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The Cinder Precision Grill promises to cook your food at a precise temperature, just like a sous-vide device, and then sear it so that you don’t need a grill or a second pan. It mostly lives up to those promises, but it’s big, very heavy, and is a pain in the neck to clean. And at $499 ($399 if you buy it during its Indiegogo campaign), it’s quite expensive.
In my home, the only appliance that’s earned a permanent spot on the countertop is the coffeemaker. Everything else gets stored in a cabinet, drawer, or the appliance garage. We made an exception for the Cinder not because we used it so often, but because it’s so big and heavy. We’re talking 27 pounds, 10 ounces—more than four times the mass of our 12-inch cast-iron skillet. And when we did use the Cinder, we had to pull it toward the edge of the counter so that its hinged lid could clear the cabinet above it.
The Cinder cooks with two removable aluminum plates (the top one mounts to the lid) that have electrical heating elements snaking through them. The manufacturer says these elements consist of “tiny heating nodes that continuously turn on and off to ensure that every millimeter (literally) is at the correct temperature.” So the Cinder operates on the same principle as a sous-vide device: It brings food to a precise temperature and keeps it at that temperature for as long as you want. You could leave the food on the griddle for hours without overcooking it.
You can use the Cinder’s dial and LCD to set your target temperature, or you can use the iOS app (there is currently no Android version). We used the latter approach to prepare an ahi tuna steak one night and a couple of rib-eyes the next. We achieved results similar to what we got from the Anova Precision Cooker sous-vide device we reviewed a couple of years ago, but you can now buy that product on Amazon for $109.
The Cinder app is relatively barebones and doesn’t offer much in the way of tips on how to use the Cinder. As a result, we at first didn’t benefit from the appliance’s primary advantage over a sous-vide cooker: Its ability to sear your food after the food has reached its target temperature.
Once the app indicated that the tuna steak was cooked (we like it rare), we increased the Cinder’s temperature to 425 degrees to sear the meat. But we made the mistake of leaving the fish on the griddle while the griddle was increasing its temperature and wound up overcooking it. The weight of the lid also pressed down on the steak, somewhat flattening it and squeezing some of the moisture from the meat.
The app was also wildly inaccurate when it came to estimating how long food would take to cook, reporting at first that the two 16-ounce rib-eyes would need more than 3.5 hours to prepare. In reality, it took about the same amount of time as the sous-vide cooker, about 50 minutes. And while the app continuously updates its time estimate as the food cooks, meal planning will be difficult each time you try something new.
Apart from that complaint, we got better results the second time, when we cooked the rib-eyes. This time, we removed the meat after it was cooked, increased the Cinder’s temperature, and then placed it back inside—just for a few minutes—to sear it. There’s no need to turn the food over because it gets cooked on both sides at the same time, but you won’t get the same charred look, mouthfeel, or taste that comes from finishing on a true grill. Then again, there’s nothing to prevent you from finishing anything you cook on the Cinder on a grill, as long as you don’t mind the double cleanup.
Speaking of cleanup, we hated cleaning the Cinder. It has a gutter all the way around its bottom half to collect grease and channel it toward a removable tray. But the bottom sear plate sits perfectly flat, so much of the grease stays in place around the food while it’s cooking. I suppose that’s not so different than using a vacuum-sealed bag to cook sous-vide style, but you can easily drain the excess juice or grease from the bag when you’re finished cooking it in a water bath.
When you take the food off the Cinder, you’ll need to wipe up the grease or push it toward the drain channel and into the tray. And while the sear plates can be removed for cleaning, they can’t be immersed in water or placed in a dishwasher. Cleaning the inside of the top half of the griddle is just as unpleasant as you might imagine since you can’t take the entire appliance to the sink.
We might like the Cinder a lot more if it was lighter, less expensive, and came with a better app. We can’t recommend it as it stands. If you want a smart grill, take a look at the T-Fal Optigrill+. We’ve been using it for months and our review is long overdue (we’ll get to it soon, promise). It’s not as flashy as the Cinder, and you’ll need to pay a little more attention to what you’re cooking with it, but it cooks with almost as much precision, it’s a whole lot easier to clean, and it’s available at Amazon for less than $100.