Water boiling on gas stove

Broil Vs Boil — What’s The Difference?

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Today, we’re going back to cooking basics: broiling versus boiling. What exactly is the difference?

These two cooking techniques are both very well-known, and yet so many people either misread or have a misunderstanding of what exactly they need to do.

So, what is broiling, and what is boiling? Broiling is a finishing technique that uses dry radiant heat from the broiling element at the top of an oven. It helps caramelize foods, give them color, and even create some charring. Boiling is much simpler — it cooks ingredients in boiling water to give them color and help retain their nutrients.

Both of these methods have their pros and cons, and as you can already see, they are very different from each other! So in this packed article, we will explore everything you need to know.

That includes how to use this technique and which food items it should be used with — we’ve even included some great tips you can use when practicing these two cooking techniques!

What Is Broiling?

Broiling is a cooking technique that not many people are familiar with. In fact, many people actually confuse it with the more popular finishing technique, grilling. So, what’s the difference?

Grilling helps cook and caramelize the food using the bottom heat element. Broiling, on the other hand, uses the top heat element to help cook the food. Both techniques come down to the same thing, but the heat source differs.

Now, let’s take a more in-depth look at broiling.

This cooking technique has been around for ages! As we’ve said, it only uses radiant heat from the top heating element — none other.

The extremely high heat (around 500–550°F) helps to give food a beautiful color, create a crisper texture, and add a meaty, caramelized flavor.

Not to mention, it is even a technique that can be used to create a little bit of char on the surface of your food. That, in turn, adds a bit of smokiness.

Broiling is done using a broiler. What is a broiler? There are different kinds of broilers depending on the oven you have.

If you have an electrical oven (convention or convection), the broiler sits at the top of the oven. It’s a coil-shaped element that has been specifically designed to create an immense amount of heat.

If you have a gas oven, the broiler is a burner that sits at the top of the oven. It directly heats the food from above.

Otherwise, some gas ovens have built-in broiler drawers. In that case, the burner also sits at the top. But the benefit of the drawer is that you can cook and broil foods separately.

Benefits Of Broiling Food

Now, there are many benefits to broiling, but it isn’t a versatile technique and works best as a finishing method.

As we’ve mentioned, it helps add more color to food. It can either simply brown it or even char the food (depending on how long you leave it).

If you char the food, it adds a delicious smokiness to it — just don’t allow the food to completely burn.

If you don’t char the food, the item will still have a deliciously meaty, slightly smoky, and somewhat caramelized flavor to it.

And finally, the biggest benefit of this finishing technique is that it is quick. You can only leave your food for 5–15 minutes at the most without it being burned, so stay close!

Difficulties When Broiling Food

Now, there aren’t a ton of downsides to broiling. The biggest is probably that not everyone will be able to broil because not every oven has this built-in function.

Another slight downside is that your food needs to be monitored — if you don’t, it could easily burn completely.

And finally, you first have to cook your food before broiling it, even if it is only partially cooked.

Best Foods To Broil

The best foods to broil in an oven are lean, thin cuts. Do not broil a roast — it will take far too long, and the meat will dry out.

Instead, meat cuts like pork chops, tenderized chicken breasts, lamb or pork kabobs, flank or skirt steaks, and chicken strips work best. Again, any lean cut doesn’t contain a ton of fat or is super thick.

You can also broil roasted vegetables, but they tend to caramelize super quickly. So, keep an extra close eye on these!

How Does A Broiler Work?

You must know how your specific broiler works. Some appliances require you to leave the oven door open slightly. If you don’t, it could cause the oven to ignite from too much heat. Always read the user manual!

Usually, there is a knob you turn to the broiler setting. Some ovens also require you to set the temperature knob to its highest. And again, some ovens require you to keep the door open slightly.

If your oven is older than ten years, we recommend you keep the door open — it’s only newer models that don’t always require it.

You will also need a broiling pan. This is a roasting pan that has a fitted “cooling rack” over it that allows the juices to drip down and crisp the food on top.

How To Broil

  1. To start, set up your broiler according to the manual instructions. The broiler usually takes 3 minutes to heat up, so make sure all your elements are ready before then. You can also set up your broiling pan.
  2. Prepare your ingredients. If your meat needs to be cut into thinner or smaller portions, do so while the broiler is heating. You can also tenderize the meat to an even thickness instead of cutting the portions.
  3. Season the ingredients. If you are broiling uncooked ingredients you can season them now. If you are finishing off already partially-cooked meats, don’t add too much seasoning.
  4. Broil the food until you are happy with the texture and consistency of the item. Never leave the ingredients for longer than 15 minutes — you likely won’t even broil the food for that long!

Tips And Tricks For Broiling

  • Always monitor the progress of the food in the broiler. Trust us: it burns quickly. 
  • You cannot leave your broiler on for longer than 15 minutes — this will cause it to get too hot. Not only are you putting your oven at risk of catching on fire, but also shortening its life.
  • If your raw ingredients are charring quicker than they are cooking, you can turn down the broiling heat slightly. It also helps to turn the food around.
  • Only use metal roasting or broiling trays. Glass and non-stick cookware aren’t able to be used at these extreme temperatures.

What Is Boiling?

Boiling is one of the first cooking techniques we teach children. Just think about it — we boil instant noodles, spaghetti pasta, potatoes, and corn, and that’s not even scratching the surface!

All you need to do is place the item into cold or already boiling water, which varies from item to item, and then let it boil away. For example, pasta is cooked in boiling water, while potatoes are cooked in cold water.

This technique is simultaneously versatile and not versatile. There are so many amazing ingredients you can boil to serve as-is or as a “step 1” in a multi-step process to develop flavor.

Boiling vegetables will help you get a beautiful bright color while making their texture more tender.

You can boil all types of pasta, grains, and legumes too. You can even boil assembled snacks like tamales!

However, one thing we aren’t a fan of is boiled meat. Now, don’t get us wrong. Some types of meats have to be boiled (for example, beef tongue), but boiled chicken breasts should be a thing of the past.

The only exception is if people are using boiled chicken to make pulled chicken, as it is then heavily seasoned and doused with spices and sauce.

Benefits Of Boiling Food

Depending on what you are cooking, boiling your food can help bring out a bright color. If you boil spinach, it becomes a striking bright green! If you boil beets, they become a deep, saturated purple.

Boiling also doesn’t add flavor to the food. It can potentially take some away if you don’t follow good practices. At the most, boiling will add salt (if you season the water).

Remember, boiling isn’t poaching, so the liquid won’t be seasoned with herbs and aromatics.

Another benefit of boiling is that it cooks the food to your liking. It is super adjustable, and because the process is relatively slow, you can easily avoid overcooking it.

Common Issues When Boiling Food

The biggest problem with boiling food is that it takes away some natural flavors. If you were, for example, to steam carrots, you would experience an entirely different flavor than if you boiled them.

Now, it’s not that your ingredients come out flavorless, it’s just not as good.

Boiling cannot create texture in your foods. It makes everything soft, and because it’s a wet cooking method, never crisp or crunchy.

And finally, it is one of the most time-consuming methods. For some ingredients, that’s perfectly fine, but boiling chicken thighs will take much longer than pan-frying them.

Best Foods To Boil

We would only recommend boiling foods like root vegetables, pasta, legumes, grains, and assembled dishes that should be boiled.

There is no limit to what you can boil. But it may not be the best method for everything.

And as far as meats go, don’t boil meats that have better cooking options. Pan-fried fish is a thousand times tastier than boiled fish (when served as is). 

How To Boil Food

  1. Add water to a large pot. Depending on what you are cooking, you may need to start the ingredients off in either cold or already boiling water.
  2. Prepare the ingredients. The larger the item is, the longer it will take to boil. So, if you make mashed potatoes, cut them into small pieces to speed up the cooking time.
  3. Boil the ingredients with a timer. Add your ingredients to the water and leave them to boil (not simmer) until they are ready. Set a timer so you don’t forget to check the progress of your ingredients — overcooking food in water is horrific!

Tips And Tricks For Boiling Food

  • How long will it take to boil your food? This is a relative question — no two pieces of carrot or chicken will take the same amount of time to cook.
  • The food you are boiling should all be the same size; this will ensure that everything cooks at the same time and is finished at the same time. For example, if you boil a whole carrot alongside tiny carrot pieces, one of them will end up undercooked or overcooked.
  • Once you add your ingredients to boiling water, you may see the water stop boiling. That’s perfectly fine; most recipes (and cooking times) account for that. If it worries you too much, use a lid — this will help raise the temperature of the water more quickly.

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