Infrared Grills Review
Why Buy an Infrared Grill?
The top performers in our review are the Broilmaster R3B, the Gold Award winner; the TEC Cherokee, the Silver Award winner; and the Weber Genesis, the Bronze Award winner. Here's more on choosing an infrared grill to meet your needs, along with detail on how we arrived at our ranking of 10 grills.
Barbecue season is here, so it's time to roll out the grill and send out invites to a big cookout. More than 200 million people in the United States tuck into succulent steaks, smoky ribs and grilled veggies for a barbecue every year. Although charcoal and gas grills are traditional choices, infrared grills are rising in popularity, thanks to their ease of use, high heat and consistency. Ten years ago, infrared grills were limited to steakhouses and professional chefs because they were so costly. Now that they're more affordable, you can cook the perfect steak in your backyard.
Infrared Grills: Pros & Cons
The pros and cons of infrared gas grills stack high on the positive side. Because infrared grills use powerful sear burners to directly heat food rather than relying on convection, like gas grills, to cook food, your prime cuts of meat stay juicy. Infrared grills heat up faster than traditional gas and charcoal grills – on average, an infrared grill heats in less than five minutes – and provide even heat over the entire surface, which means your food cooks quickly and doesn't dry out.
However, a handful of these pros may be negatives for some. An infrared grill has a learning curve because it heats food so quickly, so you may end up burning your food the first few times you grill. For more information on how infrared grills fare against other grills, read our article on infrared versus gas and charcoal.
Infrared Grills: What We Tested, What We Found
As we set out to find the best infrared grills, we conducted numerous tests to gauge grill quality. As a rule, we focused less on things that change if you decide to get a different model and more on how well the grill performs certain tasks. Specifically, we looked at heat consistency, power and overall grilling experience.
We looked at two things to determine which grills have the best heat consistency. First, we looked at how evenly a grill distributes heat over the cooking surface, which involved placing pieces of bread on the grill surface after preheating. We waited for the bread to burn slightly and turned it over to reveal a grill's hot and cold spots. Some grills produced uniform results, while others had clear hot and cold spots on the grill surface.
Then, we measured how well each grill can maintain stable temperatures for long-term cooking projects. This involved starting the grill on low and using a laser thermometer to check the temperature every seven minutes until 21 minutes had elapsed. Grills that held the same temperature the entire time performed better than those that fluctuated.
Power is a straightforward measurement. First, we tested how fast a grill preheats to 500 degrees Fahrenheit. Then we compared this with the grill's Btu to see if there was a correlation between Btu and fast heating. The tests showed that there's no correlation between the two. This is why Btu ratings only play a minor role in our review.
While heat consistency and power demonstrate how well grills compare to each other, they don't tell you about the overall grilling experience. To put each grill through its paces, we cooked two servings each of four types of meat: steak, chicken breast, salmon and hamburgers. This showed which grills can handle a variety of food types that require different cooking methods. To round out the grilling experience, we also considered ease of cleaning, portability and assembly time.
Top Ten Reviews seeks, whenever possible, to evaluate all products and services in hands-on tests that simulate as closely as possible the experiences of a typical consumer. We obtained the infrared grills in our comparison on loan from the companies and through retail purchase. The companies had no input or influence over our test methodology, nor was the methodology provided to any of them in more detail than is available through reading our reviews. Results of our evaluations were not provided to the companies in advance of publication.
Infrared Grills: What We Found
Our results create a snapshot of the infrared grilling systems that several key brands use. The grills in our review use a variety of methods to achieve infrared cooking, and our comprehensive tests highlight the strengths and weaknesses of each method. The grilling systems can be specialized, with ceramic sear burners and radiant glass panels, or achieve infrared-like results with traditional gas grills using extra burners and sear plates. Our results also showed that all of the grills in our review are good for multiple types of cooking, though even the most powerful grills had trouble with thick cuts of chicken.
Ceramic Sear Burners
This is the most common infrared grilling system. Six products in our review use this method, including our top-rated grill, the Broilmaster R3B. Ceramic sear burners all have the same basic design: a porous slab of a ceramic material that transfers the extreme heat to food with fewer open flames. These burners have the highest temperatures in our review, producing quality sear marks on meat, most notably on steak. However, they require some skill, because they produce extreme heat even on low settings. Thin cuts of chicken and fish cook well on these burners without excessive charring on the outside. The extreme heat of ceramic sear burners vaporizes meat drippings for easy cleanup.
Radiant Glass Panels
Radiant glass panels are unique to the TEC Cherokee in our review. This infrared grilling system is the most effective that we've seen. A specialized burner heats a glass panel that distributes heat over the entire grilling surface with no open flame. This evenness of extreme heat produced solid results with every type of food we tested. This infrared system is easy to master, but it doesn't preheat or cook as quickly as others in our review. The glass panel is easy to clean, especially compared to sear plates.
In simplest terms, sear plates are metal panels with many small holes that use the same heating principles of ceramic and radiant glass panel burners. This grilling system's chief advantage is a distribution of heat similar to but not as hot as ceramic burners. Sear plates have two disadvantages: They produce a lot of smoke from meat drippings and are difficult to clean. The Magma and the Char-Broil are the only two sear plate grills in our review.
Traditional grills can achieve infrared cooking if there's enough heat coming from the burners. Adding an extra steel tube burner is a simple way to make this possible. Only one grill in our review uses this method, the Weber Genesis E-330. While this is not a true infrared cooking system, it produces the heat and searing qualities that define infrared grills.
Infrared Grill Buying Tips
When choosing an infrared grill, consider whether it will be a permanent fixture in your backyard or a portable tabletop to take to the park or on campouts. Your budget is also important to consider, since the best infrared grills are often pricey. Less expensive units are available, but they might not produce the same results.
If a grill model in our review doesn't completely meet your needs, other infrared models within the same brand should offer similar performance in different sizes and configurations. For more information, see our articles about infrared grills. All gas grills are for outdoor use only, so an indoor electric grill is a better choice for an apartment with no outdoor access.
Temperature & Power
When choosing your infrared barbecue grill, decide how much coverage you need. If you plan to use the grill's infrared burners often, entire grill coverage is a good option. If you're interested in a traditional gas grill with occasional infrared use, look for a grill where the sear burner is a secondary feature. While the number of main burners varies, more burners can give you the option to use multiple cooking temperatures at a time for different foods or servings.
All of the grills in our review have the ability to use natural gas as a fuel source. However, some grills may not be convertible between the two fuel sources. Many infrared grills have temperature gauges that help you know if the heat is too high or too low. Self-cleaning allows the grill to burn off food residue to make the cooking grates and sear plates easy to clean with a wire brush.
Infrared gas grills with large cooking surfaces and warming racks are great for neighborhood cookouts, while a small surface area is ideal for quiet gatherings. A meat thermometer might also improve your infrared grilling experience by giving you more accurate food-temperature readings than you can get from the grill's temperature gauge.
For cooking grates, cast iron is the easiest to clean. Stainless steel is highly durable and also works well, though it may require some elbow grease to clean. A removable drip pan simplifies the cleaning process. The size and weight of a grill are important factors to consider for transportation and storage. If you entertain often or have a large family to cook for, and you plan to keep your grill in your backyard, you want a four- or five-burner grill, which can accommodate several large cuts of meat. Smaller families can get by with a four-burner grill like the Char-Broil Commercial. However, if you like to travel and need to take a grill with you, look into small one-burner grills, like the TEC Cherokee or Solaire Anywhere, which weigh less than 30 pounds each.
Four swivel caster wheels on a grill help you move it around the patio. For tabletop grills, foldaway legs save space when you're not using the grill. You can also choose a grill with a built-in storage cabinet. When you purchase a custom grill head, like the Broilmaster R3B, you have to purchase other parts like a stand separately.
Warranty & Support
Customer support is integral to the best infrared grills. To protect your investment, look for long warranties; companies typically guarantee the burners and other grill parts separately. One- and two-year warranties are standard, though some manufacturers include a five-year or even lifetime warranty. Support by telephone and email, along with detailed FAQs and user manuals, help you get fast answers if you have problems or questions.
Infrared Grills: Our Verdict and Recommendations
Our infrared grill reviews highlight the best attributes of each grill we tested. The best infrared grill overall is the Broilmaster R3B, with its strong construction and heat consistency. This grill also includes a self-cleaning feature. Another one of the best infrared barbecue grills is the TEC Cherokee. This tabletop grill maintains heat better than any other infrared gas grill we tested, and it's the only one we tested that uses a radiant glass panel for cooking.
Outside the top three, the Better Homes and Gardens BH12 offers the best value with excellent performance, though it lacks some of the build quality of other grills in the review. We also found that the Char-Broil Commercial has sturdy construction and is more affordable than most infrared grills. The Magma Newport 2 is good choice to mount on yachts and boats because it weighs less than 30 pounds and is easy to transport. The Napoleon FreeStyle is worth mentioning for its lifetime warranty that covers the cooking grate, cook box and lid. Each grill in our review has its own advantages.
Unless you take pride in assembling products in your home, we suggest you get your grill preassembled if it's an option. No matter how good you are with a screwdriver, the majority of these grills are likely to take you about two hours to assemble. And be sure to read the instructions carefully so you don't end up assembling your grill incorrectly – read the Char-Broil Commercial review to find out why we put this infrared grill through an encore round of testing.
It's important to choose an infrared grill that fits your barbecue style, whether that's family meals or block parties. Shish kebabs, corn on the cob, steak and fish fillets all taste better when cooked on the grill. Infrared grills add to that experience and provide you and your guests with steakhouse-quality food.