Broiling vs. Grilling

Published Categorized as Cooking Tips
A man grilling meatFazka1 /Depositphotos

Tell me, what’s the first cooking method that comes to your mind when you bring back a juicy cut of meat from the butcher’s or grocer’s?

If you’re any bit like me, that’s grilling. You see, I’m one of those folks who gladly volunteer for grill duty at a party and who opt for grilling outdoors over cooking in the kitchen on any day.

Yet—at least until someone comes up with a way to micromanage the weather—I don’t always get to choose: when it’s raining the devil and pitchforks outside, or it’s just freezing cold, the only option left for me is to use the broiler.

The broiler can actually yield results surprisingly similar to the outside grill. As long as you know how to use it and, if you’re used to grilling on coal, you’re willing to forgive the smoky scent that it imparts on your meats.

I guess that’s why, in this post, I’m going to talk to you about the similarities and differences between these two cooking methods. Along the way, I’ll also give you some of my best tips for making the most of both.

So, let’s cut straight to the chase and waste no more time here. How are broiling and grilling the same, and in what ways are they different?

Broiling and grilling are both dry-heat cooking methods that involve the application of high, direct heat to your food. In broiling, that heat comes from above (the coils at the top of your oven). In grilling, it comes from below (the burning charcoal or the gas burner’s flame).

Broilers get heated to 500-550°F, about the same temperature as that of a gas grill. Charcoal grills, on the other hand, get hotter. Depending on the type of coals, the cooking temperature can soar to as much as 600-650°F.

The high heat promotes the browning and caramelization of food, forming a crispy and flavorful crust on the outside. On the flip side, it causes your food to dry out and burn quickly. So the cooking times are short and, to avoid scorching your food, you must remain attentive at all times.

BroilerCharcoal GrillGas Grill
Heat typeDry heatDry heatDry heat
Cooking methodBroilingGrillingGrilling
Typical temperature500-550°F600-650°F500-550°F
Heat directionTop-downBottom-upBottom-up
Broiling vs. grilling

How to Broil Foods Perfectly

If you only plan to broil, choose thinner cuts of meat, like skirt steak, pork chops, fish fillets, and chicken cutlets.

Thick cuts of meat should be roasted first—ideally, low and slow—and only then finished off for a couple of minutes under the broiler for that most amazingly crispy and crunchy crust. If you put them under the broiler straight away, they’ll burn on the outside by the time they’re cooked through on the inside.

To broil foods perfectly, you need a hot oven with a constant source of heat and the right kind of ovenware. I’ve also got a few tricks up my sleeve for keeping the smoke to a minimum. (Try broiling without them, and you’ll see what I’m talking about!)

Preheat your oven:

Just like you can only grill on a hot, err…, grill, you need to get your broiler to hot before you can, yes, you guessed it, broil.

So adjust the rack to the second-top position, so that there’s still some space between the heating panel and your food, and preheat your oven for at least 30 minutes.

Crack open your broiler by an inch or two:

Meats will brown, caramelize, and form a crispy crust only when continuously exposed to high heat. While that’s a given on the grill, where you have full control over the coal or burners, that’s not quite the case when broiling.

Instead, the thermostat in your range will keep toggling the top heating panel on/off as it detects that the temperature gets lower/higher than 500°F. To fool it, The Spruce Eats’ grilling expert Derrick Riches recommends propping the oven door open an inch or two (and keeping it that way the whole time).

That’s a trick I’ve used more than once myself, too. But if you do it, keep in mind that things in your kitchen can get very, very smoky.

Trim the excess fats to keep smoke to a minimum:

The reason behind that is that the smoke point of most animal fats, that is to say the threshold above which they start to break down and smoke, is approximately 375°F. Which, as we’ve already established, is well below the operating temperature of a grill or broiler.

It’s one thing when BBQ smoke lingers out in the open in your backyard, and another when there’s so much smoke in your kitchen that it makes your eyes water. To prevent that from happening, consider trimming the excess fats from the meat and keep your range hood on at maximum power throughout till you’re done broiling.

At that temperature, animal fat will not only smoke but melt (render), and an abundance of juices will drip down from the cut of meat.

That’s not necessarily an issue on the grill, other than the fact that it can cause the occasional flare-up. But it can be problematic when there’s too much liquid pooling under your food in the broiler, and it comes out soggy because of that.

Use a broiling pan with a wire rack to catch dripping juices:

Happily, you can avoid that by using a broiling pan. A broiling pan is essentially a thick and heavy baking sheet with tall, rimmed edges and a wire rack.

The edges will keep the liquids in the sheet, where they belong. The rack, on the other hand, will lift the food from the pooling liquids. As an added benefit, your food will brown better and cook more evenly thanks to the improved airflow surrounding it.

Unless you’re accustomed to switching between your grill and broiler, the fact that the heat comes from the bottom on one and from the top on the other can be a little confusing at first.

Remember that food browns (and burns) on the bottom when grilled and on the top when broiled. Flip your food over when its surface gets golden brown, and don’t leave it unmonitored for more than 2-3 minutes, or it may have charred beyond salvation by the time you look back.

How to Grill Foods Perfectly

Grilling food is a simple and delicious way to spruce up your summer cooking. Whether it’s steak, chicken, or vegetables, grilling gives food a crisp and smoky flavor that your broiler can’t beat.

So here’s how to get it right.

Get your grill hot:

To preheat a charcoal grill, light the charcoal and burn it until the color gets white and things get nice and ashy. Cover with the lid and allow it 10-15 minutes to get hot.

To preheat a gas grill, light the grill and turn all of the burners all the way up to high, closing the lid and waiting for a good 10-15 minutes before you get cooking.

Choose the right kind of heat:

When grilling, you can choose from two types of heat: direct and indirect.

Direct heat is the high heat that you get when you place food items right above the fiery charcoal or the flame from your burner. It’s the equivalent of braising or pan-searing.

Indirect heat is the medium-to-low heat that you get when you put your foods next to the hot coals or gas burners but not right above them. It’s the equivalent of roasting or gentler pan-frying.

Generally, thick-cut steak, heftier sausages, and larger chunks of meat should be slow-cooked over indirect heat. Skirt steak, pork chops, chicken breasts, most seafood, skewers, and vegetables, on the other hand, should be briefly cooked over direct heat.

Keep your grill from flaring up:

Grilling juicier meats like burgers melts the fat and causes it to drip down on the hot briquettes or the flame from your propane gas burners and flare up.

Flaring is not something you normally want on a grill; the flames can scorch your food items in some places—resulting in excess charring and a burnt, acrid taste—long before they’ve cooked fully through.

To prevent flare-ups on your grill, trim the excess fat from the meat, keep the lid open, and shield-fence your grill from the wind.

How to Tell If Your Range Has a Broiler

Where the broiler is on electric and on gas ranges
Where’s the broiler on your stove?

But how do you know if your oven has a broiler in the first place? Especially if it’s been years since you bought your range and you’ve long forgotten where you stashed away the owner’s manual.

When I talk about broiling with my friends, most of them are surprised to hear that their ranges probably have broilers in the first place! The rule of thumb is that if your electric oven has coils at the top, or if your gas range has a heated drawer beneath the oven, then you have a broiler.

Most broilers have only one setting, which typically operates at a temperature of roughly 500°F. Some higher-end ranges will allow you to select from a low (400°F), medium (450°F), and high setting (500°F) when broiling.

By Jim Stonos

When Jim isn't in the kitchen, he is usually spending time with family and friends, and working with the HCW editorial team to answer the questions he used to ask himself back when he was learning the ropes of cooking.