Every oven comes with a heating element known as a broiler. Akin to the powerful, open flames of a grill, the broiler relies on the same heat source that also fires up your oven for baking or roasting. Unlike baking and roasting, which employ indirect hot air to thoroughly cook food, broiling uses high heat from a direct flame to quickly cook food surfaces. With a few simple tips and techniques, it is possible to achieve that perfect char–without ever touching the grill.
The first step to broiling is to locate your broiler. Some broilers are found above the oven racks and below the burners, and when activated resemble a bright, fiery strip. Others are in that sneaky pull-open compartment below the oven, making the cooking technique trickier to master. If your broiler is up top, position the rack as close as possible to the flame (about four inches) by sliding it into the highest available slots. Conversely, if your broiler is in the drawer at the bottom of the oven, slide the rack to the lowest possible position; this should still be about four inches from the heat.
The broiler takes between five and ten minutes to heat up. Most ovens feature a straightforward on or off setting. If your oven does not, set it to high heat, around 500 degrees, but leave the oven door a crack open so the oven does not overheat and turn itself off. Due to the intensity of heat, broiling requires careful attention to make sure that whatever is in there doesn’t burn.
Preparing your broiler
You will need either a grated broiler pan, which features slats to help air circulate for even cooking, or another heatproof tray like an aluminum sheet or cast iron skillet. The broiling sheet is nice but not necessary; you will achieve the same even effect by rotating foods throughout the cooking process. Preheat the pan by leaving it inside the oven as the broiler heats up. This helps sear the food and seal in flavors.
Spray your grated pan with nonstick spray. Lining with aluminum foil and drizzling just a hint of olive oil is also an option, however make sure to make slits in the foil for runoff to drip and the air to flow. Arrange lean proteins, fish or shellfish, veggies, or even an assortment of fruit in a single layer on the pan. Place the pan directly under or directly above the heating element.
Depending on the power of your broiler, your food may cook in as few as five minutes. Each oven, and therefore each broiler, is individual and does take some trial and error to finesse; an instant-read thermometer can help with this by monitoring temperatures. It is important to keep a close eye on the oven to ensure against smoke or fire. Turn the oven light on and stay near the oven throughout the broiling process. Since broiling is mainly used as a method to cook the surface, it is recommended to broil for a maximum of ten minutes; past that and you risk food items overcooking or catching fire.
The best foods to broil are leaner proteins that are cut to no more than one-and-a-half inch thick or tender fruits and veggies that don’t require hours of roasting. For meat, go with boneless tri-tip, rib-eye steak, sirloin steak, or skirt steak or ground beef patties, lamb or pork chops, chicken kabobs or breasts split in half. Broiled steak and other broiled meats come out juicy and flavorful. For fish, choose fillets with less fat, like swordfish or tilapia, and shellfish like scallops or shrimp. Peppers, tomatoes, asparagus, zucchini, and summer squash all make excellent candidates for broiling, as do sliced bananas, peaches, mangos, and pineapples. Avoid heavy marinades, especially oil-based ones, as those drippings may increase chances of fire. Fresh herbs like rosemary sprigs, stalks of thyme, freshly-cracked black pepper, or oregano are an excellent way to pack flavor sans oil, making for a perfect steak or other dish with very little prep and cook time.
If you have reached the ten-minute mark but your food items are not completely cooked, finish them off by simply lowering the oven heat to a bake or roast temperature, between 300 and 450. Alternatively, it is possible to bake or slow-roast the food items first, then to fire up the oven to broil for a nicely seared and crispy outer layer that has all the flavors sealed within–and a caramel finish on top.
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