The Differences in Broiling, Baking, and Grilling

Chopsticks holding a piece of broiled sliced salmon on plate, high angle view
Broiled salmon. (Image: DAJ/amana images/Getty Images)

To a trained chef, recognizing the differences between cooking methods is second nature. They're categorized as "wet" or "dry," depending on whether water or other liquids are involved, and each of those broad categories includes several specific cooking methods. Broiling, baking and grilling, for example, are all dry heat cooking methods. Yet, each uses heat in a different way.

Dry Heat Cooking Methods

Dry heat cooking methods are defined by culinary textbook author Wayne Gisslen as "...those in which the heat is conducted without moisture." The heat can be conducted by air, the hot metal of a frying pan or the oil of a deep fryer. Toasting a marshmallow over a campfire uses a dry heat cooking method, and so does making a grilled cheese sandwich for your kids. Each cooking method has its advantages and disadvantages.

About Broiling

Broiling uses a heat source located above the food to generate intense heat. Home broilers use either a gas flame or an electric element to generate a temperature of 550 degrees Fahrenheit. The food is placed on a drip-catching pan to minimize splattering and the risk of fire, and placed within a few inches of the heat source. The intense heat browns meats and caramelizes sugars very quickly, creating complex flavors and aromas. However, the food must be relatively thin in order to cook through before it's charred by the heat. "Char-broiling" is a misnomer, since cooking over coals is actually a form of grilling.

About Grilling

Grilling works in much the same way as broiling. Grilling cooks the food by generating intense heat from gas, charcoal or an electric element. The difference is that with grilling, the heat source is located below the food. The food is positioned over the heat on a metal grill, which becomes very hot and sears dark, attractive grill marks onto the food. While broiling uses intense heat at all times, grilling is more variable and the heat can be high, moderate or low at the cook's whim. Like broiling, grilling is a healthy method because it allows fat to cook out and drip away.

About Baking

Baking is a slower, lower-intensity cooking method. Your oven provides a small, enclosed space in which you can create a hot environment for foods. A gas flame or electric element heats the air, which in turn transfers heat to your food. This can take place at high or low heat, depending on the desired result. High heat can brown foods almost as effectively as grilling or broiling, but you can also use your oven as a slow cooker for tough, long-cooking cuts of meat. Baking takes longer than broiling or grilling, but is suitable for cooking larger and thicker items.

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