In the oven and grill heat makes its way through the air and via direct waves of energy. These dry settings often make for crisp, browned food. Here’s what to know and how to improve your skills.
Technically speaking, this process is baking. But in terms of options for putting dinner on the table and to avoid the implication that I’m talking about baked goods and sweets, I’m going to lean on the term and concept of roasting. As Harold McGee explains in “On Food and Cooking,” this strategy combines two heating methods. The first is radiation, which is the transfer of heat in “waves of pure energy.” In other words, the food does not need to be in direct contact with the heat source. The other is convection, in which air is the medium that transfers heat to the food. Neither, in the setting of an oven set to bake, is particularly effective at rapid heat transfer, so roasting is rarely the fastest method. McGee gives the example of how much faster a potato can be boiled than roasted, even at a high temperature.
Success in roasting comes down to much more than shoving something in the oven. While one of its strengths is that the dry heat is great for surface browning, you may find yourself with food that is undercooked in the middle. As McGee points out, food is not a particularly good conductor and is slow heat up. Often you must manage a variety of factors – size of the food (smaller pieces can overcook), oven temperature, position of the rack – to get things just right. Generally, roasted food does best when not packed too tightly, to better allow for circulation of the convective heat around it.
“Think of broiling as upside-down, indoor grilling. While most grilling is done outdoors, with the heat source below the food, broiling happens inside the oven, with the heat radiating from above,” Samin Nosrat says in “Salt Fat Acid Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking.” Both methods rely on infrared radiation, or waves of energy, McGee says, though in broiling there is some convection via the air between the heating element and the food.
Regardless of which one you use, the intense heat means there’s a real risk of burning. On the grill, that might mean moving the food to a cooler spot where it benefits more from indirect heat, McGee says. With the broiler, use it just at the very end as a last touch (such as browning a casserole), choose cuts or smaller items that will cook quickly all the way through (seafood, thin chops) or switch the oven over to bake at a lower temperature to finish larger cuts. Don’t forget that the grill and broiler can be just as great for vegetables as for meat.
Our special thanks to:detroitnews.com