Compact, well built, cooks great - but is it true Infrared?
Jun 19, 2011 (Updated Apr 28, 2013)
Review by Mark Morissette
Rated a Very Helpful Review
Updated 4/28/2013: Unfortunately the BBQ has not aged well. The stainless steel grids that give the BBQ it's "infrared" effect have corroded fairly heavily and their ability to transfer heat to what we are cooking has been severely reduced. Still has many of the positives (such as no flareups whatsoever), but despite reaching enourmous heat levels BELOW the grilling surface the temperates on the grilling area itself do not reach the levels it once did - much of the abilty to quicklyi sear steaks (for example) is now gone.
Recommend this product?
Still holding together and operating well, but the "quasi infrared" setup isn't proving to be the panacea it once was. Given the level of corrosion I'm thinking that within another 1 or 2 seasons we will be removing the cooking grids due to extreme corrosion and replacing them with regular cooking grids...thereby making it a run of the mill BBQ and nothing more.
With our old Centro BBQ (which served us well for 8 years) slowly dying, it was time to replace it with something new.
After experiencing an infrared searing grill at a relatives house I was quite excited to buy a fully infrared BBQ - we use our BBQ quite a lot for everything from burgers to back ribs, and a good quality and capable grill is essential. I was extremely impressed with the cooking speed and searing ability of the infrared experience, and was ready to take the leap.
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I was surprised to see this Char-Broil unit on sale at the local TSC location for a mere $249. Boasting "Infrared" on the flyer advertisement and packaging I was surprised to see it at this price point.
Unfortunately upon getting the unit home I soon realized that Char-Broil was taking a bit of creative liberty by using the terminology. Whereas most infrared grills use a ceramic plate with a stainless steel grid over top to create the infrared heat, I was initially somewhat disapointed so see regular old stainless steel tube burners in the chasis of the grille when I started to assemble it.
Instead of the traditional ceramic style infrared generators, Char Broil has chosen to use standard burners but with a special cooking grate instead which supposedly converts the traditional (convective) cooking heat from the burners into non-convective infrared. When you look at the science behind it, it makes sense, but I can't help but figure that those who are well versed in "true" infrared grills won't find themselves initially disapointed like I was.
These stainless steel "Grids" are heavy and seemingly extremely well built. They have a somewhat traditional grilling surface, but are "sealed" on the bottom with only small pin holes to allow a small amount of air to pass through. The science is that the burners heat these heavy solid plates which in turn creates infrared heat out of convective heat. It should be noted that due to their design the entire inside surface of the grills is usable - Unlike some extremely high end infrared BBQ's with small "usable" cooking areas, this Char Broil unit has 100% usable space. There is also absolutely no gap between the grids so there is no fear or ever loosing thin items between the grills, and due to the pinhole-grid design of the grills it's physically impossible for anything to ever fall through, for that matter.
Assembly was fairly straight forward. The "core" of the grill (including the control panel, lid, burners, and bottom) is pre-assembled in the box. The side shelves and bottom chasis must be constructed, but so long as you follow the directions it goes very smoothly. All of the nuts, bolts, and washers are neatly packed in a blister-pack that identifies the different sizes and styles, so even those who are completely assembly-challenged will find it easy. All that's needed is a single Phillips (Star) headed screwdriver, which is not included.
Following the directions is essential. Several parts seemed so straightforward that I skipped steps and "fast forwarded", only to find out that I missed a bolt that was subsequently difficult to get into place because another part was now in the way.
Total assembly time was about 45 minutes for me, but I have the "Been there, done that" T-Shirt - others report built times upwards of 1-2 hours.
With our tank hooked up I turned everything on and pushed the start button and the BBQ immediately lit. It should be noted that Char-Broil chooses to use an individual lighter circuit for each burner so there is no problematic cross-over section of the burner that lights the other burner from the first. You can turn on either the left or right burner and it will light, not relying on the other side. This will surely aid in overall longevity of the BBQ's ignition system.
I allowed the BBQ to heat up for about 15 minutes to burn off any contaminants. I was surprised at how fast and evenly it heated up, reaching a scorching 600-700 degrees F within mere minutes. Maybe there is indeed something special about this grill after all!
Don't let the comparatively low BTU rating of this grill concern you - since almost 100% of the heat from the burners is converted to cooking energy you apparently do not *need* massive BTU ratings in order to reach effective cooking temperatures. Char Broil points out that this results in lower propane usage, as well.
Once preheated, as per the manual I then lowered the burners and "seasoned" the grille using a good spray of vegetable oil directly on the grids. Lots of smoke, but as promised with infrared grilling, no flare up. Hmmm!
Once seasoned, on went the first meal - raw chicken breasts - traditionally something that sticks to the grille if not cooked slow and evenly.
Overall, I was extremely pleased - it cooked evenly, quickly, and without a single item of food sticking to the grille, and leaving nice grill marks during the initial sear. After cooking on several high-end BBQ's with true cast-iron cooking grills I will admit I was somewhat aprehensive about cooking on stainless steel grids, but my experiences so far have been excellent!
Our next meal was hamburgers. I was excited to test out the "No flare up" feature that infrared grills are so famous for, and I was not disapointed - Lots of smoke (which is good, it returns the flavors of the juices back to the food) but NO flame. Not a SINGLE lick. NOTHING. I squeezed the burgers (not something I usually do, blasphemous!) in an attempt to get a shot of grease to flare up, but I couldn't manage a thing - it just smokes, and continues cooking evenly. Again, nothing sticks to the grille, easily separating for turning.
Next meal, steak - a prime 2" thick cut of top sirloin, aged, dry rubbed, and warmed just before grilling. I heated the BBQ up as hot as it would get and promptly slapped the steak on. It quickly seared so I flipped and seared the other side, then lowered the burner temparature setting to finish cooking, flipping only once more.
The result? Perfection.
Overall? I'm pleased. What I initially considered a fault (the non-traditional infrared grills) may actually be a benefit - the biggest complaint I often read about infrared BBQ's is that it's extremely easy to burn/destroy your food as they literally cook so incredibly fast, and that it was difficult to lower/moderate the heat. The stainless steel "plate" design of the burners on this unit seem to eliminate these issues while still providing the primary benefits of infrared - even and fast cooking, and no flare ups. Since you are not cooking mere inches away from the direct (yet invisible) flame of a traditional infrared burner there seemed to be much less chance of destroying the food, and also given the traditional burner design it seems easy to moderate the temperature on this Char-Broil unit.
Maintenance should be extremely easy. With almost all drippings instantly vaporized on the cooking grid there should be very little that makes it into the underside of the grille where the burners are located. There IS a drip tray, but as of yet I haven't seen a single dripping actually land in it.
There is a special cleaning tool included that perfectly fits the contour of the stainless steel cooking grid, reaching all surfaces at once. A quick test shows it very effective, but a traditional BBQ brush may still prove handy for the cooking edges of the plates - time will tell - I have not yet cooked anything particularly syrupy or messy (such as basted ribs) on the grill yet, although a large blob of cheese that did end up on the grid quickly turned to ash and was easily removed.
Am I pleased despite my initial disapointment? Yep. Should that change at any point in the future, I'll update my review.
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Amount Paid (US$): 239
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