Friday, May 31, 2013

Broiling: The Bastard Child of the Kitchen

So what is broiling?  How do you do it?  Where does it come from?  Do I need a special piece of equipment to do it?  In my experience so many home cooks don't know what broiling is that they let a very useful cooking method go unused.  It is just another weapon in a cook's arsenal to make tasty and delicious meals. 

What is Broiling?

Let's start at the beginning with a quick and easy definition of broiling.  Broiling is a cooking method that involves intense dry direct heat coming from above.  It is like grilling except that with grilling the heat comes from below.  I must make a quick semantic note.  Broiling is term used in the US and Canada where as in other parts of the English speaking world, it is known as grilling.  This can get a little confusing but just keep in mind that these two cooking techniques are essentially the same except for some subtle differences.

Grilling vs. Broiling

As noted before, the big difference between the two is the direction of the heat source.  The other big difference is where you do the grilling/broiling.  Grilling is done outside on, well, the grill, while broiling is done under a broiler.  I will get to what a broiler is and where you can Find it.  The difference of location also leads to a more subtle difference.  You see, when you are grilling on a grill, you tend to get constant heat.  When broiling, you have to be careful otherwise you may get uneven heat.  It all really depends on your broiler.

What is a broiler?

Some people may be thinking, "I don't even have a broiler, so why should I be concerned?"  In my personal experience so many people don't know that they even have a broiler that they don't use it.  A broiler, simply put, is your oven on a different setting.  I am willing to bet that about 90% of all home ovens today have a broiler.  All it really is, depending on whether it is a gas or electric oven, is the top heating element providing the heat.  If you have a gas oven, then your broiler is probably located in a drawer type compartment with the same gas flame that heats the regular oven overhead. 

In either case, it is more than likely the oven has a broiler setting on the oven dial.  It is usually past the hottest temperature on the dial.  This is because the broiler setting brings the temp up to or over 500 degrees Fahrenheit.  This is the high heat part of the equation.

Now, remember when I said that with a broiler you may get uneven heating?  Well, that is because of the way an oven works.  This applies more to a electric oven.  A gas oven has constant heat, even when it reaches the desired temp.  However, an electric oven cycles.  When it reaches the desired temp, it literally shuts off, thus the uneven cooking.  The easy way to circumvent this is to leave the oven door opened a crack so the heat  is not trapped in the oven and the oven reaches its temp. 

How do you broil?

There are some easy guidelines to follow when broiling.  The first is get to know your equipment.  Do you have a gas or electric oven?  Is the broiler just on the temperature dial or is it an entirely different setting?  Once you have gotten to know how your broiler works, you can deal with the food. 

The first thing you have to think about is what you are going to be broiling.  You have to keep in mind what would be suitable for broiling like what would be suitable for grilling.  Since the cooking will involve high intense heat, you want something that can stand up to it.  Things that are too delicate and flimsy just don't do well under the broiler.   

One thing you can get away with is broiling something that might fall through the grates on a grill.  Just keep in mind that since it is a direct heat, chances are you are going to have to flip your item to get it to cook properly. 

When you are broiling it is important to have your food elevated to allow fat and other liquids to drip off.  Most ovens come with a broiler pan, which is a two sectioned pan with a dish part that catches the drippings and a top part that has slits cut into it where the liquid drips off.  Now, you don't really need a special broiler pan.  If you have a sheet pan or cookie sheet that you can fit a rack into, then you are set.   

Now you have chosen  your item to broil.  But how are you going to season it?  Well, simplicity is best.  However, if you do want to get a little more extravagant, keep a couple of things in mind.  Don't use seasoning that can burn easily.  Things like fresh or dried herbs or even pepper can burn and become bitter.  Save these until after the cooking is done.  When marinating, stay away from marinades with a high fat content.  High heat and fat could cause flare ups.  Knowing this should keep your food tasting  good.

Broiling is just a misunderstood and underutilized method of cooking.  Just think of all the things you could do if you wanted to grill and just don't want to be outside.  Or simply don't think of broiling as the ugly sister of grilling.  Broiling is a useful way of cooking all on its own.

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