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Bittman on the broiler


Fat Guy
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Joe mentioned this already on the steak-broiling topic today, however I felt it worthy of its own. Mark Bittman did an interesting "Minimalist" piece in the New York Times today singing the praises of the broiler. His contention is that the in-oven broiler that comes with most every range is an underused and unappreciated appliance-within-an-appliance. He gives a number of tips for effective broiling, and suggests some items to broil.

I agree with the major premise of the piece: the broiler is an amazing tool, and most people never use it. At the same time, I think it's very hard to deliver instructions for broiler use, because every broiler is so different. Bittman recognizes the range of differences and gives advice like "After a little experimenting, you’ll find the ideal distance for your broiler," but I think he underestimates the extent of the variations in what's out there.

For example, he recommends, "Start by heating your oven to its maximum temperature, typically 550 degrees; then turn on the broiler," that's not necessarily the best advice if you have my oven and my broiler. If you try that in my apartment, when you open the oven door a big ball of blue flame flies up out of the oven. So, I would certainly suggest disregarding this advice if you have an infrared broiler on a DCS or other pro-style range. Then again, if you have such a broiler, you don't need to preheat the oven anyway -- you'll have plenty of BTUs to incinerate just about anything.

In addition to the various uses Bittman suggests, broilers are great for finishing dishes that need to be crisped, and of course for melting cheese.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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The broiler is an under-rated winter time device. We use ours often. Its major benefit when cooking well-marbled steaks is that it doesn't create the smoke associated with pan-frying. But I think he should have recommended using a ridged iron pan to avoid stewing, and he's just plain wrong when he recommends not turning the steak: searing both sides = double happy.

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Gotta admit I rarely use mine, but am considering a new oven and the two models I am considering have vastly different broilers: one looks incredible, the other a bit lacklustre. Since I use it so infrequently, I don't think this should weigh all that heavily on my decision. And yet ... at the very least I'm gonna get sucked into this thread.

Ok, I'll look at the Bittman bit first before I venture anything further.

Cheers,

Geoff Ruby

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I have a Kitchen Aid electronic convection oven, and while I love to broil, I don't find that it gets hot enough. I've used other electric ovens whose broilers were fabulous, but I'm disappointed in mine. I love it for convection roasting, but in the time that something small would cook like a steak or scallops, I think I prefer searing both sides in a pan and then sliding a cake cooling rack (pre-heated) under them to let them finish cooking if necessary.

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I am a big broiler kind of guy. I like mine and use it frequently. It does take some practice to get used to (each oven is different, as well, so it's not like you can just move from one place to another and do the same thing you did at your own house) but once you are comfortable with using the broiler, it can become an important part of the kitchen operation.

That being said, I think that the reasons that most people don't use them has more to do with physical stuff than cooking fears. They are a pain to clean up. Broilers, especially when broiling meats, tend to make a mess. Grease spatters all over the place and is difficult to clean up. On top of that, the high heat, the open flame, and the spattering meat often combine to make tons of smoke. This might be no big deal in a commercial kitchen, but unless one happens to have a venting system that works really well (venting to the outside, probably) there is a pretty good chance that you are going to stink up the house or that a well meaning neighbor will alert the fire dept.

To me, there's not much better than a really good piece of steak, quickly seared on a white hot black iron skillet and thrown under a broiler for a quick finish. I love to cook steak that way. The broiler is also a swell way to make lots of toast fast. Totally worth the investment, that mass toast making.

Brooks Hamaker, aka "Mayhaw Man"

There's a train everyday, leaving either way...

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Ok,

Can anybody (in addition to Markk's comments) talk about the differences in the performance of home broilers. For example, a DCS (or similar) versus a GE or Kitchenaid or Maytag or whatever (ie less spendy) model. Or perhaps price isn't really a good way of parsing out the differences - perhaps a better way of looking at this is - what should we be looking for in a broiler? Does electric versus gas make a difference? How about the ceramic (infrared???). Other factors?

I have to admit, I pretty much never use mine to cook anything - but I use it to finish; a roast chicken whose skin isn't crisp enough, onion soup, to get more caramelization on a salmon etc. If that' all I use it for, does the quality of the broiler really matter that much? Am I really missing out? Do I need broiler therapy?

cheers,

Geoff Ruby

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Geoff, having gone from a basic Maytag range to a DCS pro-style range, it feels like an order of magnitude difference to me. The DCS broiler is scary-powerful. You really have to be careful with it or it could easily swallow you whole and nobody would ever find out what happened. I don't really understand the principles involved, but it appears to be an entirely different technology, not just a stronger version of the same thing. The broiler I have produces a uniform sheet of blue flame that emanates from a mesh-like surface -- there are no identifiable individual jets involved. They call it an "infrared" broiler, for what it's worth.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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The broiler I have produces a uniform sheet of blue flame that emanates from a mesh-like surface -- there are no identifiable individual jets involved.

Big deal. My car does that.

For what it's worth, I have an "8 pass broiler element for even broiling" on the Jenn Air that's in my house. That thing does, in fact, broil evenly. It also will, unless it is carefully watched, turn any perfectly good foodstuff into carbon in just a matter of seconds. It takes some getting used to.

Brooks Hamaker, aka "Mayhaw Man"

There's a train everyday, leaving either way...

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Broiling is great in theory but I hate cooking while sitting on the floor.

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