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Leave the oven door ajar when broiling?

This is a pretty embarassing question to be asking, since I consider myself a pretty decent home cook and have been doing it for decades... BUT, is it necessary to prop the oven door open when broiling? I'm pretty sure my mother told me this, but I don't ever see it mentioned on cooking shows (even the ones that actually try to teach you to cook). I think the rationale was that the broiler units would turn off when they reached temp. if you closed the doors.

So, for my entire culinary career (which began by putting my college roomate in the infirmary, but that's another story), I have been propping the door open. Am I just wasting money on my utility bills, or do I have it right?

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  1. That's what my mother told me to do also, so I'm still doing it all these years later. It could be real or another urban myth.
    Good question. Hope that someone has a good answer.

    1. It will be interesting to see what responses you get on this, because I can picture that someone's actually done a study that shows otherwise. But what I understand to be the rationale for leaving the door cracked is to ensure broiling by direct heat from above, as opposed to baking at a very high temperature.

      1 Reply
      1. re: cmkdvs

        Wow, so there is a whole generation of BB's that grew up convinced of this! And, we could be wrong. I think cmkdvs is correct though - the idea is that if the door is closed, the broiler will turn off and you will just be baking at a high temp instead of broiling.

      2. Yup, me too. And the door on my oven has an auto open position about 4-6 inches wide, so there's got to be something to it.

        1 Reply
        1. Yes, absolutely and here's why.

          Broiling keeps the upper element "on" in an electric oven. If you keep the door closed then the temperature keeps rising. There is a fail-safe "off" at a certain temperature that will turn the element off at that temperature. Not good if you are in the middle of broiling. By keeping the door open the internal oven temperature never hits the "off" number and the element stays on for the entire cooking process.

          8 Replies
          1. re: jfood

            Yes, that's exactly my understanding, too. You want the direct heat of the element, not the heat of the surrounding air-- but if the door is closed and the oven keeps heating to the point where the element goes off, you'll be baking, not broiling...

            1. re: another_adam

              Wow, I have never heard this before. Does it apply to gas ovens as well? Mine is the type with a little broiler door underneath the main oven.

              It doesn't make sense to me that this would be an issue, to me the whole point of having a setting for "broil" on the dial would be that it would turn on the broiler and keep it on.

              1. re: andytee

                No, I think it's specifically about electric ovens-- when you turn the gas broiler on, it just goes until you say otherwise. (I think jfood is right that the turning off on electric elements is a safety feature)

                I guess, wastefulness aside, it does have the advantage that you can more easily keep your eye on whatever is in there getting all good and broily (always a challenge with the lower broil drawer, I find)

                1. re: another_adam

                  I have a gas oven with digital temp.. so when I set "broil" I also have to set a temp.. and it turns off at that temp. I have definitely opened a closed oven during broiling and found the heating element off. I tend to cycle between open and closed, keeping it just cool enough to have the flame on.

                2. re: andytee

                  I think it only seems like it keeps it on if you turn the temp to highest as the item being broiled will be done before the oven gets to that temp and shuts off. Run-on sentence but I hope it makes sense. I have a gas oven and do not prop the door. I have never opened the door and seen the flame off, although maybe this is like the refrigerator light?

              2. re: jfood

                jfood, I think you have it spot on. A an elecric broiler will turn off if you shut the door when it reaches a high temp. So, the mom;s knew what they were talking about. Keep the door ajar when broilng with an elecric element. Thanks!

                1. re: jfood

                  Agreed, and I also thought it had to do with moisture. As in Gas broilers, burn off the moisture and electrics do not. And in broiling you want hot high and dry searing, so the open door helps the heated moist air cycle out.

                  1. re: jfood

                    That is sort of what Mom said but her's was well if you want it to broil leave the da*m door open, if you want to bake, close it. LOL

                    I understand what you mean, makes sense to me.

                  2. Depends on your oven. My old one said to leave the door ajar, which I did. Worked fine. My new one says to leave the door closed, which I do. Works fine.

                    5 Replies
                    1. re: pikawicca

                      Same for me. My new one works just fine broiling with the door closed. It's a Bosch double wall oven. :)

                      1. re: Morganna

                        Very curious M.

                        Jfood owns a double GE-Monogram (made by Bosch) so he went to the two websites and looked at their respective manuals. Both say to keep the door CLOSED during broiling, as you point out. Yet when jfood broils he always leaves it open because the one time he closed it, the element went off. Very confusing, go figure.

                        1. re: jfood

                          Many instruction manuals are written and cooking tools are constructed with a safety eye rather than a cooking eye. I'm sure that all oven manufacturers everywhere would like us all to keep the door closed all the time, even if it makes the steak tough.

                          Sort of like how Rival ruined the low-temp setting on the CrockPot.

                          1. re: jfood

                            My GE-Monogram gas oven has a door open stop. Haven't read the manuals because this is the house in Mexico and the manuals are in Spanish. For the Jenn-Air gas oven NOB there is also a door open stop. Haven't read that manual either.
                            Reading through the thread, it makes sense to broil, not bake at a very high temperature.
                            I'm going to keep the door open just like Mom said to.

                            1. re: jfood

                              I have a GE Trivection and it says to leave the door open (at the stop) for standard broiling unless I want the element to cycle on and off, in which case the door must be closed. Good for things like a whole "Frenched" (butterflied) chicken and such.. For speed broil, which is twice as fast as standard, the door MUST be closed, but this method is not recommended for steaks if I want them rare or medium rare. Standard broil with the door open is rocommended for that.

                        2. I also grew up with the door ajar, but with the current oven in my house, the elements turn off when you open the doors. Hence, you must broil with the door closed.

                          That said, how many people really use a broiler? I tend to grill meat (or do a quick sear and then bake), and only occasionally use a broiler - generally to get cheese bubbly on soup.

                          5 Replies
                          1. re: firecooked

                            I love broilers - the will melt cheese, yes, but will also set an omlette, brown a cut of meat, cook a piece of fish and so much more. I use mine more than I use my oven.

                            1. re: firecooked

                              older electric ovens used to have a position that they would stay open a few inches for when you were using the broiler. Mom told me that it kept the oven from getting too hot, and also let the moisture escape so that you were broiling your food not steaming it. My current oven opens to the side, and doesn't have a hold-open "spot". Maybe that's why it died. I used to broil a lot, steaks, chicken, fish, burgers, chops, etc. Dad had gallstones when I was growing up, and fried food of any kind was verbotten for quite a number of years. I think I was in high school before I realized you could cook a steak or a burger on the stovetop. Looking at my pants, I think I need to rediscover the broiler.

                              1. re: firecooked

                                We use our broiler constantly. Particularly when grilling isn't an option due to time, as we have an "old fashioned" charcoal grill and it takes forever to get going.

                                1. re: firecooked

                                  I see you live in Phoenix!

                                  Grilling is a less attractive prospect when it's below zero with a 30-mile-per-hour wind!

                                  1. re: heatherkay

                                    OK, OK, I don't know what below zero temp are (personally the coldest weather I have ever been in is somewhere around 20F, and that has been on business trips). If I lived where you do I think I would have an indoor wood-fired pizza oven!

                                2. I, too, am an experienced cook who didn't realize for years that I should have propped the oven door open when broiling. Maybe ovens are different, but it is definitely the case with my gas oven that the broiler turns itself off if the door is closed. After I saw Alton Brown use an aluminum foil "snake" to prop the door open that's what I've been doing.

                                  1. Here's my input. My old gas oven instruction manual said to close the door. My neww double wall electric one says to leave it ajar. I know I know, where do I get off reading the manual.

                                    1. I always leave the door open just because it "reminds" me that I have something under the broiler so I can keep an eye on it and make sure it doesn't burn. My oven is gas, and I don't think the door needs to be open to work, but it works for me.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: flourgirl

                                        Same here...I never equated it to better broiling vs baking, but if I don't leave it open, I have forgotten the french bread and charred it beyond recognition.

                                      2. My Thermador oven recommends keeping the oven open for broiling. So, I do.

                                        1. Alton Brown recommended it on an episode of Good Eats too. I keep a wadded up hunk of aluminum foil in the drawer to do the job. Only needs to be propped open a couple of inches.

                                          3 Replies
                                          1. re: Shane Greenwood

                                            Well, if AB says to leave it ajar, that is the end of the story... Actually, if the broiler cyles off with the door shut, regardless of what the manufacturer might suggest, the door needs to be left slightly open. When the broiler goes off, you are no longer broiling. Mom was right all along!

                                            1. re: Shane Greenwood

                                              Alton drives me crazy with his single-use gizmos: no need to keep a foil - just use a wooden spoon handle.

                                              1. re: Claudette

                                                The foil wad he showed and used was about an inch to an inch and a half thick so I don't think a wooden spoon would cut it. Plus there's that little problem of wood getting too close to heat, you know.

                                            2. I leave the door open on my older model electric oven when I broil because that's how I learned to do it. My problem is when I'm doing something like steaks the house fills with smoke even though I have the fan running on high. I tried moving the rack down a bit but then the meat doesn't develop that nice broiled crust or over cooks by the time it does. What am I doing wrong?

                                              9 Replies
                                              1. re: morwen

                                                If closing the door causes the broiler to cycle off, then open some windows, maybe put an extra fan in and wave away the smoke. Otherwise no point in broiling the steak (off course cooking it on the grill or even a grill pan indoors is an option).

                                                1. re: bnemes3343

                                                  It's not a question of smoke, it's a question of heat. Many ovens have an automatic shut off when the internal temp of the oven hits a certain point, even on the broil setting. Leaving the door ajar lets just enough heat escape so that the broiling coils stay on during the entire cooking time. Smoke has nothing to do with it.

                                                2. re: morwen

                                                  Fat + high heat = smoke.

                                                  Jfood does not broil steaks any longer because he will turn on the outside BBQ no matter what the weather.

                                                  He is not sure if this will work but it is a thought. If you are broiling on a broler pan that sits on a roasting pan, try some water in the pan beneath. Then when the fat melts and drip it falls in the water and the smoke should not develop. And jfood does not think that the crust on the steak will suffer because of the higher humidity in the broiler from the water beneath. Just a thought.

                                                  1. re: jfood

                                                    Very interesting suggestion. Most cooks are not as weather impervious as you are, so this would be worth trying if even a small amount of h20 would reduce the smoke.

                                                    1. re: bnemes3343

                                                      I do BBQ outside year round (Southern Tier,NY, cold-hardy) but sometimes find the need to do it indoors (like when the propane runs out). I'll try a combination of Jfood and Caroline1 suggestions. Thanks Folks!

                                                      1. re: bnemes3343

                                                        My mother taught me to add some water to to the pan the broiler pan sits in and it's what I've always done. It does indeed eliminate most of the smoke and I still get a good crust.

                                                      2. re: jfood

                                                        I think the steam generated would not be a good thing for the steak. Why not try the Cook's Illustrated approach to roast chicken and line the pan with sliced potatoes to soak up the fat? I think that it you used parboiled potatoes, you might end up with a tasty sidedish.

                                                        1. re: pikawicca

                                                          ooohhh! Will try that. We likes taters precious, yessss we does!

                                                      3. re: morwen

                                                        For smoke reduction -- nothing stops it completely or you're not broiling -- add about a half or three quarters inch of water to the bottom part of the broiling pan when you're cooking fatty meats or things with a lot of oil or wrapped in bacon. I don't particularly like standard broiling pans for thick steaks, so I use a 2" deep roasting pan with the water in it, then use cake racks over it to hold the steaks while broiling. It puts the steaks a little closer to the broiling unit (I like charred outside, rare inside), and the cake racks don't absorb as much heat as the broiling pans do, so there is no heat transfer to the bottom of the steaks.

                                                      4. If you have a range with knobs just over the door they can heat up quite a bit with the door open. They may overheat and become damaged, or burn someone? Maybe the manufacturers have this in mind when they recommend keeping the oven closed.

                                                        1. the GE electric wall oven my landlord installed earlier this year has a "broil stop" position" that keeps the door open. the manual says:

                                                          "food can be broiled with the door closed but it may not brown as well because THE OVEN HEATING ELEMENT WILL CYCLE ON AND OFF."

                                                          so according to the folks at GE, mother still knows best.

                                                          1. Every oven I've had had a setting that would hold the door open about 4" for the purpose of broiling, like those car door settings. A corollary to this process is a tremendous amount of heat convecting out of the oven, rising like an upside-down waterfall. This can be a soothing supplement to a laboring furnace in a northern winter climate. But in a Florida summer, where we pay dearly to stay cool, indoor broiling is not even an option.

                                                            1. I remember reading somewhere that if you close the door while broiling with an electric element, you risk burning it out. Sure enough, I once spent part of an afternoon broiling with the door closed, and just a month later, the oven died before it was even a year old.

                                                              1. I am glad you brought this up. I have been trying to get up the nerve to try the broiler in my Mexican gas range. There is no "broil" setting, but the highest temp shown is 325C which apparently is about 625F. I guess I just go for that one, and close the drawer. I am thinking of creme brulee- and I don't have a torch. Shouldn't matter with the creme brulee, because it would brown before the flame goes out. In an electric oven I always left the door ajar because that was the way Mom did it!

                                                                1. You all made me curious about this topic, so I looked in my manual and it said not to leave the door ajar. It is a fairly new gas range. and I have never seen the flame go out. It tells me when it is preheated, even on broil, then I put in the food, and the flame keeps going.

                                                                  1. I just ran across a recipe that states to open door oven door to the broil position for 10-15 minutes and then close .....so I guess our mothers knew what they were talking about. Recipe came from the 'SMOKER BAG' by Kenmore/CameronCookware

                                                                    1. If I broil on in an electric oven with the door closed, it will roast the food when the oven heats up (a la Weber kettle). There is no way for the heat to escape.
                                                                      In my current gas oven, the food is in the bottom where the oven is open, allowing cooler air to enter, avoiding the "roasting" effect.
                                                                      I say door open for food that will take more than a few minutes to broil.
                                                                      Just my $.02

                                                                        1. I must have a strange oven, mine has a door switch that doesn't allow the oven to be on if the door is ajar. I have to use a wine cork and line it up with the switch to fool the oven into thinking the door is closed for it to operate. I know this is true in convection mode but maybe it works in regular mode on broil without the switch being depressed; I'll have to go check that. I grill in any weather so I haven't needed to test the steak broiling theory. I use my oven to dehydrate food, so the door must be open to let the moisture out. Didn’t even know my oven was a dehydrator until 3 years after I bought it. I knew the book that came with it would come in handy one day.

                                                                          1. Okay, so I am presently doing a research project on different methods of heat transfer in cooking. Leaving the door ajar when broiling something in an oven is a question more of how you want your food to be cooked.
                                                                            Leaving the door ajar allows for the heated air within the oven to escape, which means that you end up cooking by radiation of heat from the heating element only. Normally, as with the door closed, the majority of cooking within an oven is done by convection currents, which is the motion of air within an oven due to temperature discontinuities. The air nearest the heating element is hotter than the other air in the oven, and so it moves, as air does, when it's at different temperatures.
                                                                            Basically, door closed = convection. Door open = radiation (not the nuclear kind). Now, unfortunately, my research project does not involve the relative effects on the food of each of these two kinds of cooking, but I can guess that broiling with the door open would lead to a slower but more uniform cook, while broiling with the door closed yields a faster cook. I would venture to guess that door-open broiling is better for long cooks (Thanksgiving turkeys, Christmas hams, the like), as they would probably be more likely to retain the juices and flavors of the food being cooked. However, I would consult someone more knowledgeable on the subject to be sure... that is, if this is a pressing, major issue.
                                                                            However, I notice just now that this was posted over a year ago, and this response will probably go unnoticed. Well, I tried.

                                                                            2 Replies
                                                                            1. re: cooking_engineer

                                                                              I had posted above that my gas range's manual said specifically not to leave the door ajar. It's is a fairly new one, maybe a couple years old now, and at the top of the range it has a vent that lets heat escape. I think that probably equals the effect of leaving the door ajar. What do you think, engineer?

                                                                              1. re: cooking_engineer

                                                                                Thanksgiving turkeys, Xmas hams, other large cuts of meat are generally not candidates for broiling. The result would be an incinerated exterior and a raw interior in a very short time. The usual method is to roast or bake these meats in a low to moderate oven with the door closed and a long (ish) cooking time.

                                                                                Broiling is used for thinner or delicate cuts of seafood that don't require much time (think fish fillets,scallops or shrimp) or where a caramelized exterior with a rare or medium interior is the goal (burgers, steaks, chops), or to brown the tops of certain dishes to finish them. These benefit from a dry, intense heat in close proximity. You don't account for the build up of moisture that can occur when broiling with the door closed, not desirable if you want to cook with a dry heat. Danhole's oven is vented to allow heat and, most likely, moisture to escape when broiling with the door closed. Convection also occurs with the door open while broiling, you can feel it by simply placing your hand over the vented door, and probably at a faster rate than with the door closed. I would tend to believe that broiling with the door vented is actually faster than broiling with the door closed. What makes convection ovens cook faster/hotter is that the air in the closed oven moves faster with the aid of fans than it does in a conventional oven.