I found this sentence in a textbook. It's

I cooked the fish slowly on / under the grill.

A screenshot of the textbook

According to the author, the correct answer is under.

I also used Google. It turns out that there is more under the grill than on the grill. When I think of the word grill, the next picture comes to my mind.

photograph of an outdoor barbecue grill

How can we cook the fish under the grill when the food is actually on the grill?

  • 11
    NGrams shows that "on the grill" dominates. better link
    – jejorda2
    Aug 30, 2016 at 17:34
  • 21
    Under the grill refers to an oven grill, inside the oven.
    – Lambie
    Aug 30, 2016 at 17:58
  • 10
    on the grill refers to a barbecue. They are two different things.
    – Lambie
    Aug 30, 2016 at 17:59
  • 16
    No matter how I look at it, your textbook is wrong. If it really means grilling, then putting the food under the grill would be silly, and might void the warranty of your grill. If it actually means broiling, then it's clear that whoever wrote it doesn't know how to cook: you don't slowly broil anything. The purpose of a broiler is to quickly brown food. If you want to cook something slowly, you don't subject it to 500+ degree (F) heat.
    – Marthaª
    Aug 30, 2016 at 19:39
  • 45
    Presumbly the textbook is British. In England, food is cooked "under a grill", but it's actually entirely idiomatic. I'm afraid I get really cross when people assume American English is the be-all and end-all of English.
    – Andrew Leach
    Aug 30, 2016 at 21:22

5 Answers 5


There is a usage difference between British and American English. Although a grill is everywhere a frame of metal bars used for cooking on a flame, Americans draw a distinction between grilling (cooking over a flame) and broiling (cooking under a flame), as when you use the broiler in your oven:

Image of a broiling steak

As quoted in this LanguageHat post,

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.

There are many differences in food-related terminology, some noted on our sister site, Seasoned Advice, in Translating cooking terms between US / UK / AU / CA / NZ.

  • 1
    I hate to say it, but if you're broiling things under a flame in your oven, I think you may need a new oven. ;-) Aug 30, 2016 at 17:41
  • 35
    @JanusBahsJacquet: why would you think that? A gas oven will naturally have a gas broiler, and when gas burns it produces flames. This is just as true in Europe as it is in America.
    – Marthaª
    Aug 30, 2016 at 19:31
  • 4
    @JanusBahsJacquet I once had a gas oven with the burners on the bottom, but with a broiler tray under that, using the same burners (so a separate door from the main oven compartment). I don't think that's standard, though.
    – R.M.
    Aug 30, 2016 at 20:42
  • 3
    @R.M. what you describe is standard in the U.S. I often cook something in the main part of oven, then put it under the broiler for a few minutes to brown the top of the food. Aug 31, 2016 at 0:00
  • 6
    Thanks for the insight into what a broiller means in American English. The slot in a stove with a gas flame or electric element above a slide out tray is called a grill or "griller" in Austrailia, with instructions to "leave door open while grilling" affixed inside the drop down door left closed when the grill is not in use. "On the grill" is understood to mean on a slotted plate on a BBQ, or on top of, say, a charcoal grill.
    – traktor
    Aug 31, 2016 at 2:46

In British English the word 'grill' usually means something like these rather than a device for cooking over an open flame (which is the American usage): Woman cooking on English home grill

commercial English grill Grills like this have a heating element on top, and a space for the food to be cooked underneath. They would be called a broiler or salamander in US English, and aren't as common as they used to be.

In these devices the food would indeed be placed 'under the grill'. The place where you read this was probably talking about one of those, instead of a barbecue.

  • 3
    Agree. Your picture is food on a barbecue, possibly on the grille of a barbecue. Nothing to do with a grill as I understand the term.
    – Colin Fine
    Aug 30, 2016 at 18:00
  • 12
    Americans do refer to the barbecue as the 'grill'. Aug 30, 2016 at 18:57
  • 9
    @ColinFine: in fact, "grill" is considered more correct for the outside-cooking implement, since "barbecue" implies a low, slow cooking process that bears almost no resemblance to how one prepares steaks or hot dogs at a backyard cookout. The function of your (indoor) oven where you can set it to heat from the top rather than the bottom is called the broiler, which makes sense since a grill (as in, a metal grate) is not involved - broiler pans have slots, but are not grills no matter how you stretch the definition.
    – Marthaª
    Aug 30, 2016 at 19:28
  • 11
    I think this is a difference between British and American English - in the UK whether you have a gas or electric oven the grill is the thing at the top of the oven (either separate as in the picture or integrated inside the oven) that cooks/grills food, such as bacon, that has been placed on a grill tray underneath it.
    – rhm
    Aug 30, 2016 at 20:42
  • 11
    Amazingly enough, in the UK a barbecue is almost always called .... a barbecue. A "grill" is part of a cooking appliance that you would find in your kitchen, as the pictures show.
    – alephzero
    Aug 30, 2016 at 21:31

The usage of grill here is British English, not American.

From the Oxford English Dictionary:




1 A device on a cooker that radiates heat downwards for cooking food: place under a hot grill [as modifier]: a grill pan

This is a modern domestic cooker, specifically a Neptune 4500 combination gas oven, burner and grill:

Photo of cooker

This part is the grill pan.

Photo of grill pan

Here is the actual hot grill (not the same model of cooker - this one is inside an Electrolux electic fan oven). An electric heating element at the top inside the upper compartment. Occasionally it may use gas flames instead.

Photo of a hot grill element

You put food on the pan and place it under the grill. If the control knob is in the low position then the element will not be that hot. In which case whatever food is under the grill will be cooked slowly.

In all British kitchen appliances this device is called the grill or grill element, and in all recipes the use of this device to cook food is called grilling.

Photo of a grill element

  • Myself, I have one of these flavelappliances.com/item/ml10fr Note all the references to grills and grilling in the description.
    – OrangeDog
    Aug 31, 2016 at 20:42
  • The top image is not technically a domestic cooker, unless you live on a boat. Sep 1, 2016 at 21:27
  • In the US this is referred to as a broiler.
    – barbecue
    Sep 2, 2016 at 0:53
  • Spot on. I'm British, and I wouldn't have known what the American word 'broiler' even meant until recently. Yes it's nice and precise and all, but we just don't have that word over here. A grill is the bit of an oven you use for making cheese on toast. Sep 2, 2016 at 10:44

I'm American, but as far as I know it's always on the grill. Under the grill would probably be used for literally under a grill, but the term for that is actually called 'broiling' (in a kitchen setting). I could also put something under a grill in an outdoor setting but it's a little unorthodox. However, putting some meat or other food directly on the coals (and under the grill) is a way to get a certain kind of 'cook' to your food (basically a fast, more charred, but more raw/rare result). This, as I just discovered is called 'clinching'.

When I Google the phrase, there's a lot more usage for 'on the grill' though.

For completeness, you may hear someone say they got something (like diamonds or other adornments) on their grill, and that's a different kind of grill like this:

enter image description here

  • 2
    So that's what Missy Elliott was on about.
    – nekomatic
    Aug 31, 2016 at 7:58
  • Although, to be fair, that may be a different word.
    – WAF
    Aug 31, 2016 at 19:06
  • Because when you use Google, your results are biased towards American English, because you are American.
    – OrangeDog
    Aug 31, 2016 at 20:45

Grilling in England is placing a pan under the flames, you cook toast under the grill (if you've not got a toaster). Also just to be clear there is no such thing as British English. there is English and there are mistakes.

  • British English? What do you mean by saying that there is no such thing as British English? Sep 2, 2016 at 13:28
  • This is a British point of view. We think that English is what we speak and all other forms of English are quaint and/or annoying dialects. I would imagine that Spanish people have the same opinion of Latin American Spanish, that Portuguese people have the same view of Brazilian Portuguese and French people have the same view of Canadian French.
    – BoldBen
    Sep 2, 2016 at 13:48
  • In culinary terms I think Choster says everything there is to be said but that in England Yuyu's picture describes a barbecue, or a barbecue grill but only very rarely merely a grill. Grammatically, this is nonsense. In / on / over / under and etc is not grammatically down to technical terminology. Having decided the technical terminology the grammar is purely about position… Is that not why prepositions exist? Sep 2, 2016 at 23:41

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