“Good food is very often, even most often, simple food.”
― Anthony Bourdain, Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly
While working in my kitchen I could just make out the sounds of what I thought was a Harry Potter movie on the television. A part of me wished that I too lived in a world of magic. A thought suddenly struck me; cooking IS magic.
We take our raw ingredients and transmute them like the alchemists of old into new creations. A bland scoop of wheat flour becomes a dinner roll, a stick of butter a delightful cream sauce. In that moment standing in my kitchen, I was a magician, and my spatula was my magic wand.
In my magical laboratory (the kitchen) I’ve been experimenting lately with a new tool: the Cinder Grill. Can this new smart kitchen device elevate my cooking prowess to new heights? Is this all-in-one grill a game changer for those seeking to simplify their weeknight dinner routines? In this review we’ll take a look at what the Cinder Grill and my thoughts on this high-tech kitchen tool.
I’ve always been drawn to cooking and baking. There’s something soothing and rewarding when a combination of ingredients comes together, forming a dish greater than the sum of it’s parts. Over the years I’ve tried, tested, and mastered many dishes and techniques with a variety of cooking styles and methods.
One cooking method I’ve taken a keen interest in as of late is “sous vide” which is a French term for ‘under vacuum’. A brief definition of this cooking method is:
“…a method of cooking in which food is placed in a plastic pouch or a glass jar and cooked in a water bath for longer than usual cooking times (usually 1 to 7 hours, up to 72 or more hours in some cases) at a precisely regulated temperature.”
This method has some serious advantages. Foods are slowly brought to temperature and can be finished off in a frying pan at one’s leisure. Proteins and meats are cooked precisely to the perfect temperature and can ‘hang out’ while a cook finishes side dishes or sauces.
The food cooked with this method is thoroughly cooked through. Usually a tool called an “immersion circulator” is used to heat and circulate the water in the bath with a high degree of thermal precision. There are downsides to sous vide, such as a water bath being required and quite often a separate step involving a frying pan to sear the food prior to serving.
This is where Cinder hopes to change things. Cinder aims to take advantages of sous vide, and minimize the disadvantages of them with their sleep all-in-one device: The Cinder Grill (THIS link gives $50 off). In this review we’ll take a look at Cinder’s features, real-world experiences with the device, how it compares to traditional sous vide, and if Cinder might be a perfect addition to your kitchen.
My Cinder unit came in a massive sturdy cardboard box. The package itself was hefty; upwards of 30+ pounds!
When I began opening the package, I saw that the unit was neatly packed with plenty of foam and plastic wrapping to keep the device snug and secure.
Excess waste was kept to a minimum, and the people packing these devices did a good job ensuring no damage happened during transit.
Along with the Cinder unit itself, I received a quick start guide and a few additional rubber feet for the unit. I am going to assume these are spares in the event one of the rubber feet goes missing.
The quick start guide is a minimal document, detailing how to set up the grill for the first time and turn it on. The guide indicates that to maximize your use of the device, downloading and using the free Cinder app from the iOS App Store or Google Play Store is recommended.
Right now, Cinder is accepting pre-orders with free shipping and a 30-day trial period. Normally Cinder retails for around $450.00 USD, so I would expect the price to be around the $450-$500 range once more units become available.
(THIS link gives you $50 off the pre-order price!)
Cinder resembles a panini or sandwich press, or a George Foreman grill you may have had in college. Looks alone are where the similarities stop, however. This is by no means a similar device.
The unit is solid metal, with most of the outer housing brushed stainless steel. The only plastic on the unit I could find might be the LCD screen, drippings tray and control knob. Due to the all-metal construction, Cinder is a heavy device.
The unit uses a hinged lid and two ceramic coated plates to cook food. The way the hinge operates allows it to accommodate foods of varying thicknesses, so thin or thick foods aren’t a problem inside Cinder. While the device bears some resemblance to other sandwich presses, the features of the Cinder Grill set it apart and into a different category altogether.
The unit is stylish and sleek, and the heft and material construction almost screams “over engineered”. I have zero issues with having a Cinder Grill on my countertop, and it compliments the other stainless steel appliances I already have.
Unlike your average sandwich press, Cinder uses extremely accurate temperature sensors that can adjust the cooking temperature to within 1 degree. Cinder uses what it calls “Platinum 1º RTD Sensor” giving readings down to the millisecond that are then processed by a smart trademarked computing algorithm called “Temp-Sense™”.
Cinder states that their algorithm is based on NASA satellite orbit technology.
What this means for you and me is if we want the internal temperature of our food to be 137 degrees, you can actually get your food to within 1-degree of that set temperature.
I don’t see any other device with this form factor on the market that can even come close to matching that. When it comes to practical applications of this precision, foods can be overcooked or undercooked simply by a matter of degrees. The difference between a medium-rare and medium steak is only 10 degrees F, for example.
If you’ve ever used an electric griddle or sandwich press, you’ll know that even heating can be a hit or miss affair. The heating elements often used can cause hot and cold spots, leading to uneven heating across the cooking surface.
Cinder claims that this isn’t an issue with the grill, by using 1800 watt “Tubular Joule” heating coils embedded directly within their dual-insulated ceramic grill plates.
I don’t own a thermal imaging device to confirm the uniformity of the heating surface, but I can attest to the fact that I haven’t found noticeable cool or hot spots in my testing of the Cinder Grill.
When rapid heating is required (searing, for example) the Cinder seems to rapidly rise to temperature faster than I would have expected, leading me to believe that their tube elements are indeed quite powerful.
You can control the grill manually using the easy-to-read display screen and control knob on the front of the device, or you can download the smartphone app and send cooking parameters to the grill over Bluetooth.
I found that the app paired easily following the on-screen prompts. Once I had the app open, I was able to select the kind of food I wanted, what “doneness” I wanted it and send the start command to the grill.
Once food has been placed inside and the program started, the app will show you a countdown timer to let you know when it’s ready to eat or be finished off with a good sear. The companion app does what it needs to, and I never noticed any bugs or crashes on my iOS device. The app isn’t overly flashy, and the menus and status of the grill are clear and easy to navigate.
Because of the smart app and the simple controls of the Cinder Grill, the device has a ‘set it and forget it’ cooking style. You won’t find yourself hovering over or babysitting the cooking process.
In other words, by setting the exact temperature you want the finished food to be, foods never burn in the Cinder Grill.
Foods can also be held in the grill for an extended period after they’ve reached their temperature. This feature is great if you have other side dishes or are entertaining guests.
Foods won’t get cold or overcooked if you leave them on the grill. Cinder recommends you don’t leave most meats on the device longer than two hours once the cooking has been completed. That flexibility is something you just can’t achieve with a stovetop, oven or pan.
Food is placed on the Cinder Grill, a few taps inside the app and you can return to fully cooked food. The app will even send you an alert on your phone when the cooking process is done, so you can attend to other tasks around the home.
The Cinder Grill wouldn’t really be “smart” if it didn’t have a library of foods to choose from. Thankfully, the app is chocked-full of an assortment of recipes from basic meats to carnivore, paleo, and Whole30 diet options.
The app will walk you through the cooking process, prompting any additional steps required for finishing the food or preparing additional ingredients.
The great thing about having a recipe library is that you can inspire yourself to try out new foods you might haven’t felt confident enough making before, and also provide a baseline for the ideal cooking temperature for certain types of meats, seafood, poultry and vegetables.
After selecting the recipe and placing your food inside Cinder (get $50 off HERE), you follow the prompts and wait for your food to be cooked. It really is that simple, and I found it an intuitive process. For busy professionals or those wanting to ditch the microwave oven, Cinder makes the cooking process as frictionless as possible.
I would imagine that most people don’t enjoy eating toxic chemicals, so It’s great that Cinder’s removable cooking plates don’t contain any toxic chemicals that could leech into the food. Cinder uses an anodized ceramic coating on the cooking surfaces that are impermeable to foods and non-reactive.
The plates are 100% PFOA PTFE free, with the ceramic coating providing a slippery, glass-like surface that allows for a Maillard reaction (caramelization) of sugars and amino acids to produce good browning.
This surface is also relatively easy to clean (more on this below). So, while the plates aren’t coated with a ‘nonstick coating’, foods release easily and cleanup is similar to using an enameled cast iron pan from Staub or Le Cruset.
I’ve learned to be wary of any company that claims their product is “easy to clean”. Generally, the product in theory is easy to clean, but in practice more labor and effort is required. Cinder isn’t hard to clean, but I wouldn’t say it’s quite as easy as claimed.
Cinder grill closes completely when the lid is shut. This is great for keeping grease splatters contained when using the grill on high heat for searing. The downside to this is that all of those splatters need to be cleaned off the entire inside of the lid. If you fail to do this, you might find that your Cinder will retain food smells from the previous items you cooked inside.
The cooking plates, while removable, aren’t dishwasher safe. The pop out of the grill very easily for washing, but I’m always paranoid that I’m going to get the electrical contacts wet, or that the sealing around those contacts might now prevent 100% of the moisture from entering the electronics.
The coating on the plates isn’t a chemical nonstick surface, so if you really burn something onto them with high heat, you are going to need to use a bit of muscle to scrub the plates clean. It’s not any harder than cleaning an enameled Dutch oven or fry pan, but something to be aware of. Healthy cooking surfaces do unfortunately require a bit more care and time to keep clean.
Cinder also has a removable drip tray for oils, grease and moisture byproducts that occur during the cooking process. This tray is easy to slide out and is fed through a notch on the lip of the cooking surface. Cleaning the drip pan is straightforward, as the entire pan is plastic, and a bit of soap and water are all that’s needed.
You may be thinking that Cinder sounds easy enough to clean, what’s the issue? My issue is that when compared to a traditional sous vide immersion circulator wand (which Cinder says it competes with), the only thing to clean up is a container of water to pour out, and a bag to throw away.
Occasionally I may have to use a bit of white vinegar to descale the lime deposits off the sous vide wand, but there are no cooking surfaces to clean. If I’m using a fry pan to sear/finish my foods that’s only one additional cooking surface to clean compared to two plates, drip pan, and interior lid.
Here are some recipes I prepared with the Cinder (THIS link gives you $50 off!)
Cinder touts the ability to cook the ‘perfect steak’, so I decided to jump into using Cinder by cooking some! I’ve had quite a bit of experience using my Anova immersion circulator for cooking sous vide steak, so I was eager to see how a steak using Cinder would compare. The result? Pretty darn good.
After adding some seasoning and a bit of oil to my steak, I put it onto the grill surface of Cinder and closed the lid. I then selected the type of steak I had in the companion app, and my desired “doneness”. The app then sent the appropriate temperature to the unit along with an estimated countdown timer.
Once the timer had reached zero, I was notified on the app and I went back to the grill to remove the steak and pat it dry. This is an important step before searing, as excess moisture will prevent a good crust from forming. I also made sure to wipe any excess moisture/oil off the cooking surfaces as well.
After this, I turned the control knob to the right to enter “sear mode” and pushed the knob. I was surprised at how quicky the grill heated to 450F (~232-degrees Celsius) for searing.
Once the unit had reached the maximum temperature for searing, I opened it up, placed the steak, closed the lid and pushed the control knob once more to start a sear countdown timer. One great thing about Cinder is that it can sear both sides of an item at once, eliminating the need to flip a piece of food. The less time an item spends on high heat, the less chance it has to become overcooked.
After about a minute the timer was done, and I opened the lid to see a pretty well-seared steak. I decided to close the lid and let Cinder to what’s called a “long sear” for a few additional seconds to add just a bit more to my steak. It really was that simple, and I never had to move my food more than a foot or two away from the unit the entire time.
With just a few finishing touches, I had a wonderfully cooked steak ready to eat, with minimal effort on my part.
The ability to sear both sides of food didn’t escape me, and I was curious how well Cinder could handle something delicate like an Ahi tuna steak. Typically, I’d sear both sides of a tuna steak for about a minute or so to prevent the tuna from overcooking.
Using only the high temperature “sear mode”, Cinder handled the Ahi excellently.
The Cinder Grill has become my default method for cooking Ahi because of how quickly it can sear both sides the same. I found that the sear temperature of 450F (~232 C) was just about right to produce a great sear without over/undercooking the tuna.
I was eyeing the Cinder one day and wondered how well it would perform as an electric griddle. I decided that pancakes would be an ideal test to see if the unit could handle cooking with the lid open and maintain a consistent temperature through the cooking process.
I decided to use a cook surface temperature of 350F for my pancakes. For this test, I didn’t need to use the smarphone app at all; rather I just turned the control knob and selected 305F and let the unit warm up. When I opened the unit to begin cooking, I noticed that it did drop a little bit in temperature but did recover fairly quickly.
After dropping an appropriate amount of pancake batter on the grill I noticed Cinder dropped temperature rapidly and didn’t seem to be kicking on to warm itself back up to 350F. I decided to raise the heat to about 365F and heard the internal fan kick on and saw the temperature begin to rise again. Once I was back up to 350F I then lowered the unit’s temperature with knob back to 350F.
I found that I had to do this constantly each time I added a new pancake, and I had to sort of ride the control knob to maintain as close to a consistent 350F as possible. I think that having the lid open and so much heat escaping make it hard for Cinder to accurately judge how much power it needed to maintain a consistent temperature.
If you are wanting to cook delicate foods with the lid open, the temperature rebound is something to keep in mind. Seeing as how Cinder isn’t marketing itself as an omelette and pancake machine it’s not really a deal-breaker, just a bit of an annoyance.
The first thing my partner said after unboxing the Cinder grill was, “It looks like a sandwich maker”. Well, Cinder Grill is decidedly NOT a sandwich maker, but nonetheless I decided to test making a grilled cheese sandwich for you the reader (and my 3-year-old).
The result? Well, you can make grilled cheese in the Cinder Grill, but as mentioned the unit uses very heavy metal components. The resulting sandwiches I made all came out very flattened, more so than one would see with a panini press. It’s not really Cinder’s fault – the machine isn’t sold as a grilled sandwich maker/press.
In the end, the resulting sandwiches tasted fine, came out cooked well if only a bit “smooshed”. My 3-year-old certainly didn’t complain, and I got a laugh at seeing the over-engineered all metal components crushing the life out of my simple whole grain and cheddar sandwich.
I think in the future I may just grill sandwiches with the lid up, using Cinder more like an electric skillet for pancakes and eggs.
Cinder has positioned itself to be a direct competitor to traditional sous vide cooking devices from companies like Anova. I actually own and use an original Anova sous vide immersion circulator, so I decided I wanted to cook the same foods in both at the same time and compare results. To keep things as simple as possible, I chose to cook identical cuts of steak in each to the same level of doneness.
For the sous vide I seasoned the steak and placed it into a freezer bag and into the water bath. I’ve never used a vacuum sealer, as I use the weight of the water to push the air out of the bags I use. I seasoned the Cinder steak the same and put it onto the grill and started the cooking process.
The Cinder Grill actually finished about 30 minutes faster than the Anova, and I think this has to do with the fact the thermal mass of the cooking plates more efficiently transfer heat energy into the food faster than the circulating water.
After the Cinder steak had finished cooking, I used the sear mode to get a sear on the outside, finishing off the steak:
For the Anova steak, I used a carbon steel fry pan heated on high for the sear:
In side-by-side comparisons, the two steaks came out looking close to one another. Cinder is on the left, Anova is on the right:
There wasn’t enough of a difference in quality to really declare one a definitive winner over the other, but I do believe I was able to achieve a slightly better sear with a frying pan over the Cinder Grill.
If similar results can be had, what advantages does Cinder ($50 off through that link!) have over a sous vide-style immersion circulator? I can think of a few, and I’ll detail them below.
No water bath needed. This is a bigger deal than you’d think. Having to fill a container with water and wait for the sous vide device to heat the water can take a while. How much time? For my 5-liter setup the Anova usually takes 20-30 minutes for the water to be ready in addition to the hour to hour and a half cooking time.
Hands down, Cinder Grill is faster.
I think you are also wasting less energy because you aren’t having to keep a large mass of water heated. Down the road, I may do testing to see if Cinder uses less electricity, and I wouldn’t be surprised at all to learn it’s more efficient in that regard.
Another advantage Cinder has is that it’s an enclosed cooking system. When the lid is down during searing, there’s no smoke/splattering. If you happen to live in an apartment or shared living spaces, this may be a compelling feature of Cinder.
Having to finish foods off in a searing hot fry pan can produce large volumes of smoke. This doesn’t happen with Cinder, as the smoke is mostly contained inside the unit. Yes, when you eventually open the lid some does escape, but it’s far less than a frying pan on a stovetop.
Because Cinder uses two plates to heat and cook food, you don’t have to use a vacuum sealer or plastic bag for the food you cook. Some people may be wary of plastics and off-gassing, so that may be a concern to some. There’s also going to be less waste with Cinder, as you won’t have bags filled with food juices/fats to dispose of. With those strengths in mind, does the sous vide hold any advantages?
Despite all of the advantages I mentioned that Cinder holds, there still are some areas that I believe the sous vide/water bath method has an advantage in.
Size: The immersion circulator is much smaller and lighter than a Cinder Grill. I can easily store my Anova in a kitchen drawer and use a variety of pots and containers for the water bath. Owning a Cinder Grill means you’re going to need counter space for the unit.
While the Cinder Grill can cook a plethora of foods, there are some things I can cook with my Anova that I simply can’t with a Cinder.
For example, I can make an entire batch of Hollandaise sauce inside a bag with the Anova. I can also cook puddings and custards inside glass jars with a sous vide water bath. Soft boiled eggs are another thing the Cinder can’t do that I can make with the sous vide device. Although, I can’t make pancakes with my Anova, so Cinder does win some points there!
While a having an integrated searing mode, the Cinder only reaches 450F, which a bit low for a good sear. I’ve found that using a cast iron or carbon steel pan heated on high gives a much better sear and crust to foods.
When using a sous vide water bath with the food sealed inside a bag, the food cooks inside its own moisture and fats. If desired, marinades can also be added to the bag, infusing additional flavor into food as it cooks in the water bath. This isn’t an option with Cinder. Any marinating you might want to do for your foods will need to be done ahead of time and won’t penetrate as fully as a food cooked in a sous vide bath.
After using the Cinder for a variety of foods, I think the Cinder would be a perfect kitchen companion for those living in apartments or small spaces. Yes, the unit is large, but doubles as an electric griddle. The fact that it produces so little smoke when searing is huge for those in shared living situations. Having to explain why the smoke alarm went off is a non-issue with Cinder in urban life.
Cinder would also be ideal for those on a dedicated carnivore or ketogenic diet. Cinder really shines when used to prepare proteins. One part of sticking with a protein-rich diet can be the time-consuming task of preparing food. Cinder Grill helps simplify the task of preparing proteins and takes the guesswork out of when food is “done” or not.
People living alone or with a partner may also find Cinder Grill an attractive option. The cooking surface isn’t massive, and Cinder can reliably deliver food for 1-3 people adequately. People with large families may find the cooking capacity of Cinder a bit limiting.
Finally, those who just want to eat better but don’t have the cooking skills or time will enjoy using Cinder Grill. If you follow the guides and use the machine as instructed, you will rarely encounter a failed meal. The ‘set it and forget it’ aspect of Cinder Grill lets you multitask and get other chores done around the home, and the fast heat-up times make dinner in an hour a realistic possibility.
If you fall into one of the above categories and have can swing the hefty price tag of around $450, Cinder Grill may just be the next greatest cooking tool for your kitchen. It’s attractive styling and consistent performance make it a solid investment if you find yourself wanting quality cooked foods with minimal fuss.
On the other side, a similar Anova sous vide immersion circulator to mine costs about $199 USD. If you are on the fence about precision cooking and want to give it a try, the Anova or another sous vide unit may be an option to consider.
It’s worth mentioning that most, if not all of the ‘smart’ features of the Cinder are also found on my Anova sous vide unit. The Anova has Bluetooth and Wifi connectivity, a dedicated app (or can be used without the app), a recipe library, timer, and can alert me when food is done.
Cinder Grill is a somewhat niche product that tries to solve some of the inconveniences with traditional sous vide cooking. If you fully understand the limitations of the product and intend to use it consistently for the purpose it was designed for - I would highly recommend it.
I’ve made a ton of food on my Cinder Grill, from hamburgers to sausages and quesadillas. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed using the Cinder Grill, and once I got used to what types of foods it excelled at cooking, I never had a single issue with the unit at all. The product works, plain and simple – and simple it is. It doesn’t get any easier than plopping food onto it and closing the lid. When I’m tired or I want to cook up a chicken thigh or burger, I can rest assured it won’t overcook or require constant attention.
While I may never truly become a great wizard like Harry Potter or his mentor Albus Dumbledore, having the Cinder Grill does seem to impart a bit of ‘magic’ in my kitchen.
Chicken is juicier, steaks are perfectly cooked, and I’m not tied or tethered to the kitchen during the cooking process. Yes, the price could be steep for some, and it does have limitations; but those are reasonable tradeoffs for the results achieved.
While I’m not yet ready to get rid of my Anova sous vide setup, I’m finding that I’m not using it nearly as much with the Cinder Grill right there and ready to go.
This blog post was written by David Baker. David has years of biohacking experience with an emphasis on testing gadgets. He's also got 15 years of amateur bodybuilding involvement.
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