In the early 1960s a company known as TEC invented and patented the infrared grill. But what’s so special about IR grilling?
The infrared burner on an IR grill focuses the flame of a traditional gas burner onto a ceramic tile. This tile is made up of thousands of microscopic holes and is thus able to transform the heat of the gas burner’s flame into infrared energy. IR heat is far higher in temperature and far less scattered than persistent than the usual grill, which works by convection heating, can produce.
Grilling reproduces the oldest cooking method in the world–an open fire. Whatever fuel is used to produce the flames of a natural fire, there is always a vast amount of infrared energy that is being created, in accordance with the science of physics. From physics we know that any given heat source emits light at some wavelength which is closest to that wavelength of the dominant energy production. To put it simply, the redder a flame, the more IR energy is being produced within it. Wood-burning flames are yellow-orange and coal flames are dull red. But, the gas-fired grill has a blue flame–there’s not much infrared energy there at all, and this makes cooking meat thoroughly and efficiently a real problem.
Infrared grills also provide the griller with moisture retention. Convection heats things by heating up the surrounding air and then just pushing that air onto the food. But look what happens when you use a hair dryer–hot air dries out your hair. Convection grills dry out your meats or whatever else you are grilling, letting the food’s juices rise up and get carried off on the air. But IR energy does the precise opposite: it actually drives moisture from the food’s surface down deeper into the food, enhancing flavor as well as texture for simply a deeper pleasure in the eating experience.
When you use infrared grilling, you get the benefits of shorter grilling times, more convenient grilling, and so much versatility that you can confidently do grilling even in sub-zero temperatures. Grilling also becomes safer because at the very high temperatures you grill with any drippings simply get vaporized, and this even adds more all-natural flavor to the meat–in short, you don’t have flare-ups. But infrared grilling should not be thought of as limited to meats, for just as with convection grilling you can grill anything including seafood and veggies. And no matter what you’re grilling, with IR grilling technology you get the unsurpassed flavor-enhancement of the wood or charcoal grill merged seamlessly with the pinpoint control and consistency of gas-fired grills, and all the while enjoying more succulent (and thus more nutrition-rich) foods.
Thermal Engineering Corporation, or TEC, introduced the very first IR grill in 1961.
Eventually, their research, development, and engineering prowess led to thirty issued or pending United States and foreign patents. By the 1980s, TEC Grills were making headway as commercial cooking equipment, since they were able to make grills that heated up faster as well as more evenly across cooking surfaces while at the very same time being more fuel-efficient. It was in 1980 that TEC put on the market the world’s first under-fired IR gas grill, and this was when professional chefs and restaurateurs really began taking to the use of IR grilling, so that the technology became more widespread than ever before.
However, TEC’s main patent on infrared grilling technology ran out in the year 2000–and patents run out so as to allow for innovation. One new infrared grill making competitor named Altima came up with swappable burner units enabling someone to use a standard burner, infrared burner, and a charcoal firebox all at the same time. Meanwhile, TEC saw two split-offs form from some of its former employees and management who had ideas of their own: Alfresco and Solaire.
The real objective of all TEC IR grill making competitors is to create more user-friendly (and sometimes more cost-effective) grills, since the original TEC infrared grills were, of necessity, based more on getting the science and engineering of IR grilling right than on considerations of customer comfort zones and end-user convenience. And some competitors have had much success here…
Alfresco came up with their proprietary “SearZone”, which is made up of an infrared burner sitting off to the side of a traditional gas burner. The idea here is that one can use the infrared burner for searing meats, then move the seared meat over to the traditional gas burner to finish the cooking, thereby saving on energy costs, saving on costs for their infrared unit, and theoretically enabling more controlled, refined final flavor of the meat.
Meanwhile, Solaire has patented its own InfraVection concept intended to allow an easy, user-friendly transition for the grillmaster who doesn’t want to leave his “comfort zone” of the traditional convection burner but who still would love to enjoy the benefits of infrared grilling. Just as with Alfresco’s “SearZone” technology, the Solaire InfraVection design enables easy conversion from one burner type to another, once again offering up in theory the greatest possible control over the final flavor and texture of the food. Solaire also boasts that the convection portion of an InfraVection grill consists of an “efficient stainless steel double-lanced ported U-burner with stainless steel vaporizer plate”.
What this all means for you is that while TEC is still a great brand of infrared griller, you might want to check out other, more user-friendly brands, too, without fearing that you won’t be able to get the TEC-developed benefits of the IR grill. But without question, for any grillmaster professional or amateur who can afford it, an infrared grill cannot be surpassed.