How to Broil Like a Chef

Your most underutilized piece of kitchen equipment makes beautifully browned food.

<p>Zoryana Ivchenko / Getty Images</p>

Zoryana Ivchenko / Getty Images

Broiling might be the sleeper of cooking methods — it's one that chefs rely on all the time but home cooks ignore too often. Broiling utilizes directed heat to cook food. Some people call it upside-down grilling, since the concentrated heat on the food is coming from above instead of when you grill, and the food sits directly on a hot grill and is cooked from below. As with grilling, broiling food in the oven can help you get a char or crisped brown crust, with the benefit of not having to go outside. "The broiler is an underutilized part of the oven,” says Jonathan Waxman, chef and owner of Barbuto in New York. Many chefs agree that it is a cooking technique home cooks should use more, because of its ability to cook food quickly while giving it a toasty browned exterior. Here’s how to get started broiling steak, salmon, vegetables, and seafood.

Where is the broiler in my oven?

In many professional kitchens, there’s a piece of equipment used to broil food called a salamander. It’s usually located at eye level or above for chefs so they don’t have to bend down to place a pan in the broiler. In a home kitchen, the broiler is built into the oven, either at the top of the oven cavity or in a broiler drawer.

Broilers are found in both gas and electric ovens. Electric (and induction) ovens use a coil, while gas ovens use a tube or multiple tubes that look like gas burners. If your oven only has one broil option, i.e. broiler on or broiler off, then this is considered a High broiler temp at 500°F to 550°F. Some ovens have other broiling options, such as Low and Medium broil in addition to High. Low broil is 400°F and medium is 450°F

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What are the best foods to broil?

Any food you might grill will also work well under the broiler. Broiling is perfect for quick-cooking meats like flank steak and pork chops, fish, vegetables, oysters, and shrimp. But there are a lot of foods that are arguably easier to make under the broiler, like a side of salmon, or just need a touch of char at the end but would fall through a grill grate, like braised short ribs or carnitas. We also appreciate the broiler when you’re cooking something on the stove at the same time, so you can do both without walking away from either.

The broiler is also a great way to crisp or char a large quantity of food, such as toasting a whole loaf of sliced bread at once, a sheet pan of vegetables, blistering chiles for stuffed poblanos and melting cheese for nachos.

How do you broil food?

Using the broiler is as easy as adjusting the oven racks, placing the food on a broiler pan (or in a broiler-safe pan), and placing it under the broiler. But here are a few more tips to make sure you’re broiling food successfully.

First, determine what you are broiling. Depending on what food you decide you cook will help you determine what heat level, oven spacing, and what pan you’ll use when broiling. Since the heat source is an even layer, you’ll want to make sure that your food is also an even thickness on the pan if you want to cook at the same rate. However, if you have a piece of meat that is thicker in one portion than the other, broiling will result in sections that are rare and others that are medium, letting you accommodate multiple preferences.

Next, adjust your oven racks. Before you turn on the broiler, adjust the racks. You want to make sure the food has enough space below the broiler to get browned but not so close that it’s touching or will blacken in seconds. Generally, this is three to five inches below the broiler, and is what recipes mean when they tell you to adjust the oven rack to the top upper third of the oven.

Once your rack is in place, preheat the broiler. Broilers need to preheat just like your oven, though they often don’t take nearly as long. Typically, broilers only need five to 10 minutes to come up to temperature, while ovens can take up to 20 minutes.

Prepare your food to be broiled. While the broiler pre-heats, season your food and place it on a broiler pan. A broiler pan is a double-layered pan; the top rack has small slits so fat can drip down to the lower pan during cooking. If you don’t have a broiler pan, you can use a stainless steel rack placed on top of a rimmed baking sheet. Either way, make sure you line the bottom pan with foil to make clean up easier. You can also use a cast-iron pan, or any cookware that can withstand oven temps up to 550°F.  Don’t use nonstick pans, ceramic pans, or glass, which can shatter under a broiler.

Now it’s time to broil. Place the food on the pan under the broiler — and don’t walk away (food can go from raw to browned to burnt in a minute, and every chef has a story of food that burnt to a crisp when they walked away from the broiler). You might need to rotate the pan to avoid hot spots, plus, you want to get the perfect amount of char, which takes a watchful eye so you can pull your food out as soon as it’s cooked to your preference.

How does broiling differ from baking and roasting?

While broiling, baking, and roasting all involve cooking food in an oven, the main difference lies in the oven temperature and location of the heat source. Baking calls for an oven that’s most often heated between 300°F and 400°F, while roasting occurs from 400°F to 475°F. The heat from both baking and roasting comes from the bottom of the oven. Broiling starts at 500°F, and the heat source is at the top. So you can bake your macaroni and cheese, then finish it under the broiler to get toasty breadcrumbs and extra flavor.

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