Infrared burners are found in a wide range of commercial restaurant equipment, including salamanders, char grillers, broilers and fryers. These types of burners are most commonly used to sear, brown, and caramelize food products. Any chef or serious cook knows that the best way to prepare a juicy, succulent steak is to sear the outside as quickly as possible to keep the juices and moisture locked inside.
Infrared burners are mostly recognized for their ability to bring on the Maillard reaction (the reaction of sugars with amino acids during the cooking process that turns meat brown and gives it flavor and aroma, i.e. “the flavor reaction”). Some units are able to reach sustained temperatures of beyond 2,100⁰ F and can heat up to 600⁰ F in less than 4 minutes. That’s hot enough to melt some metals, and definitely hot enough to put a little brown on a pork roast.
But most probably already know that infrared burners can get extremely hot, extremely quick. So, what else do they do that separates them from other types of burners? That’s a burning question, indeed.
Infrared burners produce more radiant heat.
Cooking results with infrared technology differ from those produced by an open gas burner or an electric heating element, mainly because they produce more radiant heat – the same type of heat energy that the sun produces. Rather than transferring heat through the air (convective heat transfer) or across a solid conductive object (conductive heat transfer), heat energy is transferred through heat waves onto the food product. This type of heat transfer is ideal for preparing a perfectly cooked steak.
Ever wondered why some people may leave the door of an oven slightly cracked when using the broiler portion? Many, like me, assume that this is done as a reminder to not burn whatever is under the broiler. Contrary to this belief though, the main reason the oven door is kept ajar is to maximize radiant heat energy by minimizing convective heat energy transfer. With the door kept open, hot air is allowed to escape and therefore does not circulate throughout the oven cavity as it normally would if the oven door was closed. This allows for whatever is being cooked to receive more radiant heat rather than convective heat.
So, why is radiant heat better than convective heat?
Well, radiant heat is not always better to use than convective heat, but in the case for cooking meats, it’s definitely best to maximize radiant heat. This is because convective heat tends to move moisture off of foods, unless whatever is being cooked has already been seared or browned.
Consider how a hand dryer or blow dryer works: these devices continuously move hot air across the surface of an object to remove moisture and eventually leave the object dry. They are using convective heat to create dryness.
With that said, common sense would suggest that cooking a steak using mostly convective heat or the “blower dryer” method is likely not the best idea around, that is, unless you like your steak dry. To avoid customers “yelping” about how leathery and chewy your steaks are, use more radiant heat. Equipment with infrared burners creates more intense radiant heat and is therefore able to cook meats without zapping their moisture.
Keeps heat evenly distributed.
Hot spots can be a problem with some cooking equipment, especially char grillers. Hot and cold spots occur because heat is not evenly distributed. This causes some portions of food to cook quicker than others and burn. Infrared char grillers are able to completely eliminate hot spots with a design that projects heat waves evenly and uniformly across the entire cooking surface.
Infrared burners are able to achieve even heat distribution through their design. Even radiant heat transfer occurs as heat from an atmospheric burner is absorbed then re-emitted across a perforated glass, metal, or ceramic plate, known as an emitter panel, onto the food product. Because heat is being emitted from a panel and not directly from a flame, char grillers and other equipment using infrared burners will give operators more usable space, helping to increase production.
A typical gas char griller will create a cooking surface with some spots being 40⁰ to 50⁰ F different from other areas; however, char grillers that use infrared technology only allow for 10⁰ to 20⁰ F of varying temperature differences across the entire, usable cooking space.
Increased energy efficiency.
Although cooking equipment using infrared burners is generally more expensive, they do use less energy, while also increasing production rates. They’re able to shave cook times by up to 50% and do so by using less than a 1/3 of amount gas.
Deep fat fryers that use infrared burners have been proven to improve their heating efficiency by roughly 80%. Traditional gas burners lose heat energy by heating the air between the burner and the heating plates that heat the oil; however, in the models of fryers with infrared burners, the burners are either in direct contact with the heating plates or very close which helps to minimize heat loss that occurs by heating the air.