100 Techniques

Technique #27: Use the Broiler to Char without Burning

 Learn your broiler to char food to perfection.

Published Oct. 5, 2023.

This is Technique #27 from our 100 Techniques Every Home Cook Can Master. 

Each technique is broken into three sections: why it works, key steps, and recipes that use it. Learn these recipe building blocks and you'll be set up for a lifetime of cooking success.

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Despite the fact that a broiler is a standard component of pretty much every oven, broilers tend to be misunderstood, distrusted, and little used.

But fear not the broiler! Instead, imagine it as somewhat akin to a very hot upside-down indoor grill—and think of it as a great tool for getting great char indoors.

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Placement Is Key

As with grilling, food placement and heat management are key. While you might reflexively choose the rack closest to the broiler element, it’s not always the best option. To char food evenly, you need to set the oven rack far enough from the element to minimize the “hot spots” that lead to burning but close enough that the food will char. 

Think of the broiler element as a collection of very hot lights. The farther the food is from them, the more diffuse the illuminated area; placing food closer creates concentrated “spotlights.”

We specify distance between the heating element and oven rack rather than simply calling for a vague rack position, such as “middle” or “top.” We also sometimes parcook larger, denser pieces of food before finishing them under the broiler to ensure complete cooking. 

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The Two Things to Understand About Your Broiler

To better understand your broiler, you need to learn two things:

  1. Whether it runs hot, average, or cold
  2. How evenly it cooks. 

To find out how hot it runs, heat it on high and then place a slice of white sandwich bread about 6 inches below the heating element. If it turns golden brown in 30 seconds or less, your broiler runs very hot, and you will need to reduce cooking times that we specify by a minute or two. If it toasts perfectly in 1 minute, your broiler runs about average. If the bread takes 2 minutes or longer to toast, your broiler runs cool and you may need to increase our cooking times by a minute or two.

When it comes to evenness, most broilers tend to heat up the center and back of the oven more than the sides and front. To test yours, line a baking sheet with white bread and toast it under the broiler. The different degrees of browning provide an accurate “map” of the hot and cool spots so you can position food accordingly to char without burning (and, if necessary, you can also move it partway through cooking). Take a photo of your broiler map and keep it near your oven for reference.

8 pieces of toast broiled to varying degrees of char
Use bread to create a heat map of your broiler to learn its heating patterns.
Watch how rack placement prevents hot spots in our recipe for broiled—and deliciously charred—zucchini.

Step by Step: How to Char with a Broiler

With your broiler map in hand, here are step-by-step instructions to char meat and vegetables, respectively.

Step 1: Position Rack and Preheat Broiler

1. Arrange broiler rack a specific distance from broiler element and preheat broiler.

Step 2A: If Cooking Food Entirely Under Broiler, Elevate

For smaller foods or items with fat that might spatter, elevate them on wire rack to help keep smoking and spattering to a minimum.

Step 3A: Rotate

Rotate sheet halfway through broiling for even browning.

Step 2B: If Parcooking Food Before Broiling, Jump-Start in Microwave or Oven

For larger pieces of food or food that takes longer to cook through, jump-start cooking process using microwave or oven.

Step 3B: Finish Under Broiler

Finish food under broiler to achieve perfect exterior char.

Recipes That Use This Technique

Test your newfound knowledge of charring and broilers with these recipes.


Chicken Shawarma

Could we translate this take-out specialty—traditionally cooked on a spinning live-fire spit—into a recipe suitable for home kitchens?
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Whole Romanesco with Berbere and Yogurt-Tahini Sauce

This beautiful, fractal-looking vegetable is perfect for cooking whole, as we do in this showstopper of a dish.
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Broiled Smashed Zucchini with Garlicky Yogurt

Give it a good whack—then slide it under the broiler. Not only will you create a range of textures but you'll also unlock a surprising variety of flavors.
Get the Recipe

Garlicky Broiled Shrimp

For tender, succulent, spotty-brown shrimp, let your broiler do the work.
Get the Recipe

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