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Understanding broilers

All broilers have a common objective: to sear meat with high heat and create a signature branding. The similarities end there. It’s no wonder there is some broiler category confusion.

Broilers are available with electric, gas, wood and charcoal fuels; under-fired or over-fired heat sources; radiant heat or infrared heat; pullout or stationary grates; and in tabletop, floor, range match, over-mounted, wall-mounted, conveyor and mobile models. Plus, they may be referred to by such descriptive names as charbroilers, salamanders, open-hearth broilers, steakhouse broilers, upright broilers and banquet broilers. It’s no wonder there is some broiler category confusion.

To cook, gas and electric broilers rely on radiant heat transfer along with some hot air transfer and the signature branding that defines broiler-prepared foods. Most gas under-fired units heat a cast iron or stainless steel bar called a radiant, which is located directly over the burner tubes.

Because heated air rises, virtually all over-fired broilers rely on infrared heat energy, which is produced by heating an electric element, quartz plate or metal bar to “red hot”—about 1400°-1700°F. At these temperatures, the surface “radiates” infrared heat energy. Some under-fired broilers use infrared heating as well.

A point to keep in mind, with their high firing rates, high radiated heat, smoke and flames, the under-fired broiler has become the target of the EPA and others. These broilers typically need high air-replacement rates, and it is recommended that they be placed in the middle of an exhaust hood.

Key Features

Top grates: Materials include cast-iron or welded, round steel rods; they can be flat or angled, height adjustable or stationary; with varied bar spacing. Some are reversible (flat on one side, angled on the other), and some have a groove to channel grease away from the radiants and burners. Conveyor broilers use a stainless steel wire belt.

Radiants: Cast-iron or stainless-steel bars located between the burners and the top grates. They are flat or tent-shaped and heated by the burners. Radiants protect the burners from grease, reduce flair-ups and provide the searing, smoke and sizzle requisite with “grilled” foods. Lava rock or ceramic coals are sometimes used instead.

Burners: Gas dominates the broiler segment, but wood and charcoal burning models are popular for outdoor banquets and for use in open kitchens where the flames and smoky aromas add to the theater. Gas burners are either cast iron or fabricated from aluminized steel or stainless steel tubing.

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