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Charbroiler Buying Guide

Charbroiler Buying Guide

Whether you're pumping out flame-kissed burgers, juicy steaks, or mouthwatering chicken breasts with tantalizing grill marks, chances are you're using a charbroiler of some sort. If your current one is on its last leg, or if you're looking to purchase one to add to your existing menu, you've probably already realized there are a lot of choices out there. Read on to learn about what's available to help you make an informed decision! Be sure to check out our commercial charbroiler reviews as well.

Chicken on an Avantco countertop charbroiler

What is a Charbroiler?

Charbroilers are a great way to add a smokey, char-grilled flavor to steak, chicken, fish, and other food while also putting tantalizing grill marks on sandwiches and vegetables. They generally operate at high temperatures of 550 degrees Fahrenheit and up. Burners are spaced at regular intervals of about 12 - 15" across the bottom of the unit, with high end models having less space between burners for more even heating, control, and concentrated output.

Types of Charbroilers

There are a variety of different charbroilers available to accommodate the unique needs of your operation, regardless of volume, menu, and available space.

Turning zucchini and pork chops on an Avantco countertop charbroiler

Countertop Charbroilers

  • Great for placing on an equipment stand or refrigerated chef base
  • Compact design is ideal for small kitchens

Chicken on a CPG freestanding charbroiler with kitchen tools stored below

Freestanding Charbroilers

  • Floor models are designed for heavy-duty use
  • Many models include a cabinet-style base that can hold plates and platters

Kebabs, burgers, and hot dogs on a Backyard Pro outdoor charbroiler

Outdoor Charbroilers

  • Ideal for catering applications, country clubs, and resorts
  • Typically feature casters for easy portability

Electric Charbroilers vs. Gas Charbroilers

Turning chicken on a hot gas charbroiler

Electric charbroilers are available for those operations without a gas utility line and heat food by using elements. Gas charbroilers are far more common, using radiant and lava rock heating to cook food. Available in liquid propane and natural gas configurations, gas charbroilers often include conversion kits so you can switch to the correct utility as needed.

Radiant vs. Lava Rock Charbroiler

One of the biggest differences between commercial charbroilers is how they heat. And "Which kind should I get?" or "Which kind is better?" are frequently asked questions.

Radiant charbroilers have the burner positioned under an angled piece of metal called a radiant. This directs the heat up toward the grates and food. Their angled design helps channel grease and drippings away from the flame and into the drip pan. Radiant models will get some flare-up, but it's generally more controlled and smaller than a lava rock model. Radiant charbroilers are much easier to clean than a comparable lava rock model.

On a lava rock charbroiler, a bed of ceramic "lava" stones are placed above the burners. They heat up and radiate the heat upward toward what you're grilling. Because the rock is porous, it catches and holds drippings, which enhances the delicious smells by creating more flavorful smoke and flare-ups. This added level of flame and smoke looks great in display cooking applications, and some chefs prefer this style because they believe it adds more flavor to the food.

The downside is that more maintenance and cleaning are required compared to a radiant charbroiler. Most manufacturers recommend replacing the lava rocks at least twice a year, but you might need to do this even more often depending on your own level of use. It's also a good idea to flip the rocks over periodically. If you're cooking something greasy like hamburgers, this might be a daily task. Also, your food might taste worse if they're too dirty!

Ultimately, one style is not "better" than the other; it's a matter of your personal preference.

Other Features to Consider

  • Reversible/Adjustable Grates
  • Most charbroiler grates are constructed in sections that you can lift out for cleaning. This sectional design also allows you to mix and match widths and styles to accommodate different foods.

    Some models only offer fixed grates, while others are adjustable. Adjustable grates allow you to change the height of the back part of the grate to move that section farther away from the flames for greater cooking flexibility.

  • Grate Material and Style
  • Nearly all commercial charbroilers come with cast iron cooking grates. Cast iron is extremely durable and retains heat well. Outdoor charbroilers might utilize stainless steel or chrome-plated grates since they'll be more corrosion-resistant than the cast iron ones used most commonly in indoor models.

    If the grates on your charbroiler offer a "thinner" and "thicker" width of bar, you can achieve different tantalizing grill marks by simply flipping them over. Many manufacturers also offer a "seafood grate" with thicker or more closely spaced bars to better support delicate items during cooking.

    Back splash and side splash on a charbroiler
  • Back and Side Splashes
  • Many models include metal back and side splashes to help contain grease splatter. This can be particularly beneficial if you have a battery of cooking equipment side by side. Plus, it makes cleanup at the end of the night easier!

  • Cast Iron or Stainless Steel Burners and Radiants
  • Cast iron burners and radiants will hold the heat better once heated up and are usually less expensive initially. A downside is that they will rust and corrode more quickly, leading to clogged burner ports and decreased performance. Stainless steel burners and radiants usually cost more, but won't corrode as quickly. They also won't hold the heat as well as cast iron, but may last longer if your kitchen staff isn't as diligent with cleaning the broiler.

    Grease pan pulled out of a CPG countertop charbroiler
  • Grease Pan/Water Pan
  • All models have some sort of grease collection pan to deal with the drippings from the cooking food. Some manufacturers recommend putting some water in the pan, which makes cleanup easier; the grease mixes with the water instead of burning onto the bottom of the pan.

Care and Cleaning

Taking care of your charbroiler properly will not only help it last longer, but deliver better cooking results, too. When you receive your new unit, it will likely have some sort of protective coating on the grates that you'll need to burn off before cooking on it the first time. It's also a great idea to season the grates so the food won't stick to them. The process is very similar to seasoning cookware; you would coat the grates with the oil or grease of your choosing, heat it, and you're all set. Watch our brief video to see how!

How to Season a Charbroiler

As far as daily cleaning, we have an assortment of wire brushes and scrapers to remove stuck-on grease and carbon buildup. You'll want to remember to empty the grease pan and water pan, too. For heavy-duty degreasing, we have a variety of great products including Noble Chemical's Formula-D and Strike. Check out our video tutorial:

How to Clean a Charbroiler

If you need a refill on lava rocks or spare parts to replace a worn or damaged component on your grill, be sure to check out our charbroiler parts and accessories.

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