Which Grill Is Right For You? Charcoal, Propane or Infrared Propane?

In the beginning...
In the beginning... | Source

An Introduction To Me

I have been a bar-b-que griller for the vast majority of my life. I began, as most individuals my age, using charcoal. Then the new propane grills arrived and of course, I had to have one of these. And while they made grilling easier, did they truly improve the flavor of the item being grilled? For many (myself included) something was lost in translation, something vital to the enjoyment of food cooked outside. Part of the flavor seemed to go missing during the transition from charcoal to propane, something vital to the complete enjoyment of the meal.

And so, back to charcoal I went. Then I came to understand that even within the charcoal itself there were differences: in other words, not all charcoal was created equally. Store brands, national brands, and then I found this thing called "lump" charcoal. I fell in love with this type of charcoal. Easy to light, a solid temperature and easy to use. I would never change again.

Or would I?

Man's evolution of grilling
Man's evolution of grilling | Source

My grill was on its last legs, literally. Fatigued, falling apart and ready for the scrap heap, I began the search for my next grill. But I wasn't yet truly looking for that next one just yet as it was February, I simply knew that I would be in the market for one before Summer arrived. As my son and I made our way through the Lawn and Garden area of our local big box store in search of seeds for our annual garden, my eyes fell upon a display of grills, set out early no doubt to capture the eye of gullible individuals such as myself.

Well, consider my eye caught. There stood a bright shiny stainless steel newly assembled grill, last year's model, on sale for 50% off. It was a three burner propane with a side-burner cooking area. I had always looked at these but never owned one. I ventured closer. Lifting the lid, I saw that it had a good sized cooking area with the additional caveat of having a secondary area above the primary cooking area for other items should you decide to heat another food item as you cooked the primary item. Good, good.

I then saw that this grill was something called Tru Infrared. I was familiar with infrared from days past but never had I seen a grill advertised as such. I was intrigued. But what the heck is an Infrared Grill?

Kingsford Charcoal

Ever wonder where charcoal came from? Try Henry Ford! Yes, Henry Ford of Ford Motor Company began to use the waste wood from the Model T and created charcoal. Today Kingsford has 80% of the charcoal market. Just goes to show that those brilliant minds often arrive at a solution to a problem we may not even know exists, such as having scraps of wood left over from making wheels and other things on a car. Rather than waste that product, Ford created an additional market that is a thriving business today.

Charcoal Grill

First let's take a look at the old standby, the original Charcoal Grill. A Charcoal Grill burns charcoal, obviously, but there are differences in charcoal. There is of course regular charcoal which is basically a waste product of wood burning. In today's modern world this is formed into briquettes and sold in packages for use in these grills. One simply adds a group of briquettes then light the pile. The normal method is to add charcoal lighter fluid and toss a match on the pile, standing back as the whooosh takes place and the charcoal begins to burn.

Alternatively, one can use an electronic device specifically designed for lighting the charcoal. It is safer and much less likely to cause problems. You get a better set of coals as the charcoal burns more evenly. And that is the key to charcoal grilling: getting a good base of coals. You are looking for a white hot base of briquettes which will then provide an even cooking temperature. If they are red, there is still fire burning and you run the risk of uneven cooking. Once you have the evenly heated white coals, spread them around from a pile to an even thickness and begin cooking.

For those who desire to use the lighter fluid there is an upright can you fill with charcoal before lighting. Once the briquettes have reached that white ash stage, you can remove the can and allow the briquettes to settle into that even distribution you desire, assisting with a metal tool to allow a more even layer.

You have to watch carefully for grease splashing onto the briquettes as this will cause flareups. While this may look "cool" what it really does is burn your food and cook it unevenly. So you might end up with a blackened chicken by mistake and take a bite of borderline raw chicken inside.

Propane Grills

Propane is a gas which burns quite well and is used to cook in a variety of variations. Popular with campers, propane is easy to use, reasonably cheap and readily available. One can light and cook regardless of the weather which makes it useful in outdoor situations involving wind and rain.

However, propane gas when grilling can have the effect of drying out the item being grilled, thereby making the food somewhat tough or lacking in taste to some people. I tried propane and enjoyed the convenience but grew tired of the lack of flavor. But for pure convenience sake it is hard to beat propane in cooking so long as one is not trying to smoke ribs or slow cook an item such as a pork shoulder roast; it is much more difficult than simply using charcoal.

Every Man's Dream Grill
Every Man's Dream Grill | Source
See the smoke? Smell the flavor!
See the smoke? Smell the flavor! | Source
Come on over! Lunch is served!
Come on over! Lunch is served! | Source

Infrared Grills

Infrared Grills use propane or natural gas to cook with, however rather than cook directly these grills cook using an indirect method. They heat a ceramic tile which then emits an infrared radiation which then cooks the food. This allows a much more even cooking temperature which allows the food to cook uniformly, resulting in a food that is hot throughout. Infrared also sears the exterior of the meat, sealing in the juices which results in the most moist, juicy meats you have ever tasted.

These grills require much less pre-heating which saves propane and creates an ease of heat control allowing the chef to cook foods that one will be assured of enjoying. My grill actually has an inverted V shaped piece of metal that redirects the heat and does not allow "hot spots" to develop, creating an even heating plane to cook on. I have yet to have a flareup while cooking and every item I have grilled has come out perfect.

Char Broil Tru Infrared
Char Broil Tru Infrared | Source
Easy light button
Easy light button | Source

My family and I have been continually amazed at the food coming off our new infrared grill. Hot Dogs, hamburgers, brats, steak or chicken: it matters not. Every single item I have cooked is so much more moist and flavorful than something from a regular propane grill or a charcoal grill. Never dry, cracked or burnt, this grill is the hands down best grill I have ever owned. I wholeheartedly endorse this grill and believe you will be more than satisfied with it should you try one.

Last night I cooked chicken legs on our new grill. For everyone who cooks these on a grill you know they are perhaps the hardest thing to cook properly as they take forever to cook, are easily burnt as they have a high fat content which will allow frequent flareups, burning the skin and exterior while not cooking the interior properly. Well, not with this grill! Once cooked and brought inside, I cut the largest one open and tasted it. Oh heavenly Father! Moist, hot and done through and through. The skin and exterior was a good bronze/brown color indicating cooked properly and there was no dry, cracked areas nor any pink bloody areas inside. They were perfect. Everyone in the house raved about them, calling them the best they had ever had.

Thank you, I am now a Master Chef!

In Conclusion

And so in conclusion I can say that in my humble opinion the infrared propane grill is the best I have ever used. No muss, no fuss, no problems. When you are in the market for a new grill give these a look. Maybe, if you're as lucky as I was you will get one on sale...

And that makes the food cooked on this wonderful grill taste even sweeter.


Old Poolman profile image

Old Poolman 6 months ago from Rural Arizona

Mike, like you I have tried them all except for infrared. My favorite was a grill my father-in-law made for me from a 55 gallon drum split in half lengthwise. The fuel for this grill was mesquite wood which is readily plentiful here in the desert. The only downside was the waiting time for the mesquite wood to reach the red hot coals stage needed to grill the perfect steak.

I do have and use a Propane grill, but also like you I find the flavor to be greatly diminished from my charcoal days.

I also have a smoker and that has become my favorite method of cooking. The pellets used for the fuel come in all flavors such as mesquite, hickory, cherry, alder, and many more. Smokers take a great deal more time than grills because the food is cooked slowly for several hours at a low temperature. Mine has a electronic thermostat and a hopper full of pellets so it maintains the required temperature for the duration of the cooking process.

I also often use the grill to put the finishing touches on some of the meats I cooked in the smoker.

Now you made me hungry and I have to go fix myself some breakfast. Of course I will use some of the Hickory smoked bacon I did in the smoker to go with my fresh eggs.

Mr Archer profile image

Mr Archer 6 months ago from Missouri Author

What time will the bacon and eggs be ready? I'm ready for lunch myself! I have used a smoker until it fell apart and where we lived I had hickory trees growing like weeds. When it came time to smoke I would walk into the woods, cut down a small hickory tree and toss the pieces onto the charcoal. Heavenly scents would rise up and flood our bottom land! You take care and don't burn your hand Mike! Have a great day Sir.

Deb Hirt 5 months ago

This was a wonderful article on the merits and pitfalls of everything. It looks like the infrared grill is up with the times. Thanks for the research and happy grilling.

Mr Archer profile image

Mr Archer 5 months ago from Missouri Author

Why thank you Deb Hirt. Happy grilling to you as well!

bravewarrior profile image

bravewarrior 5 months ago from Central Florida

Mike, I bought an infrared grill several years ago - same brand as yours. I love it! It even came with a book that tells you which settings to use for which types of meat and the desired done-ness, how long to pre-heat, etc. It was one of the best purchases I ever made.

Mr Archer profile image

Mr Archer 5 months ago from Missouri Author

Cheyenne, it really allows you to get that steak done to perfection, doesn't it? I used that book initially to learn how best to proceed and now am just winging it! So much fun!! Take care, my Floridian Friend!

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