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How Broilers Work

Broilers provide an alternative method for cooking flavorful, nourishing, and healthful foods. Broilers are used to cook a wide variety of foods by a process that usually takes 3 to 6 minutes. Products commonly prepared with broilers include steak, poultry, seafood, hamburgers, pizza, and ethnic dishes. Some types of broilers are used to “finish off” items like toasted breads, cheese sauces, and hot sandwiches. Depending on the broiler type, these food items may be cooked in metal pans, glass casseroles, or directly on the surface of broiler grates or conveyor belts. In the 1950s, only about 10% of the nation’s food service establishments featured a broiler. Today, one third are equipped with broilers.


In general, electric broilers offer these advantages :

  • Electric units are generally more efficient, adding less heat to the kitchen which ultimately must be removed by the cooling system.
  • Electric units require less maintenance and less ventilation.
  • Energy and Money Saving Tips

The efficiency of a broiler depends on the type of broiler used, the method of temperature control, and the type of energy used. Electric broilers are generally more efficient than comparable gas units, requiring less energy to preheat, less energy to maintain idling temperatures, and less energy input during full-load cooking conditions.

Broilers are among the largest heat producers in today’s commercial kitchens. Gas broilers radiate more heat than electric models due to their relative inefficiency. This adds to ventilation requirements as well as kitchen cooling costs.

Broiler energy consumption can be improved by following a few simple rules:

  • Follow the manufacturer’s recommended preheat instructions. Preheating a broiler at an excessively high temperature wastes energy and can alter the quality and taste of the product. Preheating for an excessive period of time also wastes energy.
  • Do not increase temperature during “rush hours” to increase production. Energy consumption will increase and the excessive temperature could destroy the quality of the product.
  • Load the broiler to maximum capacity for greatest efficiency. Also, keep grates free of carbonized grease that hinders heat transfer, lowers cooking efficiency, and mars food quality.
  • Operating all broiler sections may be sensible during peak cooking times, but turn off all unneeded sections when less cooking capacity is needed.
  • The entire broiler may not need to be at full power even during peak periods. For example, turn one section to full heat for rare meats, and another section to a lower setting for well-done meats. This saves energy and money while also improving cooking consistency.
  • Use infrared broilers whenever possible. Infrared broilers may be turned off when not in use and then quickly reheated when needed.
  • If the broiler is gas-fired, keep burner parts clean and flames properly adjusted. A poorly adjusted flame wastes gas and may also deposit soot and carbon on food products.
  • Preventive maintenance should be completed according to a routine schedule.

Operational Tips & Issues

Cooking Process

To cook food, broilers use radiant energy, which is the type of energy used by the sun to heat the earth. Commercial broilers use electric or gas heat sources located either above or below the broiler cooking surface. These heat sources may cook food directly, or they may cook food indirectly using a radiant heating element. Some common materials used as radiants include pumice, ceramic, and metal bars.

The delicious, smoky flavor characteristic of broiled foods is a result of juices dripping down onto the radiant or open flame of the broiler and igniting or evaporating.

Different control methods are used with different broiler types to regulate cooking times and temperatures. Conveyor broilers have belt speed and temperature controls, while “over fired” broilers and “charbroilers” use high-medium-low temperature settings or adjustable grids.


Cooking with a broiler is a somewhat imprecise process compared to other types of cooking. Food quality and consistency depend on the distance between the food product and the radiant heat elements. Cooking is faster when the grids containing food are placed closer to the heat elements.

Periodic cleaning is essential to food quality. Charred meat stuck to the grids or grills can burn, transferring a bitter taste to the next food product placed in the broiler. Also, radiant heat elements may become coated with charred food and burnt grease. This insulates the elements, reducing the radiant heat transfer to the food. As a result, the chef must either increase the temperature or leave food in the broiler longer. Either method will change the consistency of food preparation.