tampabay.com

Infrared grills cook up a new trend

By ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published May 30, 2007


ALBANY, Ga. - For a quarter century, chefs at pricey steak houses 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.

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.

Bill Best developed the technology primarily as a faster way to dry paint on cars. That led to high-end grills for professional cooks and wealthy consumers.

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