Monday, January 25, 2010

Primer: Cooking Methods


So cooking is just adding heat to food right? Basically, yes. In many ways, cooking hasn't changed in the thousands of years it has been around since man discovered fire. In this primer, I will discuss the 4 basic cooking methods as it relates to outdoor cooking: roasting, broasting, baking, broiling, as well as the 3 heat transfer methods.

First we need to know some things about heat dynamics. The 3 ways heat can be transferred to food are convection, conduction and radiation. Convection is the moving of hot air in an enclosed space. Conduction is direct heat from metal to food. Radiation is heat waves penetrating food, such as a solar oven or microwave oven. In many cases, it is not a clear cut of only one type of heating. For example, a reflector oven works by receiving heat via radiation by a nearby fire, and the hot metal cooks the bottom via conduction, while hot air circulates the immediate area via convection. One more example: the dutch oven. Hot metal cooks the bottom and sides, while convection currents cycle inside. This is why you don't fill your dutch oven up all the way. Otherwise, it is just a big stew pot and you are cooking by conduction alone. The airspace allows the even heating of convection.

The four methods below mostly work best when applied to Dutch oven cooking, but some methods can be used in other forms of outdoor cooking.

Roasting: Roasting is cooking with all heat coming from the bottom up. Spit cooking, sauteing, frying, grilling and stick cooking over a fire are all examples of roasting. Roasting is good to use when braising meat, or for cooking wet meals such as chilies and stews. I usually start every Dutch oven meal with roasting.

Broasting: A hybrid of broiling and roasting, broasting is 2/3 of the heat on top and 1/3 of the heat on bottom. Broasting is good for carmelizing a top while still cooking the bottom, and is my favorite method for cooking roast.

Baking: Baking is even heat on top and bottom. With dutch oven, this is not the same coals on top and bottom, because the bottom will be hotter. It is usually a 1-2 ratio with more heat on the top. Baking is good for cakes and other desserts, casseroles and anything you would bake in your oven at home.

Broiling: Broiling is all the heat on the top. I typically only use this to finish off a meal to caramelize a cheese topping or toast the top of the dish.

Deep frying: Technically roasting, but the even heating of food suspended in hot oil not only yields evenly cooked food, but very tasty and unhealthy since the food soaks up the oil.

Radiative cooking: This is using radio waves to cook food. Solar ovens and microwave ovens are examples, but this method is not very common.

Some quick definitions:

Frying: Roasting with a small amount of oil or fat.

Searing: Roasting meat with little or no fat to seal in the juices.

Sauteing: Roasting vegetables with a medium amount of oil or fat.

Braising: Roasting meat with a medium amount of oil or fat.

Deep Frying: Roasting with a large amount of oil or fat.

Toasting: Broasting or Broiling to achieve a crustiness on the top of the food.

Bon Appetit!
The Outdoors Start at Your Back Porch!

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