Broiling vs. Roasting

Broiling vs. Roastingjpldesigns /Depositphotos

Both broiling and roasting are dry-heat cooking methods that, when applied properly, yield the most scrumptious and succulent red meats, birds, and fish in your oven.

And yet, there are some subtle differences between the two—and one isn’t always interchangeable with the other. Because good cooking is as much about applying the correct technique as it is about hand-picking the best ingredients, knowing these subtleties can take your home-cooked meals to MasterChef level.

In this blog post, we’ll be talking about how broiling and roasting are similar and in what ways they differ. By the time you’re done reading, my goal is to have equipped you with the know-how you need to be able to determine when to go for—and how to make the most of—each.

So, let’s waste no more time in formalities and get to the interesting part! What’s the difference between broiling and roasting?

Broiling is a quick-cooking method that uses high, direct heat from your oven’s top heating element. In contrast, roasting is a slow-cooking method that uses medium, indirect heat from your oven’s top and bottom heating elements.

Traditionally, the two cooking methods were done over an open fire. Nowadays, all they require from you is a preheated oven.

Broiling and roasting are best done in a broiler pan or a baking sheet with a wire rack. The ridges or rack will lift the meat from the juices and fats dripping down from it, preventing a soggy-bottom situation.

Generally, broiling is the better-suited cooking method for preparing thinner meat cuts, like steaks and chops. In contrast, roasting is more suitable for thick cuts, like knuckles, whole birds, and gutted fish.

How to Broil

Broiling is a quick-cooking method that relies on high, direct heat. The purpose of broiling is to give your food a brown, caramelized, flavorful crust on the outside.

A useful way to think about broiling is as a substitute for grilling. Done well, broiled steak, pork chops, chicken breasts, or salmon fillets can be some of the most delicious meats you’ve ever tasted. Done poorly, and your food will come out dry, burnt, and about as easy to chew as a leather shoe.

To broil, adjust the rack to the highest or second-highest position, preheat your oven on the broiler setting for at least 30 minutes, then briefly broil the meat in a ridged roaster or sheet pan with a wire rack for no longer than a few minutes per side.

The typical broiling temperature is 500-550°F. Some ranges, especially newer models on the mid to high end, let you choose from low (400°F), medium (450°F), and high (500°F).

When broiling, the “action” happens from positioning your food as close to the top heating element as possible and exposing it to the high, direct heat that’s emitted by it.

That heat forms the most crispy crust on fattier cuts of meat and causes slight charring similar to what you’d get on an outside grill. But it can also burn your food, crossing the line between nearly charred and downright scorched, making it acrid and unpalatable.

The trick to broiling, then, is to cook your food for “just enough” time to get that brown, caramelized crust and slight, spotted charring on it. But never so long that it looks as if you pulled it out of a fire.

The shorter the cooking time, the more tender the meat. Longer cooking times make meat crispier, but dry it out an eventually burn it.

Suppose you’ve never used your oven’s broiler before. There’s a high chance that it will take you two or three tries to learn the ropes. The timing is tricky to get because you’re looking at your food from an angle, and the angle (with the food placed so high in the oven) doesn’t really tell you all that much.

It’s a knotty problem, that’s for sure. Using a meat thermometer is always an option, but only if you have a probe thermometer. By that, I mean the kind that consists of an oven-safe cord and an independent body. I’ve read and heard about more than one case where the glass on a dial thermometer shattered under the broiler due to the intense heat.

What foods can you broil?

Any cut of meat that’s fatty, juicy, and less than 1½ inches thick is a great candidate for broiling. This includes steak, pork chops, and chicken breasts, boneless or bone-in.

Ground meats that you’d normally cook on the grill, such as skewers, kabobs, and burgers, are also good options for broiling. In fact, broiling is the only way to savor them on rainy fall days or in snowy winters!

Avoid large cuts of meat, whole birds, and big fish that take a while to cook. The intense heat of your broiler will be too much for them, and roasting is a much better choice of cooking method.

How to Roast

Roasting is a slow-cooking method that relies on medium, indirect heat to cook your food fully through on the inside. It’s ideal for large cuts of red meat, whole birds, and big, gutted fish, which take a while to cook.

The typical roasting temperature is 300-350°F, with the lower end of the spectrum better for bigger meats that roast slower and the higher end for smaller meats that roast faster.

To roast, preheat your oven for 30 minutes, using that time to take your food out of the fridge and bring it to room temperature. Place your food on a sheet pan with a wire rack, roast it to your desired level of doneness, and let it rest for 15-20 minutes before serving.

The roasting time depends on the temperature of your oven, the kind of meat or vegetables in the pan, as well as their size. For most meats, the general rule of thumb is 15 minutes, +/-, per pound.

To tell if your roast is done, use a meat thermometer. Read the meat’s internal temperature by inserting the probe into the center, aiming for the thickest area, and follow the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s safe minimum internal temperature guidelines.

Basting is necessary only on leaner cuts of meat (or when the recipe explicitly calls for it). For example, fattier, juicier cuts of meat don’t need basting to begin with and are perfectly capable of forming a wonderfully crispy crust on their own. Whole chickens and turkeys have enough fat under the skin and don’t necessarily need basting, too.

Roasting—especially when no basting is involved—is a relatively hands-off cooking method. Still, as anyone who’s cooked Thanksgiving turkey will gladly tell you, it takes some trial and error to get right.

What foods can you roast?

Generally, any food items too large to cook on the stove and too thick to put under the broiler are ideal for roasting slowly, over medium heat in your oven. 

Large cuts of beef, veal, pork, and lamb—boneless or bone-in—whole birds, big fish, and coarsely cut vegetables are excellent choices for low-and-slow roasting.

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