Though steakhouses have used infrared burner technology for decades, using equipment designed by (and licensed from) patent-holder Thermal Electric Corporation (TEC). Since TEC’s patent expired in 2000, though, grill manufacturers have begun to incorporate infrared burners into their lower-end offerings, and have even improved upon the original designs significantly.
What makes infrared cooking so appealing is the higher temperatures it generates, which allow one to sear the outside of meat without raising the internal temperature beyond “rare.” In the CNN article, Char-Broil’s claims that their infrared burners operate at 450 to 900 degrees as opposed to the 450 to 750 degrees of standard gas burners.
“…original infrared burners — and some offered currently to consumers — contined ceramic material that was hard to clean, prone to flare-ups and fragile, Schwing [a Char-Broil VP] said. Char-Broil formed a strategic alliance with [TEC] to develop a new generation of burners known as the Char-Broil TEC series. The fragile ceramics have been eliminated. There’s a layer of glass to shield the burners from drippings and provide even heat distribution. Seven years after [TEC]’s patent expired, those improvements are available at a price more affordable to weekend grillers.”
That “more affordable” price: around $700 based on our Google Product searches.
I’ll admit that this sounds pretty interesting, but I’m not sure I could justify the cost considering that I’ve had pretty good luck using a dual-level fire in my charcoal grill to sear steaks — even only medium-thick ones that I’d like rare inside. (A dual-level fire simply involves stacking charcoal on one side of the grill to use for searing while moving pre-seared food to the other side to “bake” via convection.)
To help the decision-making process, I like to put expenses like these in more “real” terms. For example, I paid $46 for my cheap-ass Char-Broil charcoal grill. A bag of charcoal costs me around $9 — I use Match Light and I’m lazy and pick it up at the grocery store — and Albertsons has sirloin on sale today for $7/lb. I get about three grillings from a bag of charcoal, and Sean and I eat steaks sized around half-a-pound each. So after subtracting the cost of my grill from the $700 and dividing the remainder by $10 — the cost of a single two-person grilling — that means…
We could buy my grill and grill out 65 times for the cost of Charbroil’s entry-level infrared setup — with $4 left over to replace a worn-out grill brush. Or we could eat once and feed 128 of you steak-mooching bastards. You’d have to bring your own sides, though.
For now, I think I’ll steer toward the cheap route. Of course, I haven’t tried one of the new infrared models yet. If the steaks coming out of it taste like heaven, I might change my mind.
Apparently other grill manufacturers are close behind, too; this summer you should see models from Solaire, Weber, and Jenn-Air as well. Check out CNN’s article for more information.
Infrared Burners Heat Up Backyard Grills [CNN.com]