Technique of the Week: Broiling

Broiling is a quick, high-heat cooking method that exposes food directly to very high heat. This cooking method works best with tender cuts of meat and less tender vegetables. Basically an upside-down grill, broilers are generally the same device that heats up your oven, often at the top of the oven, though in same cases the heating element is at the bottom of the oven and broiler can be in a separate drawer below the oven.

The single broiling element provides intense, consistent heat over a large surface area without needing to heat the entire. It only takes a few minutes to pre-heat the broiler. The basic idea is to have the item about 3-5 inches from the surface of the broiling element to cook the item to a crusty, caramelized, slightly charred exterior. Broilers often have no heat setting which means controlling the intensity of the heat by moving the oven rack closer or further away from the element.

Tips and tricks:
  • Most broilers have only two settings: on or off. You simply set the oven to broil. If your oven gives you options, you'll have to play with it to see which settings are ideal for which circumstances. 
  • Turn on the broiler 5 or so minutes before cooking to give the oven (or broiler compartment) time to heat up - much like starting the grill and then lowering the lid.
  • Don’t get distracted! Broiling is a quick cooking method. Most foods will be done in 5-10 minutes, after which it can quickly go from nicely seared to completely burned. Watch the pan carefully.
  • You're really only cooking the outer surface of the food, this is why thin cuts of meat and quick-cooking fresh vegetables, are ideal for broiling.
  • If your food isn't done cooking, you can always put it in the oven for a few minutes to finish. And vice versa - you can cook food in the oven and then run it under the broiler at the very end to give it a nice crust or sear on the outside.
  • It's not strictly necessary to cook foods on a grated broiler pan. This pan allows air to circulate under the food, but you can accomplish the same effect by flipping the food partway through cooking. A pre-heated cast-iron skillet works well.
  • Leaving the oven or broiler compartment door partially ajar during cooking can also help. This keeps the cooking environment from getting too hot or steamy. Too steamy and the food won't develop a good caramelized crust. Too hot and the broiler element could automatically shut off.