Infrared grilling is exciting and relatively new. The Solaire Everywhere is our first tested infrared grill. It does some things really, really well. It certainly grills steaks better than traditional grills. It has a learning curve and some drawbacks that keep us from awarding it, as of right now. We are still relatively early in that learning curve and look forward to ongoing testing. In the meantime, we know we can recommend the all-around high-end performance of the Editors' Choice Napoleon TravelQ 285 for around the same price as the Solaire.
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 is the first portable infrared grill we have assessed. 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 infrared technology. Most of our comparisons will be between infrared grilling and what we'll call "blue flame grilling". Most propane grills, portable or otherwise, use "blue flame grilling". If your grill is infrared, you will likely know it from the branding and purchase price. Aside from the differences between infrared and blue flame, the Solaire is well made and compact. Our primary notes are definitely related to the infrared grilling. The rest of the design and function stays right out of your way, in a good way.
Infrared grilling is amazing when it is amazing. There are definitely drawbacks. For now, those drawbacks prevent us from granting an award to the Solaire. If you want to grill over an infrared burner, on the go, the Solaire is a good choice, but we think that few people will want to commit to this. 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 absolutely not work for slow-cook barbecuing.
The power of the Solaire is indeed impressive. Infrared burners are known for generating a great deal of heat, and very fast. Solaire claims 14000 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. Even the top of the line Napoleon TravelQ takes a few minutes to heat up. The Solaire is ready in minutes.
A "traditional" grill heats your food with both direct heat (infrared) and by heating the air under the grill lid (like an oven). 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 people like us adapt to infrared grilling), the red meat we prepared on the Everywhere 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 cooked quickly and a little charred. Mushrooms 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.
Solaire's Everywhere grill is pretty small. In absolute terms, the 135 square inches is down with the smallest grills we have tested. The former Top Pick Cuisinart Petite Gourmet is a little bigger, but the corners of the Cuisinart get cold. The moody Eureka Gonzo Grill is even smaller than the Solaire, but has a round burner and round grill top that work together to make all the surface area usable. The entirety of the Solaire is usable, given the infrared technology. Top Pick Primus Kuchoma is a little bigger than the Solaire, but also suffers from some cold corners.
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 Solaire 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. The Editors' Choice Napoleon TravelQ 285 has bars that are considerably bigger than the spaces; small food barely fits through.
As per Solaire's instructions (and the design of apparently all 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 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 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 an airtight lid and effective design, like that on the Best Buy Smoke Hollow 205, will exceed all the others. 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 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 (as in cooking any cut of steak), 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. We eagerly await the introduction of a hybrid portable grill. If it could be somehow modular for maximum portability (one case, swappable burner heads?), we might have the perfect portable grill. In the meantime, infrared isn't quite ready for widespread portable use.
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 early in the learning curve for portable infrared grilling. We love what it does for steaks and certain veggies, but we aren't yet ready to call it the best choice for all around use.
— Jediah Porter