Friday, June 12, 2009

How to avoid overcooking a roast

I was going to save this tip for another day, but, well, I have time, and it's important, soooo...

One of the major obstacles the cook encounters in roasting meat, whether it be a beef roast, or a chicken or a turkey, or anything else, is knowing when to stop.

This is further compounded by roasting instructions found in typical recipes: "Roast for three hours at 350°," or "Roast for ten minutes per pound." What's wrong with these instructions? Well, first of all, the author of the recipe has no way of telling how hot your oven really is when you set it to 350°. Ovens vary pretty widely in this regard. The other is that different shapes require different roasting times. If your roast is shaped like a ball, it is generally going to take longer to roast than one that is shaped more like a hockey puck, all else being equal.

The way to nullify these problems is to cook to temperature, rather than by time.

And, of course, to do that, you need a thermometer. You probably already have a meat thermometer tucked away in a drawer somewhere. And, you likely rarely use it, because you can't read it with your oven door closed, and in any event, if you went by the time suggested in your recipe, you may have discovered that all it is useful for is to tell you your meat is overcooked.

Polder Digital Thermometer

The digital thermometer above solves these problems. The probe goes into the meat, and into the oven, while the readout stays outside the oven and gets its reading through the cable the probe is attached to. No more trouble reading the thermometer.

Also, the digital thermometer's computerized brain can be set to beep when the target temperature is reached. So, for example, you put the probe into the thigh meat of your turkey, and set the alarm to sound when the turkey reaches 165°. Turkey gets done, thermometer goes beep-beep-beep, you pull the bird out of the oven. Simple as that, and no more dry, stringy breast meat. Ever again.

Of course this also works to accurately cook beef roasts to medium rare, pork roasts to done but still juicy, and so on. Most items that we roast are fairly expensive, and often reserved for special occasions. It can be heartbreaking to have them come out overcooked and dry. Imagine never roasting anything that didn't come out perfect, ever again.

Want even more convenience?

Wireless digital thermometers have all the advantages above, plus one substantial one. The readout isn't connected to the probe, so you can take it with you. Why would you want to? Well, say you are roasting something in the oven, but don't want to stay in the kitchen to monitor it. Just take the readout with you, and when it beeps, dash back to the kitchen, and take your roast out. It can also be quite useful when barbecuing, (not grilling, which is cooking over direct heat, and is what most people are actually doing when they think they are barbecuing.) as you can go inside the house, and still monitor the progress of whatever is in the bbq. This, of course, is also a useful thing when you are having a party, and want to mingle with your guests instead of monitoring your food.

As kitchen equipment goes, digital thermometers are pretty inexpensive, but they can make all the difference in your ability to cook expensive meats perfectly, every time. This is one gadget that I consider indispensable.

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