Infrared grilling is exciting and relatively new. The Solaire Everywhere is our first tested infrared grill. It does some things really, really well. It has a learning curve and some drawbacks that keep us from granting it a high score. We tested this one for over half a year before we could commit to granting it a Top Pick Award. In extensive comparisons, we are now fully confident that this is the best darn portable steak cooker we have ever used. It has drawbacks, but in that specialized and delicious niche, there is none better. This is a foodie's special. It is also very portable and efficient. If you cook predominantly good cuts of red meat and like to do so quickly, the Solaire is the best choice. If you work with ribs or chicken with great regularity, or grill in super exposed and windy positions, fully steer clear.
Solaire Everywhere Review
Cons: Mixed windy performance, no slow-cooking function and poor medium-rate cooking.
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The Solaire was the first portable infrared grill we assessed. This sort of infrared grilling is an entirely different propane-powered technology, and we have put it through its paces with the Solaire. The biggest difference between the Solaire and the other grills is the burner technology. Most of our comparisons here will be between infrared grilling and what we'll call "blue flame grilling." Most propane grills, portable or otherwise, use "blue flame grilling." The Solaire uses a special "flame-free" ceramic burner. Other grills use a tube with holes in it as the burner. That tube burner can directly grill your food through a relatively open grate. That is "traditional" grilling. Blurring the lines are grills that have tubular burners but place those burners further from the grate, crank up the heat, and build the grate such that the flame very seldom reaches your food. This latter type of grill is also marketed as "infrared." If your grill is infrared, you will likely know it from the branding. Aside from the differences between infrared and blue flame, the Solaire is well made and compact. Our primary notes are related to the infrared grilling. The rest of the design and function stays right out of your way, in a good way.
The power of the Solaire is indeed impressive. Their ceramic burners are known for generating a great deal of heat, and very fast. Solaire claims 14,000 BTUs, and we don't doubt that.
High heat output is the whole point of infrared cooking. Inside the burner, the propane is pressurized, creating a sort of jet effect. The "flame" is orange, and the invisible heat is impressive. No other grill we used has a power output like the Solaire. The Solaire is ready in seconds.
A "traditional" grill heats your food with both direct heat (infrared) and by heating the air under the grill lid (like an oven). This infrared grilling uses just the infrared, direct heating strategy. This means that meat surfaces heat up and cook very, very fast. The cooking of that surface effectively forms a sort of vapor barrier of cooked flesh on the outside of the piece of meat. This is what foodies talk about when they say, "the juices are sealed inside." This is the searing process. It's true, backed up by the science. In a traditional blue flame grill, the bottom of the meat gets seared while the top is exposed to a slower sort of cooking that allows for evaporation of the flesh's fluids before it can be turned and seared on the other side.
Theory aside, how does the Solaire work? Well, after a very short learning curve (Solaire provides brief instructions to help you adapt to infrared grilling), the red meat we prepared on the Everywhere grill was indeed very excellent. It stayed noticeably more juicy than meat cooked on a regular grill. Chicken was trickier. It works, but the outside gets more charred than many would like. Slow cooking country-style pork ribs didn't work at all. They just dried out. Veggies were similarly varied.
Onions and peppers are good; they cooked quickly and a little charred. Mushrooms, for instance, like a slower approach, and don't work well on the Solaire.
This is Solaire's most compact and portable infrared grill. It is in the mix, in terms of bulk and weight, with the most compact grills in our test. The case is solid and clean. There are pros and cons of infrared technology in terms of portability. Infrared grilling is more fuel-efficient than blue flame grilling. We noticed this. Tanks aren't drained like we have come to expect.
Drippings are vaporized by the burner; there is no accumulated grease to make a mess of your car. We had no problems, but the ceramic nature of the burner is a little concerning. We are concerned that the burner could crack in rough transport. We will keep testing and keep you informed. So far, so good.
Solaire's Everywhere grill is pretty small. In absolute terms, the 135 square inches is down with the smallest grills we have tested.
While we are assessing the cooking area, we have to comment on the nature of the Solaire grill grate. Like most infrared grills, the grate is made of concave bars. In the case of the Everywhere, the grate is made up of parallel v-shaped bars. The v-shape catches dripping juices to further help keep your meat moist. The flip side of this, though, is that the bars are then wide. They block the infrared heat from some of the meat. To optimize the infrared energy on the meat, the bars have big spaces between them. The result of this is that smaller bits of food are even more prone to falling through the grill grate. Others have bars that are considerably bigger than the spaces; small food barely fits through.
As per Solaire's instructions (and the design of apparently many infrared grills), the Everywhere grill is intended to be used with the lid open. The lid is simply there to contain things in transport and keep precipitation and dust out of the stowed and inactive grill. The lid is shallow. You couldn't close it over your food if you wanted to.
Again, Solaire instructs you to keep it open all the time. This leaves your food more exposed to wind. In our testing, using the grill in cold late winter and late autumn Teton breezes, this had a dramatic effect. With enough wind, your food won't really cook on the Solaire. The burner itself is virtually impossible to blow out, but all that heat gets swept away from the top of your food by the wind. Again, well-built traditional grills do better in this category. A blue flame grill that blows out is decidedly worse than the Solaire, but a tight lid and effective design will exceed any uncovered grill. Home grilling can be better protected, and most of us don't live in super exposed places. On the go, though, finding shelter is tougher, and we often like to picnic in wilder positions with wilder weather. Wind resistance is more important in your portable grill than it is in your home grill, and therefore infrared grills carry an extra burden.
This is an expensive grill. It cooks steak like none other, so you will have to decide if this specialization is worth it to you.
We are still somewhat in the learning curve for portable infrared grilling. We love what it does for steaks and certain veggies, but we can't call it the best choice for all-around use. Infrared grilling is amazing when it is amazing. There are also drawbacks. If you want to grill over an infrared burner, on the go, the Solaire is our best recommendation choice, but we also recognize that it might not be the most mainstream grill. In-home grills most seem to currently choose "hybrid" grills with both an infrared burner and a traditional "blue flame" burner. When portability is a concern, carrying two grills (or making one big enough to have two burners inside) is prohibitively bulky and heavy. The primary disadvantage of infrared grilling is in cooking things "low and slow." A blue flame burner can sear a steak in minutes and slow-cook ribs for hours. An infrared grill better sears your steak, but will not work for slow-cook barbecuing.
— Jediah Porter