Broil meats to perfection

March 20, 1991|By JeanMarie Brownson | JeanMarie Brownson,Chicago Tribune

Broiling can count good taste, speed and ease of preparation among its virtues, all of which are a boon to the cook under the pressure of time.

Few foods are as delicious as a succulent broiled steak, a chicken breast glazed with spicy barbecue sauce or a tender, delicate piece of fish seasoned with butter and herbs.

Broiling means cooking with intense direct heat. It is a term sometimes used loosely. Pan broiling (cooking in a very hot skillet), for example, is closer to frying, although it usually is done with little or no fat and the fat is removed as it accumulates. "Charcoal broiling" really is barbecuing or grilling; timing is about the same as under a broiler.

In all broiling methods, the fat is allowed to drip off during cooking, so the greatest challenge for cooks is to keep food moist. To counteract the drying effect of the intense heat, select moist cuts and brush them with seasoned butter, oil, sauce or marinade.

Speed also is important. If the broiler is not hot enough, too many juices will escape before the food is cooked. Therefore, always heat the broiler, grill or pan to the highest temperature before adding the food.

With a few exceptions, the food should be placed as near as possible to the heat source, at least until it is properly browned. Then it can be moved away, or the heat can be reduced, to finish the cooking without risk of burning or overcooking.

Beef, lamb, chicken and fish, cut no more than 1 1/2 inches thick, are excellent for broiling. Pork is somewhat difficult to broil because the meat often ends up too dry by the time it is fully cooked. Veal also needs to be broiled with extra care to prevent drying.

Kebabs made from fish, seafood, vegetables, boneless meat and meatballs do well in the broiler. Tougher cuts of meat, such as flank steak, can be broiled, but they are best marinated first to tenderize them.

Most ovens and broilers come with two-piece broiler pans, or you can construct a makeshift version by placing a wire rack in a shallow baking pan. Line the bottom pan with foil for easier cleanup. Spray the broiler rack with non-stick vegetable spray or brush lightly with oil before placing the food on it.

For gas broilers, broil with the door closed; for electric, broil with the door slightly ajar.

For pan-broiling, select a heavy-bottomed skillet.

Electric tabletop grills employ the same method of cooking, although the heating element is under the food rather than above it. The grease can splatter so take care not to burn yourself.


When possible, let food to come to room temperature. Heat the broiler ahead of time.

To avoid spattering and flareups, trim and remove most of the visible fat. (Leaving some fat, however, adds flavor; it can be trimmed off after cooking. A recent study by the National Broiler Council has shown that leaving skin on the chicken during cooking adds greatly to the taste and moisture but does not add fat; remove skin before eating.)

Do not salt food before broiling since this may draw moisture to the surface and prevent proper browning.

Broil delicate fish fillets, such as sole and flounder, skin side down, on a piece of foil that has been greased to prevent sticking and breaking; do not turn during cooking.

Using a small, clean pastry brush, frequently brush the surface of the food with a small amount of butter or oil or combination (flavored as desired) while cooking to keep it from drying out and to enhance the flavor.

The trickiest part of broiling is knowing when the food is done. Cooking time varies with the heat source and how close you are able to place the food. The food can be cut to determine doneness, but this usually allows too much juice to run out and can ruin the appearance.

To test meat by touch, press the meat lightly with a finger. Very rare meat is soft and pulpy, medium-rare is slightly resistant and well-done meat is quite firm.

Broiled Chicken

Preparation time: 10 minutes

Marinating time: 20 minutes

Cooking time: 8 minutes

This basic recipe can be varied to suit any taste. Minced onion, fresh herbs or fresh ginger may be substituted for the garlic. Vegetable oil may be used in place of olive oil and spices such as ground cumin, curry powder and chili powder may be used instead of paprika.

2 whole chicken breasts, boned, split

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 large clove garlic, minced

1 teaspoon imported sweet paprika

1/4 teaspoon salt

Pinch crushed red pepper flakes

Rinse chicken; pat dry. Mix remaining ingredients in medium bowl until salt dissolves. Add chicken; turn so all pieces are coated with mixture. Let stand on counter 20 minutes or refrigerate up to one hour.

Heat broiler. Line bottom of broiler pan with aluminum foil. Spray broiler rack with non-stick vegetable spray or brush lightly with oil. Using metal tongs, place chicken on broiler rack skin side down.

Broil, four to six inches from heat source, for four minutes. Turn chicken; brush with any oil left in bottom of bowl. Broil until juices run clear, four to five more minutes. Remove from broiler; remove and discard skin. Serve immediately. Serves four.

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