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Steak - crispy on the outside and rare inside


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#1 markk

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Posted 26 October 2007 - 10:13 PM

Now I realize that many people don't like their steaks rare, but that's not what I'm going to ask here.

I do, and I also like the exterior of the steak nice and crusty, some might say "charred", with a rare interior. It goes by such names as "Pittsburghed" or "Black and Blue" and several times recently I've had restaurants with the "wrong" grills (so they tell me) not be able to make me one, or bring me one that was badly overcooked and then replace it with one that was gray outside and rare inside.

But as my dining companion points out, why, no matter what degree of doneness you like the exterior of a steak cooked to, would you want a pale, grey exterior, instead of a nice seared, crispy, or even "charred" outside - that's how you get any steak in a serious steakhouse anyway. So what's the point of a few criscrossed markings on the outside of a steak that's otherwise grey.

I know that the grill marks simulate a real grill with a fire beneath it and the marks are where the metal grill gets as hot as a branding iron, but the heat from the fire also produces a fine sear on the outside of the meat as well.

So is there anybody that prefers these few grill marks to a nice crusty steak exterior, no matter how they like the inner doneness?
Overheard at the Zabar’s prepared food counter in the 1970’s:

Woman (noticing a large bowl of cut fruit): “How much is the fruit salad?”
Counterman: “Three-ninety-eight a pound.”
Woman (incredulous, and loud): “THREE-NINETY EIGHT A POUND ????”
Counterman: “Who’s going to sit and cut fruit all day, lady… YOU?”

Newly updated: my online food photo extravaganza; cook-in/eat-out and photos from the 70's

#2 WHT

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Posted 26 October 2007 - 10:17 PM

Without a high output broiler it will be tough. I can get it in my gas broiler if I get the space between flame and meat right.
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#3 Irishgirl

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Posted 26 October 2007 - 11:35 PM

Screw the broiler. Put it in a smoking cast iron pan!

#4 Bueno

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Posted 27 October 2007 - 12:15 AM

Not the same. See: recent opening of Craftsteak.

#5 Chris Amirault

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Posted 27 October 2007 - 05:45 AM

Of course it's not the same, but for most home cooks without high-powered equipment, a smoking hot cast iron skillet with a big knob of lard is a pretty damned good option, and a lot better than sticking the meat under a weak gas broiler for many.
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#6 Bree20

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Posted 27 October 2007 - 06:13 AM

Mark - I agree with you I can take a pass on the "correct" looking grill marks if the steak is cooked properly on the inside and out.

In fact I think sometimes it is ther way you were raised as how you like your steak - my son bless his heart was never given an option when given a steak either out or at home it is always rare! And now he will give anyone a dirty look when asked if he is sure he wants it cooked that way or thinks he does not understand the question!

We are lucky enough to beable to cook steaks properly at home much better quality and always cooked right.

#7 Fat Guy

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Posted 27 October 2007 - 07:57 AM

As I've noted in various discussions, I think heavily charred steaks are a mistake. Burning the outside of a high-quality piece of meat simply ruins it. I think there are three issues that contribute to this widespread palate confusion.

First, American steak-eaters' palates are calibrated towards charred steaks, but charred steaks are not actually good. Of course, most steaks aren't good either, so charring them may sort of help disguise that. But a $30-a-pound USDA Prime dry-aged steak? You don't want to mask that at all.

Second, there's the confusion between char and the Maillard reaction. The former is just burning. The latter is a form of browning that occurs due to the interaction between sugars and amino acids -- someone with better scientific background than I can explain non-enzymatic browning if necessary. It's the Maillard reaction you want on the exterior of your steak, not char.

Third, people generally don't grasp how to produce the desirable Maillard reaction. It's not a question of applying brute-force heat. You don't need a steakhouse broiler or a charcoal fire to produce a gorgeously Maillardized steak. You don't even need a cast-iron skillet heated to a villion degrees. You just need a relatively hot pan and plenty of the right kind of fat -- butter, for example, is an excellent trigger for the Maillard reaction.

I have demonstrated this technique countless times for people: butter plus moderately high heat makes a delicious crust; super-heated cast-iron skillet with oil just burns the steak (as do most of the favored steakhouse methods). That's why many of the best chefs, such as Alain Ducasse, prefer to use copper skillets to sear, and then finish the steaks in an oven.

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#8 Holly Moore

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Posted 27 October 2007 - 09:05 AM

Perhaps it is my mutated DNA. As much as I enjoy a steak as Steven described (though Maillarding has all the appetite appeal of denaturing one's protein), the caveman left within me also ravishes a classic Pittsburgh steak - the mingling flavors and sensations of rare meat, bloody fatty juice, and charcoaled crust.

Having long ago acquired a restaurant salamander atop my Garland, such savage treatment of a thick ribeye is within my grasp.

Edited by Holly Moore, 27 October 2007 - 09:12 AM.

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#9 JimH

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Posted 27 October 2007 - 09:18 AM

When I switched from gas to charcoal I stopped burning steaks. I pile the charcoal so it's about 2 inches below the grill and take the steak straight from the frig to the grill. 4 minutes per side and off to rest for 5 minutes or more. The outside is brown and crusty the inside is caveman red. Makes me want to go look for woman to drag back to cave.

#10 judiu

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Posted 27 October 2007 - 09:34 AM

I never thought about it before, but that's the way I like my hamburgers, too. Nice and thick, cooked in a frying pan with a nice knob of butter. Crusty brown outside and damn near raw inside. Served on buttered toasted onion rye bread.Yum! :wub: And I only get them that way when I fix them at home, dammit!
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#11 markk

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Posted 27 October 2007 - 09:45 AM

As I've noted in various discussions, I think heavily charred steaks are a mistake. Burning the outside of a high-quality piece of meat simply ruins it. I think there are three issues that contribute to this widespread palate confusion.

First, American steak-eaters' palates are calibrated towards charred steaks, but charred steaks are not actually good. Of course, most steaks aren't good either, so charring them may sort of help disguise that. But a $30-a-pound USDA Prime dry-aged steak? You don't want to mask that at all.

Second, there's the confusion between char and the Maillard reaction. The former is just burning. The latter is a form of browning that occurs due to the interaction between sugars and amino acids -- someone with better scientific background than I can explain non-enzymatic browning if necessary. It's the Maillard reaction you want on the exterior of your steak, not char.

Third, people generally don't grasp how to produce the desirable Maillard reaction. It's not a question of applying brute-force heat. You don't need a steakhouse broiler or a charcoal fire to produce a gorgeously Maillardized steak. You don't even need a cast-iron skillet heated to a villion degrees. You just need a relatively hot pan and plenty of the right kind of fat -- butter, for example, is an excellent trigger for the Maillard reaction.

I have demonstrated this technique countless times for people: butter plus moderately high heat makes a delicious crust; super-heated cast-iron skillet with oil just burns the steak (as do most of the favored steakhouse methods). That's why many of the best chefs, such as Alain Ducasse, prefer to use copper skillets to sear, and then finish the steaks in an oven.

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Sure, I'll take your Maillard reaction steak over a grey one with a few decorative, branding-ironed grill marks any day! And I'll certainly take a steak crisped to sear it in it's own rendered fat and then finished off another way. That's not what I was saying. So I re-phrase, who'd want a steak gray and not with Maillard reaction sear, even if you don't want a char?

I don't usually use the words Pittsburgh when I order _ I try to ask for seared crispy on the outside and rare inside - they always come back with "Pittsburghed" or "black and blue", and I still opt for that over grey. The only steak I like with some actual "char" is a fatty one like a ribsteak, where the dripping gratuitous fat does cause some flare ups, though I'd like the steak not to burn to a crisp in an oil fire, but I do like the good bit of char that such a steak gets over an open fire when it's controlled well. And when the flame is controlled with sand (a la Fiorentina) you still get a ferocious amount of heat searing and browning the steak uniformly.

I was just asking, "who'd want a grey exterior, ever?" because I was served one the other night.

Edited by markk, 27 October 2007 - 09:50 AM.

Overheard at the Zabar’s prepared food counter in the 1970’s:

Woman (noticing a large bowl of cut fruit): “How much is the fruit salad?”
Counterman: “Three-ninety-eight a pound.”
Woman (incredulous, and loud): “THREE-NINETY EIGHT A POUND ????”
Counterman: “Who’s going to sit and cut fruit all day, lady… YOU?”

Newly updated: my online food photo extravaganza; cook-in/eat-out and photos from the 70's

#12 Fat Guy

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Posted 27 October 2007 - 10:34 AM

If it's a good steak I'll definitely take gray over burnt. At least when it's gray there's nothing ruining the flavor of the steak.

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#13 budrichard

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Posted 27 October 2007 - 11:51 AM

Actually I think it the definition of rare an how you get there that is more important than the char or lack of char.
Most think that rare means blood red when infact that is raw. Rare, can only happen with a nice crusty exterior in a thick steak, usually about 3" or more. We get a nice crust, not charred or burnt and cook until the interior is judged right, usually meat thermometers don't help because there is just not enough steak to get a good temperature.
Anyway, we then cover and rest for at least 20 minutes to much longer if a large roast. The rare we obtain is nice pink uniform color.
It is not possible to get a nice crust and a rare or even raw, for the matter, interior in a thin steak.-Dick

Edited by budrichard, 27 October 2007 - 11:52 AM.


#14 Jane Die

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Posted 27 October 2007 - 12:52 PM

I fall into the cavewoman camp. :shock:

A 1-1/2 inch thick NY Strip cooked over ripping hot hardwood charcoal really fast until the center is no longer blue and not quite medium rare, but somewhere in that narrowly sublime warm and juicy red place. It comes off the grill sizzling with a nice brown crust, but not charred. I loosely cover it with tin foil and let it rest for 5 minutes. :wub:

Edit: I just push on the meat to test for doneness. I don't like sticking thermometers in the meat because then you really will lose all that beautiful juicyness.

Edited by Jane Die, 27 October 2007 - 12:55 PM.


#15 markk

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Posted 27 October 2007 - 01:59 PM

If it's a good steak I'll definitely take gray over burnt. At least when it's gray there's nothing ruining the flavor of the steak.

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We may in fact disagree on this one (it'd be our first, too :rolleyes: ), but when the fat sizzles and crisps, are you considering that burnt?; and are you considering 'black and blue' burnt?

I consider burnt when I can taste burned char, like from a grease fire, when the steak tastes like the smell of a burned out building. That's unpleasant. But the crisping from sizzling fat causing the flames to lick it (in a controlled fashion) is not to me burnt. So where are you drawing your line.

I wasn't talking about people who leave the steak in a flare up for five minutes; on the other hand, I despise a grey exterior, so I'm just trying to zero in on where you call it burnt.

(I once had to send back a severely overcooked steak, in a place that later told me their chef had quit and was operating without one, because the next steak that came out totally grey was followed by the explanation from the manager that the remaining people in the kitchen were afraid to cook my next steak and came up with the idea of tossing it back and forth between two very hot plates until the outside turned grey as their protection against overcooking it - honest, this happened. Would you have gone for that?)

PS - I'm not being argumentative, though it may sound it, just trying to zero in on the grey area. :unsure:
Overheard at the Zabar’s prepared food counter in the 1970’s:

Woman (noticing a large bowl of cut fruit): “How much is the fruit salad?”
Counterman: “Three-ninety-eight a pound.”
Woman (incredulous, and loud): “THREE-NINETY EIGHT A POUND ????”
Counterman: “Who’s going to sit and cut fruit all day, lady… YOU?”

Newly updated: my online food photo extravaganza; cook-in/eat-out and photos from the 70's

#16 Holly Moore

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Posted 27 October 2007 - 02:47 PM

First, from Wikapedia,

Grey became the established British spelling in the 20th century, pace Dr. Johnson and others,[80] and is but a minor variant in American English, according to dictionaries. Canadians tend to prefer grey. Some American writers[citation needed] tend to assign wistful, positive connotations to grey, as in "a grey fog hung over the skyline", whereas gray often carries connotations of drabness, "a gray, gloomy day."

I'm of the gray as in drab or gloomy school when it comes to steak. Usually means the steak has been sliced too thin to cook a proper rare or medium rare with brown or charred edges. Also could be cooked at too low a temperature, stewing as much as grilling.

I agree that charred should not be taken to mean burned to a crisp. Rather just to the point that the charring starts to occur. Charred beef has a distinct flavor that compliments the inside of the steak. Done right, or at least to my taste, a properly charred steak is not "black and blue." Rather brown with a bit of char on the outside, and somewhere between rare and medium rare inside. That's more "Pittsburgh" to me than black on the outside and raw on the inside.

Edited by Holly Moore, 27 October 2007 - 02:47 PM.

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#17 JEL

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Posted 27 October 2007 - 03:14 PM

It is not possible to get a nice crust and a rare or even raw, for the matter, interior in a thin steak.-Dick

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exactly.......so, for the people at home the lesson is to buy one forty dollar steak, rather than four ten dollar steaks that can't be cooked well......say feeding a family of four....

2-3 inches thick.......almost impossible to ruin..

#18 Holly Moore

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Posted 27 October 2007 - 04:03 PM

exactly.......so, for the people at home the lesson is to buy one forty dollar steak, rather than four ten dollar steaks that can't be cooked well......say feeding a family of four....

2-3 inches thick.......almost impossible to ruin..

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Works for one guy who likes a good steak sandwich for lunch the next day or two, too.
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#19 GlorifiedRice

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Posted 27 October 2007 - 04:04 PM

I love a medium rare filet or NY Strip with "GOLDEN CRUST" on both sides.
NOT charred, GOLDEN!

<pity me>
I got my steak makin' down to a science and My stupid ex would cut the crust off every damn time! Notice I said "EX"!
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#20 Jane Die

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Posted 27 October 2007 - 04:32 PM

Did he ask that?  Did Mark ask "which is the best way to cook a steak for the home cook"?  He didn't.  He asked for a STATEMENT, or answer to a general inquiry.  So that's what coloured my reply.  No need for you to try and disqualify it.


*snap* :huh:

The answer, for me, would be NO to gray meat with "grill marks" and YES to crispy crusty meat exterior.

#21 mizducky

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Posted 27 October 2007 - 05:00 PM

Thinking about it, I seem to like my steak done a variety of ways--most of the time I'll go for medium-rare (and in restaurants I'll often add "rather more rare than medium). But often I'll go for more rare to raw. It kind of depends on my mood, and random cravings, and maybe the phase of the moon. :biggrin: And I think it also depends on the cut of meat ... and to a certain extent, nostalgia.

When I was a kid, my folks' favorite charcoal grill fodder was a big ol' seven-bone chuck steak, either marinated or seriously worked over with the meat tenderizer or slathered with barbeque sauce, and then slung low over a hot bed of the Kingsford. Lotsa flareups! Dad was not shy about pulling it while it still had lots of blood, but of course it also got lots of charred bits, especially if it got the barbeque sauce treatment. And I really loved the contrast of the juicy fatty meat and, yes, the bitterness of the charred bits.

Don't get me wrong, I totally love a properly Maillarded red-in-the-middle steak too. But yeah, that cavewoman streak ...

Now I don't like gray cooked-to-death meat any more than Mark the OP, but interestingly I do like that medium-rare point as a distinct alternative to rare-rare. To me, it's that point where the meat still has lots of juiciness, but the proteins have denatured just enough that the meat presents some modest resistance to the tooth--and I do really dig that kind of borderline tender/chewy mouthfeel.

#22 scubadoo97

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Posted 27 October 2007 - 05:43 PM

Screw the broiler.  Put it in a smoking cast iron pan!

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If I'm not doing it over fire on the grill, I will use a flat cast iron pan over a grill pan. I want the entire surface to get a crust.

#23 Fat Guy

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Posted 27 October 2007 - 05:52 PM

If it's a good steak I'll definitely take gray over burnt. At least when it's gray there's nothing ruining the flavor of the steak.

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We may in fact disagree on this one (it'd be our first, too :rolleyes: ), but when the fat sizzles and crisps, are you considering that burnt?; and are you considering 'black and blue' burnt?

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Every black-and-blue steak I've had has been, to me, unpleasantly charred. I certainly don't mind a little taste of the fire, but it would be unusual to see a black-and-blue steak done that subtly.

I have no problem with a steak with zero crust. I'm happy to have a steak put in a sous-vide bag, brought to the exact right temperature all the way through, and served. A nice Maillardized crust is a plus, and perhaps a hint of char is acceptable or even desirable, but I'd rather have no crust than anything that tastes charred. The no-crust scenario at least allows one to taste the meat.

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#24 GlorifiedRice

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Posted 27 October 2007 - 06:17 PM

So I take it that Fat Guy wouldnt like sugar caramelized scallops?
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#25 Fat Guy

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Posted 27 October 2007 - 06:25 PM

Caramelized, Maillardized and charred are three different things. I'm in favor of the first two, just not the third.

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#26 MomOfLittleFoodies

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Posted 27 October 2007 - 07:59 PM

I like a good sear on my steaks, but not charred. I'm in the medium rare camp these days.
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#27 markk

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Posted 27 October 2007 - 10:04 PM

I have no problem with a steak with zero crust. I'm happy to have a steak put in a sous-vide bag, brought to the exact right temperature all the way through, and served. A nice Maillardized crust is a plus, and perhaps a hint of char is acceptable or even desirable, but I'd rather have no crust than anything that tastes charred. The no-crust scenario at least allows one to taste the meat.

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Well, you did answer my question - thanks.

Two unrelated notes:

This thread was in honor of my dad, who loved to eat, and could never get a decent meal at home, or a steak that wasn't gray. And he always craved a great steak. When we'd go out to steakhouses, he'd ask for his steak more dramatically than any actor I could imagine, as if by his tone and inflection he could convince them just how he was drooling over it- he's say, "Charrrrrred on the outside" with a bit of excitement, and then drop to sotto voce and add "and rare on the inside".

The other unrelated note is that I've never gotten a gray steak, or one cooked without a great crispy sear, in France, or from a French chef for that matter.
Overheard at the Zabar’s prepared food counter in the 1970’s:

Woman (noticing a large bowl of cut fruit): “How much is the fruit salad?”
Counterman: “Three-ninety-eight a pound.”
Woman (incredulous, and loud): “THREE-NINETY EIGHT A POUND ????”
Counterman: “Who’s going to sit and cut fruit all day, lady… YOU?”

Newly updated: my online food photo extravaganza; cook-in/eat-out and photos from the 70's

#28 Irishgirl

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Posted 28 October 2007 - 12:09 AM

Of course it's not the same, but for most home cooks without high-powered equipment, a smoking hot cast iron skillet with a big knob of lard is a pretty damned good option, and a lot better than sticking the meat under a weak gas broiler for many.

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Did he ask that? Did Mark ask "which is the best way to cook a steak for the home cook"? He didn't. He asked for a STATEMENT, or answer to a general inquiry. So that's what coloured my reply. No need for you to try and disqualify it.

eta: I hate it when I leave out possessive pronouns (like 'the')

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Dude, I could just as easily be offended by your disqualifying MY statement. But I am not. Because i realize that this is all just opinions and a discussion.

I like all over crispy. Grilling has it's merits. A hot pan will get you all over crispy. A broiler (which is different from a grill) will not.

I like Maillard reaction rather than burnt.

P.S. How come in some places it is called "Pittsburghed", whereas others call it "Chicago style". I heard Pittsburghed for the first time last week. I thought the customer was confused......but apparently they weren't.

#29 budrichard

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Posted 29 October 2007 - 03:08 AM

Where does a 'Dirty Steak' fall in all of this?
This is a method that can for a thin steak actually yield a pleasant product. I have done steak this way a number of times but only if about an inch. It's on, turned and off the coals very quickly.-Dick

#30 takadi

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Posted 31 October 2007 - 12:35 PM

I actually find in my personal experience that a super heated cast iron pan is the only way to really get a nice malliardized crust on the outside. Of course it's not the same as a broiler, but I find it's second best.