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By: Max Good
Char-Broil bills their Cruise thermostatically controlled gas grill as, “the next generation of gas grilling…. the first gas grill that can set and maintain a cooking temperature from start to finish.”
Thermostatically controlled kitchen ovens have been available for decades and outdoor cooks are getting accustomed to a “set it and forget it” barbecue experience thanks to the growth of thermostatically controlled pellet grills. As such, AmazingRibs.com has for several years been crying out for thermostatic control on gas grills to replace vague LOW, MED, and HIGH control knob settings with actual reliable temperatures. Many manufacturers are trying but so far, only a few models have made it out of the concept phase and into consumers’ hands. And to date, every one of them has been a dud.
So, when Char-Broil announced the introduction of Cruise, our own temperatures shot up with excitement. “Can this be the one?” we enthused, “Can Cruise be the answer to our gas grill prayer?”
We couldn’t wait to get our hands on the test model Char-Broil sent. Now having spent weeks putting it through our standard testing process, we can safely say that while Cruise is not the giant leap for mankind we dreamed of, it’s a big step in the right direction. Read on.
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Cruise has only two burners which function differently than burners on other gas grills.
A. Primary burner. A low-powered, 6,000 BTU burner that runs under the center of the cooking surface from right to left. It stays lit after firing Cruise up to maintain a constant low temperature.
B. Secondary burner. A high-powered, 20,000 BTU, oval-shaped burner. The control system switches the secondary burner on and off as needed to maintain your set temperature
C. Thermostat. The grill also features a thermostat that monitors the actual cooking temperature from these two burners and sends data to the control system.
Instead of LOW, MED, and HIGH control knobs for each burner, Cruise has a single digital control knob to select your desired cooking temperature which displays on the control panel screen. Press the power button to turn Cruise on. A blue light ring appears around the dial indicating Cruise is ready for use.
The temperature range is 350°F to 700°F. You can choose to display temperatures as Fahrenheit or Centigrade. Turn the control knob to your desired set temperature and press it in to start ignition. The light ring will pulse red until your set temperature is reached. During that time, the display alternates between your set temperature and actual temperature. When your set temperature is reached, the light ring glows solid red and the display shows your set temperature.
Cruise also has a “MAX Heat” setting that goes higher than 700°F, but can’t be set to a specific temperature. It’s what we call WARP 10 – cranked all the way up for super searing. The “MAX” temperature range is affected by ambient conditions and as such, will go higher on a hot sunny day than a cold winter day. The MAX setting will turn Cruise nuclear! We got plenty of sizzling heat at 700°F and didn’t need to go hotter during our tests.
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Many gas grills have a limited temperature range of around 350°F to 550°F. Believe it or not, with only two burners Cruise is one of the hottest gas grills we’ve tested and gets an A+ for searing and high-temperature performance. Cruise blasts past 550°F into super searing territory of 700°F and beyond, but its low-temperature performance is a different story. If your conventional gas grills’ high-temperature capability is weak, you’re out of luck. When those burners are cranked up HIGH, that’s all you got. But you can extend your low temperature with 2-zone setups.
In a 2-zone setup, you turn some burners ON to produce hot direct radiant heat, and some burners OFF to create a moderate indirect zone with heat from the live burners. With this setup, you can easily cook at a low-and-slow temperature of 225°F. And it’s useful to have 2 zones side by side to slow cook chicken and sausage then finish with a little sizzle to brown and crisp skin. Click here to learn the importance of 2-zone cooking.
The Cruise burner system, while clever, can’t be set for 2-zone cooking. The fixed, low setting of 350°F is a decent temperature for most popular gas grill items that need to cook on moderate heat, plus the smallish warming rack provides a safe haven to rest foods that get done before others. Still, the lack of 2-zone capability is an Achilles heel for Cruise.
Char-Broil states that their surveys indicate many consumers don’t understand 2-zone cooking and even find it confusing. They believe that first and foremost, grillers want accurate temperature settings, and the central consumer pain point is the inadequate LOW, MED, and HIGH settings. Hence, they went with a single zone on the first generation Cruise with plans for 2-zone and more in the future.Get a sneak peak at Meathead’s next book. He shares chapters with members of our Pitmaster Club as he finishes them. Click here for a free 30 day trial. No credit card needed. No spam. Click here to Be Amazing!
Unlike other gas grills, Cruise can’t operate without electricity. The grill must be plugged into a standard GFI outlet via an extension cord. If you lose power, Char-Broil includes a battery backup pack inside the cart on the left side which reportedly will power Cruise “for a short time” on four D cell batteries. The battery pack hooks up to the control system with a very loose-fitting USB connector.
Even with fresh Duracell batteries installed, ours didn’t work. By vigorously pressing the USB connections together, we got the display to light up for a split second or two. This could be a big pain point for Cruise owners if the lights go out in their neighborhood. Char-Broil asked us to send back the battery pack for analysis. They point out the USB connection enables folks to use portable chargers instead of regular batteries.
A built-in flame sensor turns the grill off if it does not ignite within a certain time or if at any point during cooking the flame goes out. This is a nice safety feature, but our Cruise kept shutting off and displaying an “E01” error which indicates “flame not detected.”
We had fuel and there was no wind, so what caused the flame to keep going out? Char-Broil says some new units get chronic E01 errors until you break them in. Indeed, Cruise stopped mysteriously shutting down after a few cooks.
One of Char-Broil’s most notable innovations was their TRU-Infrared cooking system, renamed “Amplifire” in 2022. It consists of a radiant emitter plate that runs under the entire cook surface above the burners. The plate stores and amplifies heat for effective searing while eliminating hot spots and flare-ups. Here’s a cross-section rendering.
Here’s the Cruise emitter plates placed over the burners.
Coated cast iron cooking grates fit snugly on top of the plates.
By eliminating direct exposure to the burners and cooking primarily with radiant and conductive heat, Amplifier reduces exposure to convection heat which dries foods out. Click here to learn about the different kinds of heat: conduction, convection and radiation.
Char-Broil states their Amplifire lines provide a very forgiving cooking experience by producing moist, juicy meats over even heat, with no flare-ups to burn foods when you’re not looking. We’ve always found this unique burner system works as advertised. The Amplifire design also consumes less fuel than traditional gassers.
A built-in timer is included, though surprisingly there is no integrated meat probe. Cruise Gen 1 has no Wi-Fi capability either, hence no smartphone app.
One of our favorite new Cruise features is an Auto-Clean function similar to those found with kitchen ovens. Press the “Auto-Clean” button and the temperature setting goes to 600°F to burn off grease and gunk. Once the grill reaches 600°F it will shut off automatically after 15 minutes. If you ever left your gasser running to burn it off while presenting your grilled goodies to friends and family, then let an hour or two pass before slapping your head and jumping from your chair to shut it down, you’ll appreciate the Auto-Clean function.
After scraping off the cooking grates, Amplifire requires one more step – scrape off the emitter plates with a provided tool.
The tool conforms to the emitter shape to clear out perforations and V channels. Just scrape that gunk into a garbage receptacle or onto your yard, an easy task that many ignore leading to a problem unique to Char-Broil’s Amplifire Cooking System. Some Amplifire grease is channeled into a removable grease cup while some collects in the emitter channels. If you don’t remove the emitter plates and scrape them off every three or four cooks, charred nasty gunk clogs the perforations and builds up in the channels. Soon you’ll be cooking on a layer of cast iron and burned garbage. Don’t neglect this step. It only takes a couple of minutes.Get a sneak peak at Meathead’s next book. He shares chapters with members of our Pitmaster Club as he finishes them. Click here for a free 30 day trial. No credit card needed. No spam. Click here to Be Amazing!
The Amplifier burner system produces even heat across the entire cook surface on Char-Broil’s other gas grills. Cruise has a hot spot in the lower right corner. You can see it on the emitter plate after we burned off factory debris before use.
The hot spot was evident in our bread test which assesses even heat.
Note: I spun the burnt bread, lower right, around after flipping to orient the toasted side in the correct cooking position.
The heat pattern remained consistent for our flight of chicken wings. For this test, we flip the wings but don’t move them around so they cook over the same spot.
There’s that pesky hot spot again in the lower right. However, true to Char-Broil’s claim, Amplifire produced moist, juicy chicken – even the hot spot pieces – while crisping the skin beautifully. We left a few, pale stragglers for a couple of minutes extra to catch up with the flock. Not quite as even as other CB Amplifires, but good results regardless. Just keep that little hot spot in mind and you’ll be OK.
Cruise performed well on burgers, hot dogs, and chicken thighs. Amplifire seemed to cook a little faster than standard burner systems. Char-Broil attributes this to Amplifire’s efficiency at transferring heat to foods.
We knew Cruise couldn’t be set up for 2-zone cooking like other gassers, but its ability to reach crazy high temperatures makes it great for grilling steaks. The only downside is that we can’t employ “Reverse Sear”; our favorite method of cooking thick (1.5” or thicker) steak. With reverse sear, you slowly bring internal steak temp to about 110°F on low indirect heat, then crank your burners as high as they will go (aka Warp 10) in order to achieve a sizzling mahogany crust. The result is a bumper-to-bumper pink, juicy interior, and delicious, brown crust exterior. Click here to learn why reverse sear is the preferred method for steak lovers.
Because our set temperature of 350°F was too hot for the first step, we decided to start our 2″ thick strip steak on the warming rack with a digital meat probe inserted to monitor the cooking progress.
When our meat probe hit 110°F, we removed our steak and dialed up Cruise to 700°F. We had no doubt about Cruise’ Warp 10 performance at 700°F and didn’t feel it necessary to explore the MAX setting. Within minutes, the red light around the control knob stopped flashing and went solid to indicate Cruise had hit our set temperature. On went our thick beauty, this time to sizzle on the main Amplifier cook surface. At 130°F internal temp, we pulled it off and sliced it up. Well rub my belly and call me Buddha! It worked!
Like what you see? We couldn’t do it without an accurate digital thermometer. If you don’t have one you’re grilling in the dark. Click here to learn why digital thermometers are the single most important tool in a cook’s arsenal.
The packaging was good and effectively protected all parts. However, many disparate parts were packed together in several small boxes with no apparent logic, occasionally sending us on a parts search mission. Other than that, assembly was fairly easy. We were prepared for extra, techy labor, such as wiring, but the grill head was almost fully assembled and Cruise required little additional work for the electronics.
The grill head and cart are all thin, lightweight painted, and unpainted steel. The burners and emitter are stainless steel. The cooking grates are porcelain-coated cast iron. Assembled dimensions are 22.5″ D x 47.2″ H x 58.8″ W.
The lid handle flopped and wobbled a lot. A couple of washers might correct this but none were included.
A hood window looks appealing, but with no internal lights, its usefulness is limited. Be sure to keep it clean or it will magically transform into an impenetrable, black panel. A little Windex between cooks does the trick.
We love the high temp cooking range, but boy oh boy, the two side shelves get hot enough to melt plastic when Cruise is cranked so be careful. Built-in tool hooks would be a welcome addition to the Gen 2 Cruise.
Char-Broil hasn’t planted their flag on the Planet of Thermostatically Controlled Gas Grills (POTCGG) yet, but they’re orbiting. Cruise shows great promise and we’re told this is just the beginning. We’re eager to see the 2-zone capable model they claim is in the works.
A few bugs need to be addressed, like the battery backup and phantom E01 error, and we’d suggest adding a couple of goodies like an integrated meat probe and tool hooks. Although WiFi is the source of many consumer complaints, it is inevitable for Cruise. You can’t get around it; we love our cell phones and apps. Additionally, WiFi enables Char-Broil to do over-the-air updates and gather data about who’s doing what with their products.
So should you buy now or wait? Isn’t that the question we’ve been asking about all consumer electronics for years? The minute you buy a new cell phone or computer, it’s already obsolete. Maybe that explains the lightweight construction that keeps the price down and makes a transition to the latest and greatest model less painful.
There’s a lot to like here as the grill currently stands; the forgiving Amplifire system, auto clean, dependable medium temperature cook settings, and impressive high-temperature performance. A few rough edges need to be addressed, but if you’re in the market for a gas grill right now, Cruise merits a look. We award our AmazingRibs.com Best Value Silver Medal.
Char-Broil’s limited warranty covers:
The burners for 10 years.
The grates, emitters, firebox, and lid for three years.
Everything else for one year.
We thank Char-Broil for providing a model for our tests.
Char-Broil is an innovator in the popular gas grill arena with clever designs, low to midrange prices, and excellent customer service. For several years they have focused on infrared cooking. Starting in 2012 all new IR models were dubbed “Tru-Infrared”. These grills are made with stainless steel tube burners that work in conjunction with a radiant surface to bring heat close to the food. The radiant surface shields food from direct flame and reduces hot dry convection heat rising from the burners.
As one of the biggest BBQ manufacturers in the world, Char-Broil offers a clear, low cost alternative to Weber and surpasses many other price driven manufacturers with their infrared gas grill design innovation and focused marketing. Also in 2012, Char-Broil introduced Saber, a new, very high quality line of gas grills that goes head to head with Weber’s Summit series in the premium grill space. They offer charcoal grills, smokers, fryers and a variety of accessories and tools.
Char-Broil is owned by The W.C. Bradley Company headquartered in Columbus, GA. Roots of W.C. Bradley go back before the Civil War to The Columbus Iron Works. The first Char-Broil grill was made and sold in the USA in 1948. Now all Char-Broil grills are manufactured in China and distributed around the globe.
Published On: 6/21/2022 Last Modified: 7/21/2022
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