Traditional upright broilers heat food from above using very hot gas burners or infrared heating elements. Charbroilers, or char-grills, differ in that they heat food from below. They are for indoor use but designed to mimic the results of an outdoor grill. They feature heavy duty metal cooking grates that create characteristic grill marks on the surface of food adding to both the visual appeal and flavor profile of the finished product.
Charbroilers are generally used to cook steaks, chops, chicken, and firm fish (such as swordfish) at temperatures exceeding 450 degrees Fahrenheit. They can also be used to grill vegetables. There are several options when selecting a commercial charbroiler.
- Radiant Gas Charbroilers – With radiant gas charbroilers, angled metal plates, called radiants, are mounted overtop of the individual gas burners, just below the cooking grates. They distribute and “radiate” heat upward toward the food and prevent grease and fat from dripping down and clogging the burners. Grease that drips onto the radiants quickly burns and makes smoke, adding flavor to the food. Metal radiants are removable and relatively easy to clean.
- Lava Rock Charbroilers – These are similar, but instead of metal radiants, they feature a layer of lava rock, grill stones, or ceramic briquettes above the gas burners. These serve the same purpose as metal radiants but some chefs believe they provide more even heat distribution and more flavor enhancing smoke. Lava rocks and briquettes are more difficult to clean and should be replaced every six months.
- Electric Charbroilers – Electric charbroilers feature metal radiants mounted over electric infrared burners. Most have a waterpan in the bottom to prevent flareups. They are a good option when natural gas is unavailable.
- Solid Fuel Charbroilers – Solid fuels, such as charcoal or wood chips, burn hotter and deliver the most smokey flavor. Solid fuel charbroilers must be cleaned regularly and constantly tended to maintain temperatures. Some jurisdictions require a permit to burn solid fuels. A heavy duty ventilation system is necessary to control smoke.
Commercial charbroilers are available from manufacturers such as Star and Southbend. Both countertop and stand-alone units are available. Charbroilers can also be incorporated into the surface of a traditional range.