Infrared burners turn up heat for backyard grills

ALBANY, Ga. - For a quarter century, chefs at pricey steakhouses have been searing meat on burners that cook with infrared energy. Now the high-temperature technology may be coming to a backyard barbecue near you.

 

With the expiration of a key patent, major gas grill manufacturers, including market leader Char-Broil, have scrambled to bring infrared cooking to the masses with models in the $500 to $1,000 range. Previously, such grills cost as much as $5,000.

"Infrared is really hot," said Leslie Wheeler, a spokeswoman for the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association, an industry group in Arlington, Va. "They're great for searing and then either you turn it down or move over to another burner for cooking."

The grills are still powered by propane and have traditional gas burners that heat mostly by convection - or hot air. But they also can cook foods with radiant heat generated by one or more infrared burners. (Infrared falls between visible light and microwave energy on the electromagnetic spectrum.)

Char-Broil says its advanced burners operate at 450 to 900 degrees, hotter than the 450 to 750 degrees of standard gas burners. And unlike charcoal, which can require 20 to 30 minutes to reach its 700-degree cooking temperature, heat from the infrared burners can be adjusted quickly.

Most leading grill makers, including Solaire, Weber and Whirlpool Corp.'s Jenn-Air, also offer grills that use infrared.

"It's terrific," said Ms. Wheeler, who owns an infrared grill. "Grills nowadays give you many options."

Cooks can sear steaks or hamburgers, steam vegetables and give their meats a smoky taste by tossing a few wood chips onto the burner, said Rob Schwing, a Char-Broil vice president.

"Infrared has done to the grill business what the microwave did to the indoor kitchen," he said. "It's presenting consumers with a whole new way of cooking."

Bill Best, the founder of Thermal Electric Corp. of Columbia, developed the technology in the 1960s, primarily to give automakers a faster way to dry paint on cars. That led to high-end grills for chefs and wealthy consumers.

When his patent expired in 2000, grill companies saw a future in America's backyards.

But original infrared burners - and some offered currently to consumers - contained ceramic material that was hard to clean, prone to flare-ups and fragile, Mr. Schwing said.

Char-Broil formed a strategic alliance with Mr. Best's company to develop a new generation of burners known as the Char-Broil TEC series. The fragile ceramics have been eliminated. They have a layer of glass to shield the burners from drippings and provide even heat distribution.

DID YOU KNOW

Barbecue and barbecue accessories are a $4 billion industry in the U.S., with 17 million grills shipped to retailers last year, a 15 percent increase over 2005.

Source: Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association

 

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Sat, 12/09/2017 - 22:24

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