I was alerted to an interesting divergence in culinary terminology by the discussion in this Pepys Diary thread; as Todd Bernhardt says:

In my American experience, to broil means to heat something from above as it sits on a slotted pan, so the juices can drip away. Grilling, in my experience, heats from below, and the juices drip down (usually onto the heat source).

But in the UK and Australia, heating from above is called “grilling” and broil means (according to GrahamT, who appears to be British) “to cook meat in a closed container over heat, similar to the American pot-roast.” So think twice about how you order your meat when you cross the Atlantic.


  1. Good thing to know, since I’ll be in the UK this month 🙂

  2. Menus hardly ever show “broiled” anything in the UK. You’ll find meat is described as grilled, fried, boiled etc etc. So just enjoy the culture and the food. Do you like gravy?

  3. I’ve never heard grill used to mean cook in a covered container. That makes no sense to me.
    The meanings of broil and grill in the US have changed over the past few years. For example, it’s not long ago that Burger King advertised “flame-broiled” hamburgers and they cooked these on what we now call a grill–a grate on which food is cooked directly. We also now call the standard backyard cooking appliance a grill, though some still call it a barbecue. The reason to call it a grill and not a barbecue is that barbecue strictly speaking refers to cooking with low temperatures using indirect heat from smoke, not directly with high temperatures over charcoal or gas. It most certainly does not mean any food slathered in barbecue sauce.
    My sense is that the word broil has gone out of fashion because it’s associated with bad home cooking using the oven. I know many intelligent people who don’t even know that their ovens have broilers and have no idea what a broiler even is. Well, it’s basically an upside-down grill. If your backyard grill is gas, your broiler and your grill are almost the same appliance. But the word grill has taken on quite different connotations from broil: grilled food is seen as healthy, classy, trendy, and is always marked with the black stripes that say, “this food has been grilled” even if they don’t make it taste good.

  4. “Well, it’s basically an upside-down grill. ‘
    The electrical version of a salamander, which is the same thing burning gas. I suppose it resembles the underside of a charring log, the kind that slamanders crawl out of.

  5. “To cook meat in a closed container over heat, similar to the American pot-roast.” This is a good description of what I would call braising, at least here in the U.S. Could this be a confusion of the terms braising and broiling?

  6. I’m not sure the electric/gas distinction holds. Gas ovens have broilers.

  7. Yes, the kind with the element (or gas flame, though I’ve never used one of those) above is what we call a grill here in the UK. The kind with heat below would normally be a barbecue, or if small a hibachi. You could still grill things on it, though. These would be charcoal or gas-powered – and I don’t know exactly how a gas barbecue works, wouldn’t the fat drip onto the burners and cause problems? But they exist, obviously.
    I don’t have any very clear idea of what the verb “broil” means. It’s just not in common use here. A “broiler” is a chicken… let’s see what the New Oxford Dictionary of English says:

    broil1 >verb [with obj.] chiefly N. Amer. cook (meat or fish) by exposure to direct heat.
    *[no obj.] become very hot, especially from the sun: the countryside lay broiling in the sun.

    broiler >noun 1 (also broiler chicken) a young chicken suitable for roasting, grilling or barbecuing.
    2 N. Amer. a gridiron, grill, or special part of a stove for cooking meat or fish by exposure to direct heat.

  8. I don’t care for the gravymen of your query.

  9. Don’t know who that eliza was – it sure ain’t me!

  10. Speaking of gravy, who uses “gravy” to mean something other than thickened meat juices? Is using it for other sauces, like tomato-based sauces, just an Italian-American thing?

  11. I cannot recall any use of the verb broil or its derivatives in Australia, except from American sources or in commentary on American sources. I have lived there all my life and count myself an astute observer of the language.

  12. Ah, but Italian-American gravy does typically refer to a meat sauce. Would Italian-Americans call a vegetarian tomato sauce a “gravy”?

  13. This difference is one of many that confused me when I first came to live (and cook) in England. However, I have never ever heard ‘broil’ used in the sense GrahamT gives. I can’t remember ever seeing the term ‘broil’ in a British cookery book.

  14. You may be right, mzn, but “gravy” is still being applied to things that most English speakers wouldn’t apply it to. It looks like Italian-American “gravy” (as a translation of “sugo”) might even apply to a thick vegetarian sauce for some people.

  15. Eimear Ní Mhéalóid says

    Supposedly, the word “grill” came into culinary English from French in the late eighteenth century. I think the explanation I saw of this linked it to the arrival of French aristos or their chefs post-Terror. Anyway, according to this story, all things French were the rage in foodie circles and the sturdy proletarian word “broil” dropped out of use in England. Not so in the USA, however. The word “grill” did come into currency in the US later on, but was specifically used to mean where the food was suspended above the heat on a grille.
    For the life of me I can’t remember where I read this or find any references in google. So it could be all my eye and Betty Martin.

  16. Well, the OED has “grill” references from the 17th C. It would seem to have been used much in the same way as broil and also gridiron. I can’t speak for the post-Terror foodies, though.
    Griddle would seem to have a connection to both grill and gridiron from the medieval period. Interesting isn’t it that we now think of a grill as a “grille” (a restaurant near me is called Solly’s Grille, which I have always thought was incorrect) and a griddle as a flat surface. Well, I think it’s interesting.

  17. I have always instinctively thought broil was a portmanteau word of (something) and (boil) without ever being quite sure what the something was. Speaking of portmanteaus, how about “broast”?

  18. When I was in Italy recently, waiters/waitresses explaining menu items to me referred to tomato sauce as “gravy” on two occasions.

  19. In five years of living and cooking in England, I have never ever found ‘broil’ used in the sense GrahamT gives.
    My husband (who is British) thinks he may have encountered the word before he met me (an American), but he didn’t know what it meant till I explained.

  20. Gosh, I could’ve sworn my comment yesterday didn’t get through. Sorry for the repetition!

  21. “‘Twas brillig and the slithy toves…”
    According to Humpty Dumpty in “Through the Looking Glass”:
    “…’Brillig’ means four o’clock in the afternoon – the time when you begin broiling things for dinner…”
    If Lewis Carrol was in the habit of beginning to broil his dinner at 4pm, I’d suggest he’d be likely to be braising it – but then again this is culinary advice from a large talking egg…

  22. Thank you! I was reading a Nigel Slater recipe, and I wasn’t sure what he meant by “overhead grill.”

  23. Glad to have been of assistance!

  24. I suspect, judging by the appearance (and size) of the mutton-joint in an earlier chapter, that by broil Carroll meant ‘cook on a spit over an open fire’, complete with human-powered, dog-powered, or weight-powered spit. That could indeed take many hours, and to begin to broil at four would be reasonable for dinner at six (after five o’clock tea, also referred to in the books).

  25. I always wondered if there was supposed to be another joke there about “dinner” being the midday meal (which was traditionally the largest for many members of the British working class). Martin Gardner probably has something to say about it, but the copy of The Annotated Alice in Wonderland that was supposed to go to my wife upon her grandmother’s death has not actually made it to our house yet.

    (Gardner, I should point out, knew Humpty Dumpty personally, having worked as the assistant editor as the good egg’s eponymous magazine.)

  26. Greg Nicolson says

    I like America and I like Americans but why is it that everything has to be different in America? If it’s grilling why do they call it broiling? If it’s barbecuing why do they call it grilling? It’s similar with Americans calling an entree an appetiser and calling a main course an entree. Why?

  27. I guess when we broke away from England, we really broke away.

  28. Not only that, but often American English is the conservative variety, as when we bathe (in a bathtub) on the first day of fall. In addition, barbecue often means ‘cook slowly with barbecue sauce’, either in an oven or in a specially made smoker.

  29. Well, Hatter says “[…] Half-past one, time for dinner!”,
    but later
    “Let’s fight till six, and then have dinner,” said Tweedledum.

  30. January First-of-May says

    after five o’clock tea, also referred to in the books

    Six o’clock, actually:

    “`And ever since that,’ the Hatter went on in a mournful tone, `he won’t do a thing I ask! It’s always six o’clock now.’
    A bright idea came into Alice’s head. `Is that the reason so many tea-things are put out here?’ she asked.
    `Yes, that’s it,’ said the Hatter with a sigh: `it’s always tea-time, and we’ve no time to wash the things between whiles.'”

    I suspect the “half-past one” dinner was what we would call a lunch; they might have had two dinners in a day.

    The Russian version of brillig, in the Demurova translation (known for its closeness to the original), is варкалось – explained by Шалтай-Болтай with the verb варить, of which the closest English translation is probably “to stew”.
    Unfortunately, different online versions give different figures for the specific time (it’s sometimes 4pm, for the dinner, and sometimes 8pm, for the supper). Are there two different editions of the translation?

    …As far as “grill” is concerned, the thing that would most likely be used for one in Russia is called a мангал (mangal); English Wikipedia refers to it as “the Middle Eastern name for barbecue”, and later also as a “grilling apparatus”.

  31. Six o’clock tea was current in England before the 19C, and apparently is still known in Argentina.

  32. And it’s actually The Hunting of the Snark that talks about tea at five: “Its habit of getting up late, you’ll agree / It carries too far, when I say / It frequently breakfasts at five o’clock tea / And dines the following day.”

  33. And dines on the following day. Carroll’s meter is always irreproachable.

  34. Your folk process in action. (TM)

  35. John Cowan says

    I suppose that’s because dines for me is a hypermonosyllable, something between /daɪnz/ and /daɪ.ənz/.

  36. breakfasts at five o’clock tea

    is the same idiom as “Or madly squeeze a right-hand foot into a left-hand shoe.” (From the White Knight chapter.)

    Again impeccable scansion.

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