City Grilling: Broiling
Our broilers are upside-down grills that give quick, great flavor to meat, fish and more.
Some city cooks are intimidated by the broiler that came with our stoves. Yet it's one of the most useful and simple tools in our kitchens. Whether your stove has a gas flame broiler, or uses infrared, or is electric, fire it up and try different recipes to see how easy it is to get quick and flavorful results from a basic cooking method.
Another plus? Broiling is faster than roasting and needs less time than the oven to heat up and cool down. That means for small city kitchens, our broilers can be more comfortable to have on, especially in hot weather.
Some call the broiler simply an upside-down grill and they're right. Even if you've never been near a charcoal briquette, all you need to know is that a broiler is an expanse of intense heat. You control the pace and intensity of the cooking by adjusting the distance between the heat source -- in this case it's above the food, not underneath it -- as well as the length of cooking time.
While George Forman and other counter-top grills are popular, the broiler in your oven cooks differently and results in better flavor. That's because unlike the heat source of the counter-top "grill" which actually touches the food, a broiler cooks by blasting heat against the food's surface, resulting in a rapid browning of the surface and thus, a better and more intense flavor.
Here are some basic tips for successful broiler cooking:
- Get to know your broiler. Turn on your broiler and get down on your hands and knees and take a look at how the flame works. Look to see the size of the heat source, where the flame seems to be most intense and how large is its expanse. This knowledge is essential if you're to know where to place food, if there's a hot spot, and anything else that may inform where you place a pan.
- Pre-heat the broiler just as you pre-heat an oven. Once a broiler is turned on it's throwing off heat, but you want to be sure that it's at full force before you put food under it. So set the oven rack where you'll want it and then turn on the broiler (if your broiler has optional settings, you'll nearly always want to set it to high). Unlike an oven that may need 20 or 30 minutes to reach a desired temperature, a broiler will be at full heat in 2 or 3 minutes.
- Adjust the level of the rack. The chief way you control the pace of broiler cooking is by adjusting the distance between the food and the flame. If, for example, you place a steak too close to the heat, you can easily get a dark brown surface with a rare-to-raw interior. The goal is to position the food so that the rate of the surface browning matches that of the interior conduction cooking. Many foods cook best when the oven rack is set anywhere from 6 to 10 inches from the heat. This way you'll get cooking that occurs at a better pace, which means the food will cook more evenly while still producing a brown surface.
- Broiler pans. Most ovens come with a 2-piece broiler pan with a shallow bottom part and a perforated insert. The point of these pans is to let food cook on top while any fat can drip into the pan below. These are absolutely fine to use, but you can just as easily use a sheet pan with a rack set into it, or a metal or cast iron fry or grill pan (make sure any pan you use under a broiler is totally heat-proof because the temperatures can exceed 500ºF; this rules out using anything non-stick). Some recipes call for lining broiler pans, or the perforated insert with foil, which while defeats the purpose of the perforation, does make it much easier to clean up. Never use parchment paper with a broiler because it will burn.
- Clean ovens help. A broiler can get to high temperatures, often over 500ºF. If your broiler is inside your oven, and not in its own separate compartment, you can get lots of smoke. So either keep your oven clean, open a window, or briefly disconnect your smoke detector.
Which food broils best? Anything that will benefit from high heat and browning. Meat, poultry and fish are obvious choices, but other foods that can get good and complex flavor from broiling include stone fruits like peaches and plums, polenta squares, vegetables including eggplant and zucchini, ham steaks, and other fruits that are naturally high in sugar that will easily caramelize from the high heat, such as fresh figs.
See our link to a Bon Appétit recipe for broiled tomatoes. Use this simple recipe in the summer when Jersey tomatoes are plentiful or in the winter when Roma (plum) tomatoes are the best choice. Broiled tomatoes are a great side dish with fish or poultry, or toss with pasta and diced feta cheese, or serve combined with a cooked grain like quinoa or wheatberries.