An oven broiler is a heating device that uses direct heat from above to cook food. Broiling is very similar to grilling, but grilling uses direct heat from below to cook food and is generally performed outdoors only. Broiling uses a more intensive heat than baking in the oven itself, so it is usually only recommended for foods that can withstand a charred outside and do not require precise temperatures.
The exact location of oven broilers typically depend on whether the oven is gas or electric. If an oven is gas, the broiler is typically located in a small fold-out compartment near the base of the oven. Electric ovens often have broilers that are positioned on the top of the oven.
An oven broiler cooks food by exposing it to a heating element that is positioned in close contact just above the food itself. Some ovens are designed to automatically turn off the broiler heating element when it reaches a maximum temperature, so oven manufacturer instructions may recommend that the broiler door be kept open during the cooking process if a person plans on broiling food for an extended period of time. Keeping the broiler door opens lets heat escape and may help regulate the broiler temperature to prevent it from becoming too hot and shutting off. If a closed oven broiler automatically shuts off its heating element and the temperature drops, the food may actually end up steaming and not get a crisp outer layer.
One of the key components of an oven broiler is a broiler pan, a flat metal pan that comes with a detachable tray with holes in it. The holes in the detachable tray allows fat to drip away from the food while it cooks and helps the heat move more constantly around the food for a more even cooking. The accumulated drippings can be discarded, served alongside the finished dish, or used to make a gravy or sauce. To make cleaning the accumulated drippings from the broiler pan easier, broiler manufacturer instructions may recommend spraying the pan with nonstick cooking spray or lining it with aluminum foil.
Certain foods tend to cook better than others in oven broilers. Fillets or steaks often have the most favorable results when broiled because an outer browning does not affect its texture and may actually improve its flavor. The higher the fat content of a food, the faster it will usually cook through in the broiler, so fattier pieces of meat, poultry, or fish may need to be watched closely so they don’t burn or catch on fire. Foods that require a more constant, even heating, such as casseroles or breads, do not tend to work well in the broiler.