Kitchen Basics: How To Use Your Broiler

Think of your broiler as an upside-down grill. You're exposing your food directly to very high heat, which works great for quick-cooking thin cuts of meat and some kinds of vegetables - just like on a grill. There are a few tricks for using your broiler most effectively and getting the best results!

Every oven that we've ever come across has some kind of broiler - it's the same device as heats your oven for baking or roasting, after all. In some cases, the broiler/heating element is on the top of the oven. To use it, you'll need to move an oven rack to the highest possible position in the oven, which is typically 3-4 inches from the broiler.

In other ovens, the heating element is on the bottom of the oven and the broiler is a separate compartment underneath the actual oven. Ours is a sliding tray that looks like a drawer under the oven. There's less flexibility with this type of broiler with how close or far your food can be from the heating element, but most are designed to be about 4-5 inches from the heat.

Most broilers have only two settings: on or off! You simply set the oven to broil and let it go. 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.

Take a look at the heating element on your broiler when you use it for the first time. Our gas oven has a single rod running from front to back with flames coming out on either side. We've learned to position food in a line underneath the rod so they cook evenly, or to rotate foods so they get even exposure to the flames. Depending on how your heating element is positioned, you might want to do something similar.

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 burned. Since you're really only cooking the outer surface of the food, this is why thin cuts of meat, quick-cooking fresh vegetables, and foods that fairly tender to start with 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. Personally, we like to use a pre-heated cast-iron skillet.

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 hot and the broiler element could automatically shut off. Too steamy and the food won't develop a good caramelized crust.

What foods do you cook under the broiler?

Related: How to Broil a Steak in the Oven

(Image: Emma Christensen)