Cooks with hankerings for crosshatch patterns and smoky flavors to their steaks during the barbecue off-season can turn to an oven broiler as a suitable replacement for a grill. Grilling with a fearsome direct heat from above, the broiler often is overlooked to quickly cook meat and vegetables.
Since the duration of food under the broiler is relatively short, prepping prior to grilling takes on importance. Steaks or vegetables should be patted dry, seasoned with salt and pepper and brushed with oil — take care to moisten any dry herbs to minimize burning. Brush fish with oil and drizzle some in the skillet or tray — remember that fish or shellfish has a very short cooking time. Bring meat to room temperature before grilling for an even cook. To re-create the grill's distinctive char flavor, allocate plenty of surface area for maximum contact with the skillet or tray, particularly if you are grilling vegetables such as squash.
For indoor grilling, a heavy skillet performs the role of the barbecue rack. Cast iron is best since it retains and evenly distributes the heat. A skillet with a ridged bottom leaves the aesthetically pleasing crosshatch marks and allows juices to run off, but bear in mind the ridges also allow air to circulate, cooling the underside. As a result, food in a ridged skillet needs to be turned during cooking, while a flat skillet needs no attention. Thoroughly clean the skillet of debris to prevent smoking and heat it in the oven alone until it is searingly hot. A well-seasoned pan shouldn't smoke, but if it does, momentarily remove it from the oven.
Heat the oven to its hottest setting, typically around 500 degrees Fahrenheit, and turn on the broiler. The skillet should be placed close to the heating element, roughly 2 to 3 inches away. The temperature drops about 75 degrees with each rack, so use lower racks where the temperature is around 325 degrees for bone-in chicken and thicker steaks that take longer to cook. If the broiler element has an automatic shut-off above a certain temperature, leave the oven door open slightly to keep the broiler running and allow smoke and steam to escape. Once underway, remember that broiling delivers a quick, intense heat and food can go from brown to scorched in a flash, yet the interior can be undercooked.
The advantage of oven grilling is that food readily caramelizes, juices are free to run off into a pan and cooking time rarely exceeds 10 to 15 minutes. Because there is not enough time to penetrate the inside of meat, oven grilling is best for thin cuts no thicker than 1 1/2 inches. Because it is a quick, direct heat, only tender steak cuts benefit from the broiler, and chicken skin has a tendency to flare up. As with outside grilling, cooks should check that the internal temperature of meat is 160 degrees Fahrenheit, bearing in mind the temperature will rise more during resting.