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The secret to using your oven's broiler

It cooks fast, and takes supervision, but you'll get hooked.

Colin West McDonald / CNET

My first encounter with an oven broiler was when I was three years old. For some reason, I thought my dad's trophy collection needed to be heated. You can probably imagine how well that turned out.

It took a few years of trying -- and burning stuff -- before I became good at using the broiler as an adult. If used correctly, it can become a handy tool in your cooking arsenal. Here are some tips that will get you broiling the right way, without years of trial and error.

First, locate it

There are two different kinds of broilers you'll encounter in a home oven. One is located inside of the oven and the other is located inside a drawer underneath the oven.

If your oven is electric, your broiler will typically be inside of your oven. Take a peak. If there are heating coils on the top and the bottom of the oven, then you have an in-oven broiler.

If you have an oven heated with natural gas, the broiler is usually the drawer below the oven. To be sure, pull open the door. There will be a broiler pan (a two-piece metal pan with slits in the top) if the drawer is a broiler. Some gas models have broilers inside instead, so look at the oven's ceiling if you can't find it.

What to broil

No matter if you have a drawer-type broiler or one in your oven, they work the same. The oven provides heat that surround your food as it cooks. The broiler, on the other hand, provides high heat from above the food. This is good for toasting or browning foods, like whole chickens, casseroles or pies, quickly. 

It can also be used to cook thin cuts of meat that dry out quickly before they lose moisture, like:

  • Chicken breasts
  • Fish fillets
  • Skirt steak
  • Pork chops

You can also use it to crisp pepperoni on pizzas after the initial baking is done.

Placement is everything

The distance between the rack and the heating element is important. In most cases, your broiler doesn't have a way to adjust the temperature. You just push the button labeled broil and it just gets super hot.

If you're lucky, you'll have a High and Low setting for your broiler. Check your oven owner manual for details on what temperature each of those settings use.

Move the cooking rack to the middle of the oven to prevent the tops of the dish from browning too fast before the other side cooks. If you're using a drawer broiler, check the oven's manual to see if the rack adjusts. If it does, set it to its lowest setting. If you find that your foods are taking too long to broil, according to your recipe, you can move the rack or pan closer to the heat source.

Preheat, preheat, preheat

Always turn on the broiler and let it heat up before you put the food in. It's also helpful to put the pan in the oven while it is heating. Then, just slide the food onto the pan when they are both preheated. This gives your food a good sear on the bottom and helps to prevent sticking.

Food temperature is important

To make sure meats cook all the way through, let them sit out until they are room temperature before broiling. Never put frozen meat in the broiler. You'll end up with a crispy outside and a raw inside.

Dry is good

Liquid on the top of foods can scorch easily. Use a paper towel to blot marinades or meat juices before the item goes in the broiler. When you're browning casseroles, keep a close eye on cheese toppings. Thirty seconds or less in the broiler is all you need to melt cheese.

Don't walk away

No matter what a recipe says, any item placed in the broiler will burn quickly, so check on it every couple of minutes. If you're easily distracted (like I am!), set a timer for two minutes immediately after you check on the dish.

Here are some good broiling recipes from our sister site Chowhound.

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