Some chefs argue there is little or no difference between broiling and grilling, asserting they are just two sides of the same coin. Some argue that the differences are subtle but real. Still others assert that grilling is superior, since you can grill, or barbecue, outside and it's tough to broil outside unless you move your stove from the kitchen to the patio. Yet advocates of broiling assert you can broil anything indoors and it's tough to grill outdoors in the middle of winter.
Grilling is the the more glamorous style of cooking, with a bookcase of volumes devoted to its intricacies. But it's really a simple --even primitive -- method of cooking: grilling is the application of direct heat from underneath the food you are cooking. A barbecue grill is a common example, as is the campground fire ring with cooking grate. Put your food on the grate, and light the charcoal or wood underneath, and cook your food.
Broiling is the neglected stepchild of cooking methods, argues best-selling cookbook writer Mark Bittman. Broiling uses the same idea as grilling, but the heat source is on top of the food instead of underneath it. Turn on the broiler on your oven, put a broiling pan -- or better yet a skillet -- underneath the food to catch the juices, and you are in business.
Which Way is Better?
A broiling element is an upside-down barbecue, with the heat element replacing the coals. Of course, the reverse is true as well. In terms of taste, some believe the smoke of the charcoal or wood beneath the food imparts a superior flavor. Others believe that absence of charcoal imparts a better taste. Chef Helen Rennie says broiling offers more control over the cooking process. And if you want to melt cheese or other items over a dish, a broiler can't be beat. However, if you love those grill marks on your steak, a broiler just won't provide them with the same stamp of authority.
Some great steakhouses grill over extremely hot coals or woods. Other great steakhouses broil in extremely hot ovens. The ultimate determination of grilling versus broiling may boil -- no pun intended -- down to weather. Grilling when the temperature plunges below freezing may constitute cruel and unusual punishment for the chef, and the guests as well if they are expected to eat outside. And on a beautiful summer evening, the food seems to taste better when grilled outdoors.