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Gas Oven Broilers - Do Any Really Work?

  • m

I had a basic oven that came with the house I moved into 33 years ago. It was a Caloric 24" gas wall (built-in) oven and it had a perfectly functional broiler. Not as good as firing up the Weber, but much more appealing on days when the weather is crummy or cold. Anyhow, after nursing it along for the past five years or so, it finally was in need of a part that hasn't been made since 2005 so I had to replace it.

I had no interest in renovating the kitchen, so I was looking for a drop-in replacement or as close to that as I could find. I don't need timers or self cleaning, just a box that gets hot for baking or roasting, and a broiler that cooks meat quickly and browns it nicely. I thought this would be easy to find, but it turns out that gas ovens are rare and 24" ones are even rarer.

I was pleased to find that good ol' Sears had a Kenmore model on sale for small change over $400 that seemed almost exactly, featiure-wise, like what I had, so I ordered one, had it installed, and started using it. The model number for this oven, should you want to avoid buying one, is 790.3052.

The oven works fine, but when I tried to broil a chicken breast, it was a total failure. It seemed like it was taking an unreasonably long time to cook - it was getting firm, but not getting brown, and I observed that after the first ten minutes, the burner was cycling off and on, about 1 minute off and 1 minute on. This isn't like any broiler I've ever used, where in the broiling mode, the burner stays on until you turn it off. I ate my cooked but unpleasant chicken breast and the next morning, went back to Sears to ask what was going on. Was this normal? Was my new oven defective?

About five sales people, including the manager of the appliance department, all weighed in (none of them actually had ever used this model, or even seen it, since they only have 30" sizes on display) but concluded that it shouldn't be cycling like that, and scheduled a service techician to come out the next day to check it out and repair it.

In the mean time, I called the Sears customer service line and asked about this broiler cycling issue. The nice lady I spoke to there studied the manual (as had I) and consulted some other reference, and said that, no, it shouldn't be doing that, and suggested that I keep the service appointment.

So the service tech gets here, I demonstrate the problem to him, and he's a bit baffled (he, too, had never seen that model) so he called back to his shop to find out what they knew. His boss hadn't heard of that either, so he called the manufacturer (Frigidaire, the current maker of most Kenmore appliances) and the person there told him (I was listening on the speaker phone) that "this oven works differently than other ovens, and that the broiler will cycle like that." To keep it on steadily, I could open the main oven door to vent the heat so the thermostat wouldn't turn it off. He said it was a safety feature to keep the cabinet from getting too hot and starting the kitchen on fire.

So I tried broiling a burger with the oven door open, and indeed the burner remained on, but it took more than 50% longer to broil than in my old oven. Further, it hardly got browned. Taking apart the oven to see if I could figure out why, I saw that the burner was simply a straight tube with the flame coming out of holes on either side. A fairly hefty sheet steel baffle above it sort of reflected heat downward toward the broiler drawer, but it wasn't really radiant heat. My old oven had a large burner assembly with a sort of mesh covering which, after about a minute, became red hot and added radiant energy to just the high temperature. The way the new oven was working was sort of like cooking over a gas grill without the lava rocks.

So I go back to Sears telling them that although the oven wasn't broken, it just wasn't designed for good broiling. Some Web searching turned up a few similar comments, but not many, nor many praises either. It seems that people don't use oven broilers very much these days. One thing I like about Sears is that they're good about customer satisfaction and they were willing to swap it out for a different oven if I told them what I wanted (I'd pay the difference in cost, of course, which was fair enough). The problem is that I can't find anything either among the brands they sell or, so far, among what anyone else sells. It seems that there just isn't much choice.

The Sears salesman could only come up with a GE model JGRS06BEJBB, but like the one I had bought, he had never seen this GE model and only suggested it on the basis that he thought GE made better ovens than Kenmore.

I went to the GE web site, looked at the specs for this oven, and downloaded the manual. Other than the fact that it has a timer and the control panel layout is slightly different (same controls, just different positions) it appears to be identical to the Kenmore. I called GE customer service to ask if the burner in their oven cycled when broiling. The nice lady said she couldn't find anything about that (she was reading the same manual I had), but checked somewhere else and told me that she found a statement in another document that it did not cycle, but remained on continuously when broiling. That sounded encouraging, but in the spirit of "trust, but verify" I e-mailed GE Tech Support and asked the question. The reply came back that indeed the burner would cycle when broiling unless the oven door was opened, which they don't recommend (their manual specifically says to keep both the oven and broiler doors closed when broiling). In addition he described the burner assembly with the same baffle arrangement as the Kenmore oven has.

So there's no benefit to swap out the Kenmore for this GE oven. I'm going to do some more looking, but I'm wondering if anyone who has had the patience to read this far has a gas oven like what I'm looking for that does a good job of broiling. It's really not practical to switch to an electric oven because of the cost and cabinetry, unless I was doing a full remodel.

My analysis, based on my life as an engineer, is that controlling the burner with the thermostat even when broiling, was a feature that they had to add in order to get UL approval. It may now simply be a design requirement, or it may be a cheaper alternative to putting enough insulation around the box so that it won't get too hot with sustained burner operation. As far as the lack of a radiant heat source, I guess that's just a way to make the oven cheaper that they figure they can get away with since nobody broils in an oven any more anyway.

I suppose I'll have to stick with what I have and change how I do some of my cooking (maybe get a George Forman grill????), but if anyone has one that works and is new enough to be still available I'd like to check it out.

And if anyone, when buying an oven, has ever been asked by a salesman "Do you intend to use the broiler?" (because these don't work), I'm interested in that. I was amazed that all of the sales and support people who should be in the know about this weren't.

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  1. I dunno.... I'm afraid to use my gas-oven broiler. It's so close to the floor! Why can't it be up top, where the broiler belongs!

    It's been 3 years.... so many things I haven't cooked.

    Thinking about buying a hand-held torch thingy...

    1. Can't help you with most of your problem (sorry!) but do want to say that I broil in my Breville Smart Oven and it's great. Much better than a GF grill. I can fit a quarter sheet pan in it.

      8 Replies
      1. re: Leepa

        +1 I routinely burn garlic bread in mine. Of course, I've been able to do that with every broiler in every oven I've ever owned, so it's not like a Breville special feature or anything. :0

        1. re: DuffyH

          I used the bottom gas broiler in a gas range for the first time on Monday night. I managed to burn two batches of garlic toast in the bottom broiler.

          We got a new cordless gas range (converted to propane) for our northern Minnesota cabin. I have never had a gas stove in any home I've ever lived in, always electric. I've used gas stoves in other people's homes, but I forgot how fast a pan will heat up on a gas stove compared to the ceramic flat top stove we have at home (which is the slowest to heat up.)

          In contrast, my brother and his wife have always had a gas stove. I think my SIL never uses her bottom broiler.

          I think we should get a Breville Smart Oven....

          FYI to anyone reading this, most ovens cycle, I don't know much about broilers however. Gas ovens and electric ovens cycle. The gas oven cycling thing is why we had to buy a cordless range. We don't have electricity at our cabin (we do have a couple generators, one for the barn and one for the cabin). We could light the stove and oven with a match but once the oven gets to the set temperature, it shuts off. Since we don't have electricity, the electronic ignition would not work. What we have is a battery operated propane range.

          1. re: John E.

            I love my Breville and use it for a great many things, from potatoes to pizza. Getting my range's oven and stone up to 550º for pizza takes a lot of energy and really heats up my kitchen. By contrast, I can comfortable cook pizza in the Breville even in summer. It's made to accommodate a 13" round stone.

            I love it for finishing things off under the broiler.

            I can burn garlic bread in it just as easily as in the big oven, though. Don't say you weren't warned.

            1. re: DuffyH

              I would like to get the big Breville just for use during the warm months, not to say we wouldn't use it year round however.

              1. re: John E.

                I love mine. Like others here, I cannot recommend it enough.

                1. re: Leepa

                  I'd have to give up my gelato machine though, not enough counter space. : (

        2. re: Leepa

          How do you clean the Breville inner 'roof' with all the grease and the splatters when you broil uncovered? I can't figure that out given the heating coils, nooks and crannies, and restricted space in the oven.

          1. re: Leepa

            They're definitely pricey, but my gas oven has an infrared broiler and that works really well.

          2. I not sure is this is what you are asking and it is a completely different quality/price level, but my 30" Wolf's broiler is a Beast. Infrared and Gas combo hot as Hades.

            1 Reply
            1. re: chefj

              Don't I wish. Maybe when I build my dream house . . .

            2. My gas broiler works well.
              I use it all winter. It has hi and lo settings; I use high for red meat and poultry and lo for fish or finishing.

              1 Reply
              1. re: magiesmom

                Can you provide a few more details? What brand and model oven? Is it gas? Will it fit in the 24" space I have available?

                Does the burner cycle on and off? What's the difference between high and low? Does the surface of the meat brown sufficiently?

                Have you had experience with other, perhaps older, gas ovens with a broiler? Does it seem to take much longer to broil something in your (I assume newer) oven than in an older one?

                1. re: Leepa

                  Do you have one yourself?

                  That looks like the real deal. I like the separate infra-red broiler. It's something I might consider if I was remodeling the kitchen and planned to live in the house for another 20 years, but given that I looked on three different web sites and couldn't find even a base price, I probably shouldn't ask.

                  1. re: MikeR

                    No, I don't have one. I did notice there wasn't a price. I can't imagine it would be cheap.

                    1. re: MikeR

                      I found that oven on another site. The manufacturer won't let them list a price below the manufacturer's suggested retail price.

                      Here is the link and the phone number to get the price. I'm sure it is not cheap, but it looks like a great oven, if a little on the small side (but will fit in your kitchen without renovations).

                      http://www.goedekers.com/product/Blue...

                      "Due to manufacturer's restrictions we cannot list a price below the suggested retail price. Please call 1-888-768-1710 during business hours for our low price and place your order."

                  2. I recently moved and switched from electric to gas. My oven and stovetop both work way better than before. My broiler sucks though! It cycles. I thought that was crazy too.

                    I just bought my husband a cast iron grill pan/griddle. We love it. It works as a good indoor broiler sub.

                    6 Replies
                    1. re: Becca Porter

                      You can't imagine how much better it makes me feel that someone else also thinks this cycling broiler thing is crazy. ;)

                      What can you cook in the grill pan? I broiled a lot of chicken breasts and turkey cutlets in my old oven. Would they work in such a pan? I do fish filets in a flat cast iron skillet but chicken breasts, particularly bone-in, don't lay flat in the skillet so some parts don't get enough heat.

                      1. re: MikeR

                        Last night we grilled Matt Damon's beef skewers on it, without skewers. Just thin strips of meats.

                        Anything thin. Hamburgers, thin chicken or pork... Some things are cooked on the side with the grill lines and some on the flat side.

                        You can also use it for grilling vegetables or bread. I use my actual gas burner to roast peppers though.

                        1. re: Becca Porter

                          Good to know. Thin can be a limitation, though. My burgers are pretty thick, though I guess a boneless chicken breast could work.

                          Those pans are reported to be good for steaks but, again, on those rare occasions when I pick up a steak, it's usually about 1-1/2 inches thick so it can be rare in the middle and still browned on the outside.

                          1. re: MikeR

                            You could likely get a good sear on both sides then slide the grill pan into a hot oven to finish it off, just like using any other skillet to cook a steak or thick piece of meat.

                            1. re: MikeR

                              My very favorite burgers are thin and cooked on a griddle. I find thick burgers pretty dry even when cooked properly. You don't get all that crispy exterior really.

                              Yes, with steaks I usually sear and finish in the oven or do the reverse.

                              1. re: MikeR

                                About grill pans. This might be a "who cares?" question, but what's better - one with pointy round topped ridges or flat topped ridges? Seems like the flat topped ones might transfer more heat directly to the meat. Or maybe it just makes fatter grill marks.

                        2. My 24" gas wall oven is a Maytag. The broiler flame does occasionally go off after some time on, but it's not one minute on/one off. More like turning off briefly after fifteen minutes, back on after a minute or two.

                          I often use the broiler to char peppers before peeling, five minutes to a side, sometimes three "sides", and the flame doesn't go off. I also regularly do London broil (marinated top round) for five or six minutes and the flame definitely lasts all the way through that.

                          The oven was bought in 2006, so the model may or may not still be around; it was I think the only 24" gas model they made. I got it at a Sears.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: ellabee

                            Sounds like yours works about the same as mine, just a slightly different cycle. With the oven door closed, mine predictably turns off after 10 minutes, comes back on at 11 minutes, off at 12 minutes, and so on.

                            1. re: MikeR

                              I guess so; the difference is that I just don't use the broiler for anything that goes longer than 15 minutes, and most things not even close to that. That's big poblanos on all 3 sides.

                          2. I have a 16 year old JennAir gas oven and the broiler works just fine. Two settings, Hi and Lo, and it does not cycle. It is easy, however, to burn things so I need to keep a very close eye on garlic bread, etc. If you're goingto be cooking mainly stuff like chicken breasts, you should get a Forman. I have a small one from a thrift store for a couple of bucks and it is perfect for chicken, burgers, sliced zucchini and onions.

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: tcamp

                              I was thinking about a Forman. I swung by the Good Will store this morning and saw a shelf full of them, different sizes, from about $10 to $20. I'll have to read up on them and see what the differences are other than size.

                              I also almost bought an Emeril's round cast iron grill pan there ($10) but I was walking and had a bag full of groceries with me. It was just a bit too much to carry

                              I do recall trying the technique of searing a steak in a pan on the stove, then essentially roasting it in the oven. I think that worked out OK, but it wasn't nearly as quick as a fast broil in the broiler-that-worked or on the charcoal grill. But I'm not in a hurry, maybe I should give it a try again.

                              And, yes, a 16 year old oven probably works fine. My 35 year old oven did, too, but it became unsafe and needed a part that had been out of production for long enough so that none of the on-line sources could find a replacement, and I couldn't find a repairman who was willing to rebuild it with modern parts. That's what I would have done if I had the ways, means, and enthusiasm that I did 20 years ago.

                              1. re: MikeR

                                The "personal" sized Forman (cooking area about 7" square) is pretty basic. No on/off switch and no grease catcher. But it is easy to store and I just put a plate under the front to catch any drips. Perfect for 1 or 2.

                                1. re: tcamp

                                  I wondered what happened to the drips. On the web site, they show a drip tray in the front, but none of those at Goodwill had one. I figured that it probably didn't come in with that part since it's detachable (or maybe completely separate).

                            2. This may be helpful. I've posted it before, and would like to hear of issues.

                              http://www.nytimes.com/2007/01/31/din...

                              5 Replies
                              1. re: sr44

                                From the article: "Start by heating your oven to its maximum temperature, typically 550 degrees; then turn on the broiler."

                                Well, hell. So much for saving time, energy and $$. My electric oven takes about 25 minutes to reach 550º.

                                1. re: sr44

                                  From the article:
                                  "Most modern broilers are now unfortunately equipped with thermostats, so they cycle on and off, never really getting hot enough. Start by heating your oven to its maximum temperature, typically 550 degrees; then turn on the broiler. "

                                  That article is from 2007, so for at least six years, this "feature" has been known. Funny that the only people who have anything to say about it are those like me, either having purchased a new oven or moving into a home with a newer oven, and discovering that they're faced with a broiler that they can't use in the same way as they'd become accustomed. I suppose this has become the norm today so now "everybody knows that."

                                  The article is more introduction than instruction, but as I interpret it, all it's saying is to use a skillet rather than the broiling pan, and preheat the skillet while the oven is warming up, then "broil" as normally as you can. The author seems to acknowledge that the broiler flame in this sort of oven won't brown food as he recommends serving the food "bottom side up" - the side that's getting crusty from direct contact with the hot surface of the skillet.

                                  "All the news that fits we print."

                                  1. re: MikeR

                                    Just curious... what kind of dishes require the broiler to be on for more than about ten minutes or so anyway? Usually, when I use the broiler it's to finish off browning something that I've cooked in a hot oven anyway. Like a frittata or something similar. I don't think I've ever cooked something entirely under the broiler in an otherwise cold oven. Of course, I'm just your average home cook not a CH cook extraordinaire. :)

                                    1. re: Leepa

                                      Well, I'm glad somebody asked.

                                      I (used to) broil anything in the oven broiler that I'd broil over charcoal outside, mostly burgers or chicken parts. I'd do marinated meats even on skewers (kabobs). I prefer the broiler to a pan on the stove because food that contains fat doesn't fry in its own grease since in the broiler, there's a place for the grease to drain. I have an ancient broiling pan that I put on top of the tray in the broiler drawer so I just take that out and wash it - no hassles with cleaning oven parts. I've been doing this for over 50 years. My mom taught me.

                                      What I rarely do is what I see many people here using their broilers for - browning cheese dishes or casseroles, charring peppers, making cheese toast, almost anything but cooking meat.

                                      One thing that might explain the differences in what we do with a broiler is that when I broil something, it's almost always a single portion, for myself. It's quick, easy to clean up, doesn't make the kitchen smell like oil for the next couple of days (I don't have a huge fume hood over the stove), and the food is at least a little healthier because some of the fat (but not so much that it gets dry and tough when you do it right) drains off.

                                2. And in conclusion -

                                  I got a Lodge cast iron grill pan. It works quite well on top of the stove. Now all I need is about a 16,000 cubic foot per minute exhaust fan to get the smoke and greasy smell out quickly. ;)

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: MikeR

                                    <Now all I need is about a 16,000 cubic foot per minute exhaust fan to get the smoke and greasy smell out quickly. >

                                    I feel your pain. I'm trying to think of a decent place, hell, at this point, almost ANY place, to move my microwave to, so I can have a real exhaust fan over my range. You know, the kind that move air?

                                  2. MikeR
                                    This may be a moot point, but when did folks start broiling with the door closed? I was taught how to broil in a gas broiler in the late 1950's by my mother, who was a Home Economics Teacher. "Never try to broil with the door closed. It is not designed to work that way. Door closed: Bake, Door Open: Broil." she would say. Baking comes from ambient heat, broiling comes from direct heat. When broiling, it should not matter if the door is open and in fact should work better for the air circulation.

                                    Modern ovens no longer have pilots. UL will always put safety on home gadgets for people who don't follow directions, i.e. walk away during broiling. Broiling is watched closely, thus another reason for the door to be open. Since we now have electronic controls, there must be a "catch point" for safety for anyone who walks away with the door closed, i.e. Greater than 550 degrees F and the oven shuts off so it does not burn the house down and the Mfg. get sued for the the actions of the customer.

                                    Broilers do NOT go as hot as they did in the past for these reasons. A commercial broiler (Salamander) is around 1500 degrees (now you know why the name of the steak house on Collins Avenue Miami is named just so). If you want to get a broiler that performs, you at least have to get up to 800 degrees, but the higher the better. Inexpensive ovens are not set up for this level of heat.

                                    Salesmen do not cook. (Just as produce buyers do not cook and buy ridiculous produce which looks great but tastes horrid!) Salesmen and customer service representatives read the manuals just as we do.

                                    So, this is my advice, if you want a broiler that works, check out the max temperature in the manual of the appliance before you purchase it. If you can't find one that get hot enough to do what you seek, go cheap on the stove and then go get a Twin Eagles Salaman grill for your tabletop. Then you can broil like a pro:

                                    http://bbq.about.com/od/gasgrillrevie...

                                    Sterling

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: Sterlingskitchen

                                      My Dacor has an infra red broiler and is at the max BTU level for a residential broiler but unlike a traditional broiler the heat is concentrated in a relatively small area and very intense.

                                      Biggest thing is having a hood capable of drawing out the smoke.

                                      1. re: Sterlingskitchen

                                        The cordless gas range I wrote about upthread has a broiler 'drawer'. I too was taught to leave the oven door partly open when broiling using an electric oven, but I sometimes close the door anyway. We mostly only use the broiler for toasting buns. It's been a long time since we used it for any kind of meat.

                                        I am thinking about getting a pizza steel, heating the oven and steel to 550°, putting the pizza on the steel on an upper rack and then turning on rhe broiler.

                                      2. I'm in Asia, so have access to different makes and models than you.

                                        In Sri Lanka, silly me didn't check for a broiler on one gas oven we bought - it didn't have it. I assumed it did since every cooker I've ever used had one. But nope. No broiler. But then, this is also a country where most people do not have ovens, just stovetops, if that. Well, in fairness, ovens aren't common in Singapore or Malaysia, either...

                                        Me? I use the broiler function often enough that if it isn't there, I have a bit of a hissy fit. One that doesn't work properly would irritate me to no end. You have my sympathy.

                                        1. Dang! I have a late 1960's double gas over/range that broils like a DREAM. Didn't realize that the newer ones cycle off.

                                          Okay, here's the plan.
                                          A) Baby my oven as long as I can.
                                          B) Get it rebuilt it I have to.
                                          C) If the worst happens, get a refurbished oven/range at the place I got my 35 year old maytag washer and dryer that work like champs.
                                          D) Pray.

                                          2 Replies
                                          1. re: happybaker

                                            Wow! I didn't reaize this thread was still alive. It's been about a year since I got my new oven with the "false" broiler and I've simply given up using it for broiling chores. A stovetop grill pan works pretty well for what i do, and as long as the snow doesn't get too deep, I can still cook over charcoal on the Weber grill outside. As an oven for baking or roasting, it works just fine so it's not a total loss, and at least when I sell the house, it'll have an oven.

                                            That tabletop sized salamander looks interesting, but it's not for this house, or for this budget.

                                            Happybaker, keep your old oven until the wheels fall off. That's what I tried to do, but when it finally needed a part (the gas safety valve) that simply was no longer available, I inquired a couple of places about rebuilding the valve, or replacing the whole ignition system with components for a modern oven, but alas, nobody would do either, citing liability issues.

                                            At least I'm glad I only spent a few hundred bucks for the new oven and didn't get one of those $3,000 ones and find that the broiler was only marginal.

                                            1. re: MikeR

                                              I have a Dacor with a gas infrared broiler. Nice concentrated heat but the spatter makes a mess in the oven & the smoke can be an issue even with the commercial hood. Light broiling yes, heavy stuff like steaks and chops, no. Good outdoor grill or in my case BGE is the way to go.

                                            1. re: EatFoodGetMoney

                                              I'm waiting for mine. Got the Bernzomatic...

                                              1. re: DuffyH

                                                It's gotta be coming soon. On Daves podcast yesterday the hammer (N. Lopez) said that the Serzalls are all in NY. I think they're working out some legal or customs bs or we'd have them by now. Bought the TS8000 specifically for the Searzall, though I've found it's great at starting fires, decent at searing meat, and good for a host of other fun activities.

                                            2. I have a GE gas stove. I haven't tried broiler yet, but will let you know how it works once I use it.

                                              1. I had a Viking gas range with an infrared gas broiler for nearly twenty years and it never cycled on and off. It works like ones gas outdoor grill but the heat comes from the top of the oven. However, the newer models do cycle on and off so they have become anemic. Cracking the door may help prevent the cycling according to the current Viking manual but it is mentioned obliquely:"Close the door. There is not a detent to hold the door in the open broil stop position. With open door broiling the broil element does not cycle on and off. With closed door broiling the broil element might cycle on and off if an extended broiling time is required. A built-in smoke eliminator" in the top of the oven helps reduce smoke and odors".