It was a yearning for a grilled burger in the dead of winter that made me look at my broiler from a whole new perspective. While I regularly used it for things like browning baked pasta, I had never considered how the broiler could help satisfy cold-weather cravings for summer foods.
Most basically, I thought, grilling is cooking over a flame, and broiling is cooking under a flame. So why not broil foods I’d normally grill? I was thinking of things with short cooking times that benefit from a nice sear, like bratwurst, steak, or that perfectly charred burger I hungered for. Once I started experimenting, I found that there are many similarities between broilers and grills, and I learned a few tricks to reproducing that smoky grilled flavor indoors.
Broiling doesn’t deliver the aromatic smoke that’s created during grilling when fat and juice drip onto charcoal or the hot bars of a gas grill, enveloping the food and giving it that familiar grilled flavor. But I found that ingredients like smoked paprika, smoked salt, chipotles, bacon, and smoked cheese are surprisingly satisfying substitutes for actual smoke.
A broiler also isn’t able to produce the same kind of searing and charring that occurs when food comes in contact with a hot grill grate. But using a broiler-safe cast-iron grill pan instead of your oven’s broiler pan can give you grill marks and a more charred exterior, provided you get the pan searingly hot first.
Heating the pan ahead has the additional advantage of being slightly faster, too, because food cooks from above and below.
Finally, it’s worth noting that broilers and grills over different ways to manipulate temperature. With a charcoal grill, you let the coals burn down until they’re at the right temperature. A gas grill has adjustable settings. With a broiler, you control the temperature by moving the oven rack to change the distance between the heating element and the food.
Once I figured out how to use my broiler as an all-weather stand-in for the grill, I was able to cook up some pretty sensational burgers, as well as steaks, brats, and barbecued chicken. I’ll never look at my broiler the same way again.