Broiling and braising are two cooking methods for preparing meat. The similarities between them, however, end there.
In your home kitchen, you can choose from many different cooking methods for preparing food. And, even though recipes always tell you which cooking method and how much heat to use, few cookbooks teach you about the reasoning behind that choice.
This, in the grand scheme of things, presents you with two challenges:
First, your cooking is confined to the recipe’s instructions. Since you don’t understand the mechanics behind them, it’s hard for you to come up with unique, family-favorite recipes of your own.
Second, not every recipe has been developed for the range or cookware that you have at home. For example, if you use a black sheet pan on a recipe developed for a silver sheet pan, your food will burn even if you follow the instructions down to a T.
Today, you’re going to up your cooking skills by learning about the differences between broiling and braising. They sound similar and they’re both intended for cooking meat indoors, but their similarities end there.
Broiling is a form of quick, dry cooking that involves the intense, 500°F heat of your oven’s broiler. Braising is a combination cooking method in which meat is first seared on the stove, then slow-cooked in liquid in a 325°F oven till it becomes fall-apart tender.
Broiling and braising are two distinct cooking methods intended for different cuts of meat. Since the temperature and timing are nothing alike, what can be broiled shouldn’t necessarily be braised—and what should be braised can’t really be broiled.
Broiling is most suitable for thin, fatty, and delicate cuts of meat that cook quickly. Braising is best for tough, chewy cuts of meat that require low and slow cooking to tenderize.
What Is Broiling?
Broiling is a dry-heat cooking method that takes place in your oven’s broiler. It provides high, direct heat for quickly cooking thin cuts of beef, pork, lamb, poultry, seafood, and sliced vegetables. It’s also used for searing—not fully cooking—large slabs of meat and whole birds.
Almost every range has a broiler section. On electric ranges, the broiler is inside the oven. It’s the top section right under the top heating element. On gas ranges, the broiler is in a separate drawer under the oven.
Typically, you broil at 500°F to 550°F. Some ranges have a single setting that heats the broiler up to that temperature, and others have two or three settings that let you tone it down or up by 25-50°F.
The general rule of thumb is that thinner slices of meat or vegetables cook faster at higher heat, whereas thicker slices should be broiled slower and at a lower heat (if possible).
They say that broiling is essentially indoor grilling, with the key differences being that the heat comes from the top (and not from the bottom) and that you’re cooking in a pan (and not on the grill’s grates).
What to broil:
Broiling works best on thinner cuts of meat, such as steak that’s less than 1½ inches thick; pork and lamb chops; chicken tenders and butterflied breasts; tender, delicate fish fillets and seafood that cooks quickly.
The same applies to thin-sliced vegetables, as long as they haven’t been julienned (cut into thin strips) or macedoined (cut into small cubes), as, under the intense heat of your oven’s broiler, the latter will burn in no time.
Some recipes will instruct you to broil a large slab of meat or a whole bird before or after it’s done roasting. This technique yields a golden brown, deeply flavorful crust thanks to the Maillard reaction.
Mistakes to avoid when broiling:
Broiling must always be quick. Kept under the direct and intense heat of your oven’s broiler for too long, even the juiciest and fattiest of meats will dry out and come out about as chewable as a leather belt.
What bakeware to use:
To broil, use a broiler pan. A broiler pan is a thick pan with tall sides. Some have removable wire racks; others have elevated ridges on the bottom. The wire rack or the ridges lift the meat, promoting even cooking and separating it from the dripping fats and juices.
In case you don’t have a broiler pan, use an aluminum or stainless steel sheet pan with a wire rack. Better to go for a silver pan over a black pan. Silver pans don’t absorb as much light as black pans, so they radiate heat less intensely and, subsequently, cook your meats more evenly.
What Is Braising?
Braising is a combination cooking method for preparing tougher cuts of meat. It starts with dry heat on your stove and ends with wet heat in your oven.
Braising uses the high heat of a preheated pan on your stove to brown and caramelize big, tough cuts of meat for a golden brown and deeply flavorful crust on the surface. Back in the day, butchers would refer to these as “the lesser cuts.”
Once you’ve seared the meat, you typically add coarsely-sliced vegetables, drown the ingredients in a liquid, and transfer the cooking vessel to a 325°F oven, where the sauce thickens, the meat cooks to fork-tender, and the vegetables meld.
(Some cooks skip the oven and continue cooking the braise over low heat on their stovetops instead, also a valid method.)
You can braise in any cooking liquid your heart desires, from non-alcoholic ones like water, broth, and vinegar to alcoholic ones such as beer, cider, wine (red, rosé, or white), sherry, whiskey, and vermouth.
What to braise:
Any piece of meat that qualifies as tough, lesser cut is ideal for braising. Look for leaner cuts with plenty of muscle or connective tissue and little intramuscular fat, the kind that would come out dry and stiff if you broiled them in the oven or fried them in your pan.
This includes the parts of the animal that are closest to the feet and neck—whose muscles have to work the hardest to carry the animal’s weight—such as brisket, short plate, flank, and shank.
Mistakes to avoid when braising:
The first step of a braise is to sear the meat. This is done in a preheated sauté pan or Dutch oven with enough cooking oil to cover the vessel’s bottom (preheating enameled cookware empty can damage it).
The purpose of the sear is not to cook the meat. It’s to brown it on the outside, bringing out the meaty aromas and savory flavors naturally present in the cut of meat.
So don’t wait too long to add the cooking liquid and switch to slow-cooking in the oven, or the meat will overcook on the stove and become unpleasantly chewy.
What cookware to reach for:
You need a sauté pan to braise, preferably one made of enameled cast iron or stainless steel.
If you don’t own one, you could use a large pot or an enameled Dutch oven instead. A skillet without a lid won’t do, as you need a covered cooking vessel to keep the moisture in.
Why enameled? Because bare cast iron cookware (also known as “seasoned” cast iron) shouldn’t be used for simmering foods with acidic sauces, or it will leach significant amounts of dietary iron into them. This limits your options to salted water and broth, which is far from ideal.