Easily considered a standard among professionals and enthusiasts alike, any grill worth its char needs to have at least two burners. The reason single burner (full-sized) models are not even worth considering, is because infrared cooking relies on a grill’s ability to evenly distribute the heat. While there are several models of gas grills that use a single burner, keep in mind they are designed for pure convection cooking, which can work just fine with so simple a setup. Distinct elements that distinguish infrared from other forms of grilling are: the high temperatures it can reach, how it transmits that heat, and also the fact that when combined with the proper lid, will also produce a secondary, convection effect. Look for models that have least two burners to ensure that the heat is going to be evenly and properly distributed and reach true infrared standards.
A Reliable Lid
In addition to having at least two burners, a good infrared grill has a solid, tightly sealing lid to ensure the heat of the infrared is not wasted, and to create a convection wave from the top angle for thorough cooking. Aside from having a sufficient lid that can seal in the heat, a handle that is sturdy and spaced far enough from the lid (which can get uncomfortably hot even in professional models) is an important aspect to what makes a good lid. One major flaw to avoid is a handle that is placed too close to the lid, which can lead to less than pleasant brushes (especially if you have large hands or like to wear heat resistant grilling mitts). Weber brand grills feature a trademark bar handle that is sturdy and well-spaced from the lid, which sets an ideal example of what to look for.
Almost all infrared grills are designed to work with gas (either propane or natural), this means you will either have tanks or line hookups to keep in mind. Many models of professional quality infrared grills use the same designed concepts of any other gas grill; a sturdy body that will either sit on a stable surface, or has a built in stand with casters/wheels. If you like to be able to rearrange your grilling setup, or don’t like the idea of having a grill outside all the time, look for models that are freestanding or completely portable. (all major brands offer these styles, including Char-Broil, Weber, and TEC)
Since most standard and professional grills are gas powered, the ability to convert between tanks and lines is another necessity. Professional quality models almost always come with an adapter, or the ability to be used with one. Part of why many brands avoid only offering dedicated types, is because people enjoy being able to move, or even transport, their grills. Adaptability also offers the most amount of flex, especially for homes that use gas lines to begin with. Tanks can be cumbersome, but many people still use them because not everyone uses gas in the home. Depending on what you have available, consider models that are adaptable to what is most convenient for you.
It could almost go without needing to be said, but any grill, especially infrared grills which get to higher than normal temperatures, needs to be built into a sturdy frame. While they don’t carry the spillage issue that charcoal grills have if they are knocked over, they still carry the potential for quite a bit of internal mess and fire hazard, if they should fall over during use. The support frame should at least be as wide as the cooking box. Solid panels, cross bars for added support, and heavy duty, locking wheels/casters are all features to look for in a well built grill (the Char-Broil Classic series utilizes an iconic and sturdy frame that works as a good example of what to look for).
Good Ignition With Fail-safes
A reliable ignition system for the burners, which as built in fail-safes, is also an essential feature to look for. There are different styles of ignitions (electric, battery, etc.), but each essentially does the same thing in the end; they create a spark. The important elements to look for is not just positive user reviews for a brand/model’s ignition system, but also the inclusion of some manner of safety feature. Gas infrared grills need to have a cut off, or regulation features that can limit build up hazards. At times, if the gas is turned on for the burners but the ignition fails, pockets can form in the lower portions of the grill (which can lead to serious fires or explosions). For the ultimate in safety, look for models that have fail-safes built in to prevent ignition from being attempted after a build up has occurred.
A company motto for Weber is “By grillers for grillers.”, which is a sentiment they make evident in their products. While not as widely distributed as a company like Char-Broil, Weber prides themselves for only making high quality grills. Their inclusion of infrared based technology and direct infrared hybrid setups shows off their tendency towards innovation. Priced competitively with most professional quality grills on the market, Weber grills are also known for having an outstanding warranty from the company. (The Weber Summit S-470 is one of their more popular models that features infrared technologies.)
A name known around the backyard, Char-Broil unsurprisingly sells some of the mot popular models of affordable and high quality infrared grills. Living up to their reputation in excellence and simple functionality, the Char-Brail Classic 480 is one of their top selling infrared grills. It is priced to provide an excellent introduction to infrared grilling, which is part of what makes them so popular (veteran grill cooks ten to suggest starting with a standard quality model before making any large investments). In addition to selling reasonably priced grills, Char-Broil is known for producing one of the widest selection of models and styles.
Often called the founders of infrared grilling, TEC brand grills can easily be called the standard in professional quality infrared grills. They have a trademarked sleek design and commercial quality to every model that they sell. Used by diehard enthusiasts and professional chefs alike, the only element that keeps them from having greater market penetration for home users is the pricing. Though, for truly dedicated grilling aficionados, the permanent TEC installation, or investment into a freestanding TEC is considered well worth it. (An interesting note, the TEC G-Sport is one of the only infrared models to be capable of producing the right levels of heat with a single burner.)
Touted as the “muscle car” of grills, Solaire specializes in professional quality infrared grilling systems. Their standard setup is available in sizes that range from 27” to 56”, while their portable models are only a sleek 21”. Aside from their trademark slogan and specialization, like TEC, they do not believe in making anything less than professional, or commercial, quality. One key thing that separates them from other infrared grill makers is their line of portable units. The Solaire Anywhere and Everywhere models are known for their portability, quick heat-up/cool down times, and their adaptability to use either a small one pound tank, or to be hooked into a line.
One distinction among infrared grills is the option of cooking rotisserie style. Among professional quality models, there will either be the inclusion of a rotisserie burner (with or without additional accessories to make use of it). Of any additional feature, this is one that many consumers fail to consider, but which can prove to be one of the most delightful features of higher quality grills. If you love rotisserie cooking, or would like to try your hand at it one day, look for models that include the optional setup, or are designed to make use of accessories for such (TEC and Webber often build in the feature, while Char-Broil tends to offer it as an add-on).
Beyond the fairly standard dual burners, many professional quality infrared grills use three or more internal burners. While this increases the fuel consumption, it has the added benefit of ensuring a more even heat distribution over the cooking surface. While infrared makes used of a more directed and intense heating method, it can still suffer inefficiency if not supported by multiple burners. Very few portable models can manage to achieve true infrared temperatures, and even then, it is mainly due to their much smaller size. If you want to be sure you are getting the most even heating, look for models that feature three or more burners.
Hybrid Burner Options
Aside from additional burners to enhance the infrared effect, many professional and commercial brands offer hybrid burner options (Weber Summit series is a good example). These grills are not only designed for intense infrared cooking, they are also versatile in being able to include additional convection heating. Many enthusiasts state that some of the most optimal results come from being able to start off the process with pure infrared heating, then switching over to traditional convection for a thorough, all around cooking result. This is either accomplished by using two grills (which can get expensive and tedious), or by opting for a grill that uses both styles of burners.
Many standard and professional quality grills use simple, clearly marked, and easy to use control setups. Fancier models offer a touch of luxury, such as LED displays and back-lit markings to accommodate evening sessions on the grill. Other options (such as Weber’s vivid icons) include indicators for the temperature inside the cooking box. If you prefer to cookout in the evening or at night, then consider models that offer lit, or digital controls.
Applicable for any style (stand alone, portable, or built-in), including optional storage place for grilling accessories is considered a perk of professional quality grills. Regardless of the type of heating used, not being able to keep your needed tools close at hand can be seriously detrimental for the quality of the cooking. Having that storage built into the unit can not only add to its level of convenience, but also help ensure that you always have what you need, when you need it (many a burger has gone from perfectly charbroiled to complete char for lack of having the right tool at hand). For a more enjoyable and consistent grilling experience, consider models that either include storage for grilling tools, or offers additional caddies to help accommodate them.