Broiling is not a method I’ve used often, in my own kitchen, in cooking over the last 10 years. Probably because I’ve lived in rentals for that long and the broil setup on each unfortunately-electric-not-gas and usually-at-least-30-years-old oven I’ve encountered was different and unfamiliar and misunderstood and therefore overlooked. What does it mean to turn on the broiler? How come there is no preheating required? Where does the broiler heat source come from, the top or the bottom of the oven? Where do I put my oven rack for best broiling results?
These were questions I just never bothered to answer for myself. Because I had other roasting methods that were straightforward and familiar and approachable. So, the broiler went neglected.
Until, this winter. And this recipe, for roasted cabbage slaw, arrived promptly in my Google search results for new and exciting things to do with cabbage. Cabbage is one of my favorite winter vegetables and boy-oh-boy did we eat a lot of it this winter. It’s hands down my favorite winter “green” and our salads this winter typically consisted of raw shredded cabbage, a thick and creamy dressing, plus various tasty bits that changed up all the time to keep things interesting. Or I made sauerkraut. But, there is only so much shredded cabbage salad and pickled kraut you can make. Soon enough, our cabbage cravings began to fade, and I needed to find a new way to prepare it.
Enter the broiler. In the roasted cabbage slaw recipe, the Kitchn explains very simply what to do, where to place your oven rack to get the char you’re looking for, and finally, how to ease the freshly-broiled crispy-charred and tender cabbage into a delicious marinade of honey, lemon juice, salt and pepper so it can soak up all that flavor as it cools to room temp. My world = officially rocked.
And also, broiling seems to be the very key to achieving that amazing charred flavor you get from restaurant-style vegetables. Those vegetable sides that quickly cook up in the restaurant’s wood-fired or brick oven, an oven that probably reaches temps of 700-800 degrees. That environment is difficult to mimic in your regular run-of-the-mill home oven. Difficult, but not impossible. Broiling delivers that unmistakable caramelization, that charred crispy perfection.
It’s fast too. Usually, I’m all about cooking low and slow and coaxing the best flavor out of whatever I’m cooking on relaxed, Sunday afternoons while I read a book and listen to jazz. However, sometimes I don’t have that time and I need things cooked quick. And sometimes I just can’t wait the additional 15 mins it takes to preheat my oven to 450. Preheating seems to take an eternity sometimes, don’t you think?
It’s funny that I’ve avoided the broiler for this long. Growing up, my mom was a frequent broiler. She broiled everything from hot dogs (when it was too cold to grill), to buttered-breaded shrimp scampi perfectly lined up in sheet pans, to London broil steak. And this now makes perfect sense to me. She was a full-time working mom with two young, always-busy-and-typically-quarreling daughters. She just did not have the time to cook dinner “low and slow” with all the carpooling and swim meets and flute lessons that never ever ceased for even a moment. She had to get things done, and broiling was her go-to.
Garlic Lemon Tahini Sauce
Now I broil frequently and confidently. I love broiling veggies the most because they cook up super-quick and tender and crispy all at once. It’s pure magic. Then out of the oven they come and I toss them with a quick “dressing” of fresh squeezed lemon juice, a bit of honey, salt & pepper and as they cool, they soak up and marinate in all those bright refreshing flavors until it’s time to eat. This works great with shredded cabbage (red or green), broccoli chopped into small bites, and even mustard greens that have been roughly chopped and quickly broiled.
We’re at the very tail end of winter vegetables like cabbage and broccoli over here, and moving quickly into spring with tender greens, turnips, radishes and I’m very excited for this. Regardless of season, though, my favorite Garlic Lemon Tahini Sauce (recipe below) serves as a scrumptious bed for quick-broiled vegetables. It’s creamy and savory and lemony with contrasting nuttiness from the tahini. Make sure to spread a healthy amount on the plate so that each bite of vegetable gets an equal amount of the sauce. Yum!
All Your Burning Broiler Questions Answered
What does broiling mean?
- Broiling is a cooking method in which food is cooked in the oven under a high temperature. Broiler temperatures typically max out around 550 degrees but the proximity of the food to the heat source means you get more of that melty char-broil-y effect.
What does broiling do?
- Broiling puts your food directly below the heating source at a very close range. Unlike baking or roasting which utilizes indirect heat, broiling will give you that quick char in only a few minutes’ time.
Do I need to preheat my broiler?
- You should let your broiler preheat 5-10 minutes before putting your food in. Some ovens have a preheat broil setting but some (like mine) don’t.
Where does the broiler heat source come from; the top or the bottom of the oven?
- This depends on your oven, so you’ll want to locate before turning on the broiler setting. Some have a broiling drawer at the bottom. Some are at the top of the oven.
Where do I put my oven rack for best broiling results?
- This is also something you’ll want to do before turning your oven on. Place your rack 5 inches from the broiler.
Should I be scared of broiling?
- You shouldn’t be scared to use your broiler. However, this definitely isn’t a set-it-and-forget-it mode of cooking. You’ll need to check on your food every few minutes and toss it around to get an even char. You can also leave the oven door slightly ajar to keep an eye on the broiling progress. (Pro tip: turn your oven timer on for a few minutes each time so you won’t forget about what’s in there and end up with ashes and charcoal instead of a perfectly crisped melty cheesy entree. I may or may not know this from experience…)
What is the best cookware for broiling?
- Heavy cookware such as cast iron or thick aluminum sheet pans will work best. If you try to use thin baking sheets to broil, they will warp loudly and cause mild alarm when that happens (I may or may not know this from experience…).
So now that you’ve got a good basis of broiler know-how under your belt, why don’t you try it? Don’t be like me. Don’t be afraid of your broiler for 10+ years like I was. Let me know how it goes!