You've been cooking steaks for a while, but now you have a brand new shiny barbecue with an infrared (IR) side burner and you wanna test it out. Before we discuss all of the benefits of the beautiful invention given to us by the Barbecue Gods themselves, we need to talk about how to use the infrared side burner first.
Turn the infrared side burner on and preheat for 5-10 minutes before cooking.
Slap your meat on it and that's it. Thanks for coming our TED talk.
Just kidding, it's not that basic. In all seriousness, the length of time you preheat your side burner affects your sear, so let's get into it (we couldn't wait to get started too).
Preheating the IR side burner is important, especially if you want those grills hot enough to sear your meat properly. For the best possible results, you can heat up the other regular burners (or at least the ones closest to the IR side burner) as well. This is so that super cold metal doesn't take away from the heat of the IR side burner. With, that being said, if you're cooking your steaks medium or well done, you've likely already been using the main grilling surface already - so it should be warm enough.
By now, you might be wondering, "Are infrared burners worth it?" Other than the different results you can produce, it also has increased energy and time efficiency that definitely make it worth it. The capability of the IR burners stem from how it works:
The infrared burner will focus the flame from your gas burner onto a ceramic tile that is perforated with thousands of holes. Next, the super hot air flow is stopped by a diffuser or metal screen, which will heat up the element to incredibly high temperatures. The heat that radiates through to cook your food and heat your grill grate is the infrared.
Due to the focused heat, infrared burners will use less gas than the main burners on your barbecue. This is especially handy if you want to quickly heat up some sauce for basting while you cook your meat on your main grilling space.
Enough about the time and energy efficiency of the IR side burner, let's talk results. The reason why an IR burner is great is because it gets the cooking surface HOT. If you're looking to cook a beautifully rare steak, this is what you need. If you have a surface that can't get hot enough, the outside of the meat won't cook fast enough and you'll end up cooking too far into the centre for it to be a rare steak.
In contrast, if you like to use your main burners to cook your steaks a little slower to get it medium or even well done, chances are those grills won't be as hot as what you can get with an IR burner for perfect searing.
Now you might be thinking, "What are the benefits of searing?" Searing or browning is important if you want incredibly flavourful steaks, roasts, chops, and so on. This is because the process of searing will caramelize the natural sugars in the meat and form a rich brown crust on the surface of the meat that amplifies the umami flavour of the meat. Searing before you slow cook a steak or roast will also help keep the juices in the meat from dripping out and being wasted.
Whether you sear before or after, searing will definitely improve the flavours of your meats... as long as you do the rest of the cooking right. And it just so happens, that the IR side burner is the perfect tool for searing.