For whatever reason, there are times when you just can't go out back to the grill. It's these times when you need to know the basics of broiling in your oven. There are similarities and differences that can make your broiling successful. Many recipes give instructions on the use of a broiler as an alternative to grilling, but they just don't explain the fundamental differences that you need to know.
Grilling and broiling both use intense direct heat to cook foods. They both require the same watchful eye to avoid burning. And they both provide a similar charring and caramelization that give food that distinct flavor. However, grills and broilers work differently to achieve these goals.
Controlling the Temperature
The biggest difference between a grill and an oven broiler is that your oven has a thermostat to control temperature. While this might seem like it would simplify the process the problem is that your oven can turn off when it gets to a certain temperature -- about 500 to 550 degrees F (260 to 288 degrees C). This will leave foods to cook in their own steam. You want that constant direct heat. To keep your broiler hot, prop open the oven door an inch or two. This allows heat to escape and will keep the oven from reaching its highest temperature where the thermostat may turn off the heating element. It is important that foods not bake, but broil and to do this, there needs to a constant flow of hot air. Baking is done with hot air. Broiling is done with direct heat from the source. Broiling is much more like infrared cooking.
Preheating the Surface
Like grilling you want the grease and fat to be able to drip away, therefore, you always want to use a broiling pan. And like a grill, you want to preheat the surface that is going to be in contact with the food so preheat the broiler pan. Since you are cooking by direct heat, you don't have to worry about preheating the oven itself. The hot pan, however, will help you get good searing on the surface of meats. Unless you are cooking something very thin, you might still need to flip it halfway through the cooking process to evenly cook it.
Like grilling, you need to keep a close eye while broiling. Foods can still easily burn and even catch fire. Keep a fire resistant mitt close by and stay close to the oven while broiling. An instant-read thermometer is also a very good thing to have on hand. Broiling might take longer than grilling because the temperatures might not be as high, but don't assume that it will take longer.
Avoiding Too Much Smoke
The one big difference with your broiler is that the smoke it makes is inside your home and not rising out of the backyard. While keeping a close eye on your broiling will help prevent burning and smoke, you should consider avoiding as much fat as possible with those items you broil. This means trimming excess fat from meats, but it also means cutting back on oil-based marinades. Also, avoid overcooking foods to reduce the amount of smoke.
While broiling won't give foods the same great grilled flavor, in a pinch it can be a very good way to cook. Pay attention to what you are doing and you will quickly master this alternate method.