By: Max Good
The Otto Grill Original is one of a small, but growing number of outdoor salamander grills emerging in the US market. Salamander grills apply intense heat from above to sear and brown food surfaces and have been used in various forms for hundreds of years. The name stems from folklore that salamanders, those lizard-like amphibians with red and orange skin, are impervious to fire. Salamander grills are widely used in commercial kitchens to broil meat, melt cheese, and keep food warm. When your waiter brings a sizzling plate and cautions “Careful, it’s hot!” that plate likely came straight out of a salamander.
Salamanders are generally distinguished from single purpose warmers and broilers by their wider temperature range. We found the Otto Grill temp range was 450° to 1,500°F, plenty of searing firepower. Two 9,000 BTU overhead, infrared burners produce the impressive high temps.
The burners have individual, piezoelectric igniters and control knobs with variable settings from High to Low. We have had some minor issues lighting the burners. You must read the instructions and make sure all the fittings are very tight.
Temperature range is increased with an adjustable height, enamel coated, cast iron cooking grate. The 12.5 inch x 10 inch grate is raised or lowered with a removable lever on the right side. “Meat-O-Meter” numeric settings from 1 to 5 (high to low positions) serve as reference points. The picture below shows the grate positioned down low at setting 5 for moderate heat.
And up high for searing heat.
We placed Otto Grill on a small, metal side table and quickly felt the need to kneel down and look inside when positioning the grate up high rather than rely on the Meat-O Meter settings. Plus Otto cooks so fast you absolutely need to be vigilant and watch foods every second. Placing it on a taller surface like a countertop would work better.
A stainless steel Drip Tray slides out with stainless steel Drip Tray Tongs. Keeping the tray half-full of water prevents drippings from scorching and makes clean-up easier. The tray and cooking grate move together on the adjustable height frame. This is meant to reduce splattering were the grate up high while the tray was down low.
Remove the height adjustment lever to pull out and prop up the cast-iron cooking grate when it’s time to flip foods (below). In addition to the drip tray, a second, flat tray slides out from the bottom to catch drippings when flipping. Seems like a solid system, but there are a couple problems with this picture.
Cast iron grates produce intense conductive heat that brands meats with sear marks. A few sear marks don’t deliver as much flavor as an all-over sear. Otto Wilde even recommends removing the cast iron grate while warming up the grill specifically to prevent grill marks in favor of an all-over sear. We feel stainless steel rod grates, sold as an option, would be a better choice. Although Otto Wilde says they ship grills with cast iron grates because, “that is what the customers have been asking for.” In this case, the customer is not always right. Read our Definitive Guide to the Best Grill Grates to find out why.
The bottom line is that Otto Grill’s 1,500°F infrared burners are all you need to create a perfect, even brown crust across the entire meat surface, as you can see in the pics below. This all-encompassing sear gives you a lot more browning and flavor than a few grill stripes produced by conduction. Click here to learn more about conductive and infrared heat.
Another caution: When you buy it, Otto Grill’s cooking rack does not rest on rails. So when you slide it out, especially if it is hot, you have to keep holding it up with the lever handle or it will flop down and make you cry.
They now sell a sliding shelf with rollers to hold the grate and drip pan and that makes in and out easier and safer (below). It took me about an hour to install it and I skinned only one knuckle. We strongly recommend you spring for this upgrade.
Otto Wilde’s motto, “Fleisch ain’t no firlefanz” means, ”Prepare your meat the way it deserves.”
Otto Grill is tailor made for steaks and we bet that’s the first thing most new Otto owners cook in it. We were itching to crank up those 1,500°F infrared burners and see what they could do. Though Otto Grill is small, the 12.5 inch x 10 inch cooking grate easily held two good size 1.5 inch thick, trimmed strip steaks. Don’t look in the manual that comes with the grill for recipes. It is dedicated to gas grill safety info with very little useful cooking instruction. However, you will find this brief “Recipe Idea” titled, “Rib-Eye Steak From O.F.B.: Pure Indulgence”:
Pre-heat both burners on High for 3 minutes.
Put steaks on the grill at the highest height setting for approximately 1 minute per side.
Don’t have a digital instant read thermometer? Get one because Fleisch ain’t no firlefanz! Cooking without good digital thermometers is like driving at night without headlights. Spend the money for good thermometers or you will spend the money on ruined food later. A few decent thermometers will pay for themselves by saving your meat and by saving face. Click here to learn all about these essential BBQ tools.
We tried a couple other cooking methods, but in the end Otto’s method worked best for their grill. Peering inside, we raised the meat surface about a half an inch away from the overhead IR burners. Don’t rely solely on the Meat-O-Meter settings or you may slam thick foods into the burners. At the top height, sizzle was instantaneous. Grilling at 1,500°F can be disorienting at first. It feels like watching a fast motion, time lapse video as the meat goes from red and raw to brown and beautiful. Normally, we advise you not to cook by time and cook by internal meat temperature instead, but with Otto you have to watch the clock carefully or its nuclear burners will overcook your steak in the blink of an eye. After about one minute per side the steaks developed a gorgeous, mahogany brown crust all over the surface. We dropped the grate down to the Meat-O-Meter setting 5. With our timer set for five minutes, we had a chance to catch our breath and grab a digital instant read thermometer. After 2.5 minutes, the internal meat temp was coming up nicely. We flipped the steaks and waited about two more minutes. When our instant read therm hit about 130°F, we pulled out those strip steaks, and here’s what we got.
The browned crust was perfectly even and the interior was cooked medium-rare. Click here to understand why this delicious mahogany finish is far superior to criss-crossed sear marks. Notice, however, the small band of gray, overcooked meat around the circumference of the steak, and the very center that is just a little undercooked. Steaks in many of Otto Wilde’s promo pix are the same. Though the exterior surface comes out perfect, our ideal of interior steak perfection is when the meat is reddish pink from bumper to bumper with just a thin band of dark brown crust at the surface. Be that as it may, these steaks were juicy and delicious. Radiant, infrared heat cooks fast with far less moisture loss compared to dry, convection heat. The burners’ location above the meat also eliminates flare ups from below. And man oh man, if you like speed, the interval from ignition to serving was quick! Three minute warm up, one minute per side up high, then 5 minutes down low. And dinner is served.
For those willing to spend the extra time and effort for that perfect bumper to bumper interior doneness with just a thin band of brown crust, The Reverse Sear is the way to go, and Otto Wilde would make a fantastic finisher when using this method. To reverse sear, you slowly cook the meat at 225°F and bring the internal temp up to about 110°F, then sear hot and fast. Since meat cooks from the outside in, this method gives you the least overcooking at the surface. To reverse sear with Otto Wilde you’d have to start the steaks out on another cooker that gets as low as 225° to 250ºF range. There’s nothing wrong with that. You can use a typical indoor kitchen oven. Better yet, we love to start out steaks low and slow on a smoker, then sear them senseless over a blazing hot grill. Another low-temp technique called sous vide is gaining traction and when paired with a salamander for searing, it’s a match made in heaven. Sous vide means “under vacuum” and to do it you vacuum seal food such as steak in a plastic bag then cook the bag gently in warm water for an extended period before grilling or smoking to sear and flavor it. If you aren’t familiar with the sous vide technique, this may sound a bit odd. But restaurants now use this technique routinely to turn out hundreds of perfectly cooked steaks in minutes. Click here to find out why it’s actually brilliant–especially for serving a crowd!
As the steak test shows, searing is what Otto excels at. That’s also why this grill is perfect for any thin food that cooks through fast, such as thin skirt steaks, fish fillets, shrimp and veggies. Otto grills up these foods beautifully in the blink of an eye.
To test Otto’s full temperature range, especially at the low end, we tried turning one burner off and setting the other to low. The burner set to low kept blowing out. So we set both burners to low, and then they both began blowing out. Sad trombone. Apparently, Otto has a safety feature that shuts off gas if the burners go out. We suspect this may have been why we couldn’t set the burners very low: Otto is designed for extreme heat.
Attempting to troubleshoot, we emailed email@example.com. The company said running only one burner on low could trigger the auto gas shut-off, but should not be an issue with both set to low. Deciding the burners were defective, they sent replacements from Germany (Otto is a German company) for us to swap out with our defective burners. A shipping label was included for us to return the bad unit back to Germany for analysis. We asked if that was the procedure for all US customers and they replied, “If it’s a problem we have encountered before and know how to fix, we would send a shipping label so you could send the grill to our US repair company. In that case, we would not send a new one but fix the one you own. This is an unusual case, and we want to investigate ourselves what the problem might be. If there is a structural problem with the grill through no fault of the customer, we would replace the grill.”
They sent us a link to the instructional video below, starring Otto himself. The video shows that the burner assembly is held on by two pins in the front, which can be removed with a vigorous whack.
That’s a good thing because the removable burners make cleaning simple. With the top off, one can easily wipe away collected gunk. Along with the video, Otto Wilde also emailed their new US Manual, which is vastly improved from the one we initially received with the grill. The company claims all current US models come with the new manual and they are working on live chat to improve customer service.
Otto Wilde reported the burners we sent back to Germany had “an issue with the gas flow system”. The new burners we installed blew out only once on the low settings and seemed to be more reliable overall. Otto Wilde claims they tested the new unit before shipping it back to us and have never had this complaint from customers. Our research did not uncover any similar complaints.
In addition to broiling, browning and melting, it turns out Otto Grill makes a fair pizza oven. The challenge with pizza is getting the bottom and top done at the same time. If the bottom finishes first, the topping will be, sloppy, bland and undercooked. If the top finishes first the crust will be wet and doughy. Otto Wilde sent their optional pizza stone which replaces the cast-iron grate. . With the stone in place, we turned both burners on high, let it heat it up, then dropped the stone and the control knobs to their low positions. Though my pizza skills are admittedly weak, the pizza tests went surprisingly well. The hot pizza stone browned the bottom nicely (below).
If you want to up your pizza game, click here to learn Everything You Need To Know For Pizza Perfection.
Once again, we marveled at how quickly Otto cooks food. The pizza toppings and crust bubbled immediately and we had to snatch the pizzas off the heat within two minutes to avoid burning.
Speed is a prime selling point for the Otto Grill. After the three minute warm up, most foods will cook in the blink of an eye. Have a serving tray ready before throwing any goodies on this grill: you won’t have time to run inside and grab anything once Otto gets going. Don’t worry my thirsty friends, they’ll be plenty of opportunity for refreshments after presenting your sizzling trophy to guests.
With a 16.7 inch width, 17.3 inch depth, 11.6 inch height and weighing just under 40 pounds, Otto Grill is suitable for camping and tailgating. Yes, it has a fairly small capacity cooking grate, but that is offset by the grill’s cooking speed. Everyone will get a kick out of watching foods sizzle in seconds before their very eyes.
We like the Otto Grill, but have a few minor reservations in addition to the low-temp issues mentioned above. Obviously, the $1,200 price tag will limit this grill’s appeal. Some commercial models are available in that price range and a couple manufacturers have introduced lower cost models for the residential market. Though not exactly a one trick pony, this grill is built for power and speed. It seems best suited as an ancillary, not primary, tool in your outdoor arsenal. That said, it cooks blazingly fast, is a fantastic sear machine, and useful pizza oven. If price is not prohibitive, this small, powerful, portable device is also worth consideration for folks with limited space such as condo dwellers with small patios.
“Otto gives you a 2 year warranty on all parts. In case of improper handling of the grill, your guarantee expires.”
We thank Otto Wilde for providing a grill for our tests.
Date Reviewed: 05/26/2019
Otto Wilde is a family owned business based in Dusseldorf, Germany. Named after the family patriarch, Otto Wilde produced the first prototypes of their steak searing, infrared salamander grill in 2015. A successful Kickstarter campaign followed in 2016 and now their Otto Grill is sold in Europe, Australia and the USA. They are expanding their offerings to include a line of mudular, outdoor kitchen components.
Published On: 6/1/2019 Last Modified: 3/30/2021
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