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Need to brown some meat, scared to use my broiler

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This weekend, I'm making a Molly Stevens oxtail braise.

As with all braises, I will need to nicely brown the meat beforehand. The recipe says to place the oxtails in the broiler, turning them every few mintues "until they are a beautiful dark brown but not charred, about 25 minutes total."

Here's the problem: I have never, ever, ever used my broiler with success. I do not know whether this results from my own incompetence, a faulty appliance or some combination of the two. I can't imagine leaving meat in there for 25 minutes. Everything in my broiler seems to blacken after just 1 or 2 minutes. Perhaps it's because I've used a pan in the past, and the height of the pan lifts the food too close to the heat source; would it help if laid the meat directly on the broiler tray? That solution seems awfully messy.

Whatever the answer to these burning questions, I'd like to avoid the broiler altogether. Can I just use my trusty, sesasoned cast iron skillet on the stove (or even in the oven) at a very high heat to brown the oxtails? Would that result in an inferior or incomplete browning? Please advise....

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  1. You can brown them in the skillet with no problem. Are you using a gas or electric oven. I am not sure how to advise about the broiler if i don't know what you are using.

    1. It's a gas oven. Very gassy, in fact.

      1. If your broiler's too hot, move the oven rack down one notch.

        But there's no reason not to brown them in a pan on the stove.

        1. "would it help if laid the meat directly on the broiler? That solution seems awfully messy."

          I'm puzzled by this. Every broiler I have ever used has the heat element - electric or gas - at the top. How could the meat be laid directly on top?

          Could you explain, please.

          Meantime, do as the other posters have suggested, use your trusty black iron skillet on the cooktop.

          4 Replies
          1. re: Sherri

            Sorry I was unclear, I didn't mean directly on top of the heat. I mean directly on top of the built-in, removable broiler tray.

            (I just edited my OP for clarity)

            1. re: Yaqo Homo

              The point of the broiler tray is to (1) receive drippings, and (2) keep them from burning (and even going aflame!) from direct exposure to the flames. So use the drip grid with the tray. It's one of the most useful pieces of equipment a cook has, usually woefully underutilized.

              Browning in a heavy pan on the stove top is an option, but it's not quite the same and I wonder if the author specified broiling for a good reason that's not obvious here.

              Is your broiler element in the top of the oven chamber, or in its own special, smaller, chamber? Your woes make it sound like the latter. If not, then your solution is simply to lower the pan at least one rack level. Normally, one broils meats with the surface of the meat 4-8 inches beneath the broiler element, depending on the recipe; you might want to start with roughly 6 inches and adjust accordingly.

              1. re: Karl S

                I indeed have a cheap gas range with a tiny, separate broiler at the bottom. In order to dutifully monitor my oxtails, lest they transgress from "beautiful dark brown" into "badly charred" territory, I would have to spend a lot of time kneeling/reclining on my kitchen floor.

                My broiler compartment has but two levels, and the tray already occupies the lower level, which resides approximately 5 inches below the heat source.

                I agree with you that a broiler can purportedly be a valued asset to one's kitchen arsenal (many urban and wintertime grilling aficionados claim to use their broiler for grilling recipes with some success). I would like to add it to my repitoire (so that it someday matches my mastery with said cast iron skillet).

                I'll give it a college try... I'll put my first batch of meat directly on the tray as you suggest and hope for the best.

                If it doesn't work out, I'll brown the rest of the oxtails on the rangetop.

                1. re: Yaqo Homo

                  That does explain the scorching; many recipes that specify broiling assume you have the more common, commodius, set-up.

                  Try placing the meat away from the direct line of flames.

          2. I've had those broilers before, and the only way to deal with them, since they just use the flame that heats the oven, is to turn down the flame instead of turning it up to "Broil". It's still a PITA because it's 'way down there...so yes, I would advise you to go directly to stovetop browning, which I would tend to do anyway just because it's easier to control.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Will Owen

              I have the same type of stove, I never broil in it. Just sear on the stove top. The left over brown bits in the pot also contribute to flavor. If I do use it, I keep the temp down to 350-400 (anything much lower, and there is a small flame) and still get a nice flame to brown stuff, and melt cheese. I certainly could not leave anything in there for over 5 minutes.

            2. Count me in the stovetop camp. Easier to keep an eye on everything, and you're in total control. Forget the broiler.

              1. I have had to use one of those broilers long ago. They are pretty difficult. I felt like I needed to lay on the floor to keep an eye on what was happening. A cast iron skillet on the top of the range is better and easier on hands and knees.

                1. I quit broiling and pan-browning on a tip from Cook's Illustrated to roast short ribs in the oven at 450 for about 45 minutes, bone-side down on a foil-lined broiler pan or rimmed half-sheet pan. It works very well and should be fine for other cuts.