some other infrared systems, reaching temperatures of 300-650°F.

Despite producing less intense heat than other types of infrared systems, they are also less prone to flare ups and the heat is still nice and even.

Some may find that these less intense burners are actually easier to handle, especially when you are new to grilling with infrared. But you will not get the same results as you would get from a super intense, high end infrared burner.

A metal heat emitting plate sits above a stainless steel tube burner, and the cooking grate sits directly on top of that.

Lynx Trident Infrared Burner

Found on Lynx Professional Series gas grills, the three pronged design of these burners offer a new level of versatility when cooking with infrared.
The ‘trident’ design increases the cooking area, but it also allows for the temperature to be dialed down to a lower level, which makes cooking more delicate meats a possibility.

These burners use ceramic plates, and are capable of temperatures from 300-1000°F.

TEC Systems:

Both of the following systems were developed and are manufactured by TEC, the company who pioneered infrared cooking systems early on in its history.

Stainless Steel IR Burner & Radiant Glass Panel:

This system consists of a stainless steel burner, stainless steel mesh and a glass panel which sits on top of the burner. The cooking grates then sit on top of the glass plate.

These burners will reach temperatures of 350-850°F, provide a nice even cooking surface, and are not prone to flare ups.

TEC Stainless Steel Conversion Burner & Radiant Glass Panel:

Similar to the IR burner, this burner consists of a cooking grid that sits directly on top of the glass panel. The stainless steel burner used for this system is more durable than the one used in the IR burner.

This system is available on a few different TEC grills. Over the entire range of grills, the temperatures this type of infrared burner can reach range from 200-900°F.

Some additional features can be added to their grills which give the burners the capability to burn at an even lower temperature, making them quite versatile for more delicate foods as well.

These burners cook evenly and are not prone to flarups.

Hybrid Grills:

A hybrid grill includes traditional burners along with an infrared burner to one side. A similar idea is the ‘searing station’, which is included on some grills.

If your grill includes both traditional and infrared burners, you are able to sear your meat on the infrared burner, and then move it quickly over to the traditional burner and finish it off.

Other grills offer ‘optional’ infrared burners. This means that the grill will not come with infrared as standard, but you are able to have one fitted at the time of purchase, or in some cases later on if you decide it is something you would find useful.

A great alternative to infrared

If you like the sound of super hot searing but aren’t sure if you are ready to invest the money in infrared, then there is a great alternative that you might like to consider.

GrillGrates is a brand that produces a product of the same name that also amplifies heat, prevents flare ups, stops food falling between the grates, and sears your steaks really well.

While GrillGrates are not infrared, they will cost you a lot less than a grill with an infrared burner. In fact, all you need to do is purchase the right size grates, remove your current grates and replace them with the GrillGrates.

Or if you like, you can simply sit them on top of your current grill grates.

GrillGrates are made of high quality aluminium. They are interlocking plates that have five raised rails that your food actually comes in contact with. There are also holes along the grates that allow smoke and gases to escape.

The idea behind the design is that the plates take up the heat from the fire. The heat is evenly spread throughout the grates and up into the rails.

The fact that the “valleys” between the rails gets super heated and sit so close to the cooking surface means that these grates end up cooking the food in a similar way to an infrared burner.

Wrapping it up

Many infrared grill owners swear that there is nothing that compares to the ease, speed, convenience and perfect results that these burners produce. Others, however, claim that a high end grill will produce exactly the same results.

In our tests, we’ve found that a quality infrared burner can reach temperatures that a traditional gas grill can’t get close to.

Do you have any other questions you have that have not been addressed in this post? Be sure to let us know in the comments section below.

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3 Comments

  1. Answered a question of mine. I have an LG electric range with an infrared grill optional setting. Used it for the first time to broil a steak. Did produce a very nice seared flavor. My new broiler pan, highly rated on Amazon, warped quickly. I guess that’s what 700 degrees does to cookware. It has two infrared setting. High and low. I’ll try the low next time.

  2. Adam Yochum says:

    I have had the same Infrared gas grill for abput 7 years and love love love it!! I have cooked almost everything on it and made some of the beat steaks on it. My wife is a wekk done kinda gal and I can cook a perfectly well done Juicy steak in aboit 20 to 25 min. No flair ups with burgers is a huge plus also. But cons the infrared plates are hard to clean and about $50 to replace.

  3. Harry Ortiz says:

    I’ve owned infrared grills for years. Love them and never had an issue with them. Great searing, even temperatures, and cooks chicken to the bone. They’re easy on the propane also. Not crazy about the new ones and the grates so I just keep replacing the trought when they were out. Overall sn awesome grill.

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