Traveling the world through cuisine

Broiling 101

Broiling beef

I’ll be honest, as much as I love my condo, I hate that I have no outdoor space. No yard, no balcony, no patio, not even an outdoor porch. Outside of the desire to simply sit on some patio furniture and sip coffee or cocktails, it’s much harder on a foodie who would love to fire up a grill every now and then.

Fortunately, ovens made since the mid-20th century have been equipped with a broiler to handle such a need. Even if you have an outdoor space, your broiler can be a great help when you’re in the mood for barbecue but the weather might not lend itself to grilling.

Never tried your broiler? Afraid to? No sweat. If you can master grilling, then broiling will come easy.

Locate and get familiar with your broiler

Top-mounted broiler
Top-mounted broiler

Lower broiler drawer
Lower broiler drawer

On most ovens, your broiler will either be at the top of the main oven space, or at the bottom. If it’s at the bottom, then you might have a lower drawer where you would place your broiler pan to use. Some with lower broilers might even have a grill built into that drawer. Bigger, more high-end ovens will have a separate broiler that would look like a smaller oven.

If your broiler is at the top like mine, it should look like a stream of steady flame going down the middle of the oven ceiling. This does not mean you only get heat in the middle of the oven though. Usually manufacturers design these systems to shoot the flames sideways and thus spread the heat.

If you have an electric oven, then your broiler will be the top element. It will simply turn on and stay on in a steady heat. Unless design has changed, electric broilers have only an on and off setting, while gas ovens can have a low or high setting for their broilers.

If you’ve never used your broiler before, turn it on, and see how it operates for your particular oven. Just observe it on with the oven door partially open.

Get the right gear for broiling

Broiling PanUnless your oven comes with a broiling surface, I’d say it’s imperative to own a broiling pan. Some will say you can use a cookie sheet to broil, but I’ve found an honest-to-goodness broiling pan essential. If you look at it, it’s similar to a grill in many ways. You get the top surface to cook food and the lower pan to catch drippings.

A pair of tongs is also a good idea if you don’t already own them. When cooking anything from a steak to chicken breasts, a pair of tongs will keep you from puncturing your meat and thus keep the juices inside. A meat thermometer is also handy. I personally will trust a thermometer over my eye.

Do the prep work

Broiling is not just tossing stuff in the oven. Take the time to marinate or season the food you’re going to prepare. With poultry or pork it’s most likely you’ll either marinate the meat overnight or coat it with a dry rub beforehand. With red meat you’ll more likely use a dry rub, but you can marinate some forms, like if you’re making carne asada.

When it comes to fish, unless it’s a specific recipe calling for a soak in a marinade, you’ll more likely be brushing a mixture of oil (or butter) with seasonings on fish before broiling. You can also broil whole fish (with skin) as well.

Moving away from carnivorous thinking, you can also broil vegetables and even some fruit. Rather than marinate or dry rub them, you would simply brush them with melted butter or oil if it fits to the flavor. Any additional seasoning you add later unless it’s something you want caramelized on.

There is a proper way to broil

Broiling sausages in an electric ovenWhen you broil meat, vegetables, or even fruit, you want to end up with your food cooked and a nice, crispy exterior, as if you were grilling outside. I’ve found through my own experiences how easily improper technique can mess this up.

If your oven has a top-mounted broiler, then set up the top shelf at the highest place you can in the oven. You want there to be about six inches of space between the broiler element and your food.

Be sure to heat up your pan and the broiler. When you turn on the broiler, place your pan in the oven and let everything heat up for about ten minutes. In the end, we’re trying to recreate outdoor grilling here. You wouldn’t just fire up your grill without letting it heat up. Same ideology here.

Before placing meat or other foods on your now hot broiler pan, lubricate the surface. Brush some oil or animal fat on the surface like you would if you were grilling. The type of oil depends on what you’re cooking. I’d use olive oil for most foods, but canola or vegetable oil if I were broiling fruits or vegetables.

Do not line your surface with foil. I know it seems smart to cover your pan with foil and save yourself from the cleaning, but you’ll end up with soft food that isn’t crispy like you want it. The slits on the pan serve a purpose. Not only as drainage for excess juices/drippings, but also to allow air to freely flow around your food items. This is the secret of getting that crispy char-broiled exterior.

Leave the oven door partially open when you broilIn the past, we would leave the door partway open as we broil. The reason for this is if we closed the oven, then the broiler will get so hot that the oven will shut off the element for safety. However, most modern ovens now will compensate for this and thus you do not need to leave the door open. Check your oven's manual and find out if you need to leave the door partially open or not.

The last piece of advice is to carefully watch your food. Broiling isn’t something you just place in the oven, set a timer, and walk away from. You would be surprised how quickly a piece of meat or other food will cook up in a broiler. Remember you’re literally grilling in your oven, so you have to watch, flip, and pull your food out in time before burning it.

Need ideas?

Here’s a handful of recipes from this very site you can try broiling. Leave any questions in the comments or even let me know how you fared in your broiling.

Tags: broiling, tip, technique, beef, chicken

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