Infrared barbecue grills cook food using a special plate that helps to distribute heat into the food without relying on heating the air inside a grill for cooking. The grill operates by igniting propane or another type of cooking gas underneath a flat surface. This surface is capable of being heated to a very high temperature and begins to emit radiation in the form of infrared heat. This heat moves quickly into food, meaning the heat is cooking the food, regardless of the ambient temperature of the air around it. In general, infrared barbecue grills use less energy than conventional grills to cook food and do so faster, because they can be raised to a much higher temperature with little dissipation of energy.
The inside of an infrared barbecue grill contains a traditional heating element on the bottom, usually in the form of a gas burner. On top of this burner is a plate made of a special ceramic or from stainless steel. The burners very quickly heat the plate and cause it to emanate infrared radiation. One benefit this provides for grilling is an even distribution of heat, because nearly all the molecules in the plate will conduct the heat evenly across the surface, reducing hot and cold areas inside the grill.
Another aspect of infrared barbecue grills is that very little energy is lost in the transfer of heat from the burners to the cooking plate to the food itself. A traditional grill needs to heat the air around the food, meaning energy is lost to heating the air and can be lost if the lid to the grill is opened. Infrared barbecue grills can transfer heat directly, with very little energy lost, providing the ability to cook with the grill top open without affecting the cooking time or temperature.
The efficient type of heat created inside infrared barbecue grills can actually prevent the unit from being able to cook food at lower temperatures. The heat of the ceramic plate inside the grill cannot be effectively restrained to low temperatures because of its conductive properties in relation to the gas burners beneath it. To solve this problem, hybrid grills exist that have an infrared cooking element on only one part of the grill, leaving the rest exposed to conventional cooking burners.
Although the technology is very efficient, infrared barbecue grills tend to be more expensive than traditional grills when first purchased. Some models also are very difficult to move once installed because of their size or installation requirements, although portable versions also are produced. Infrared grills can burn at incredibly hot temperatures and can be hazardous if the cooking element is not carefully avoided while it is hot.