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Firing Up - Knowing When Food is Done

DK PublishingDK Publishing 2/07/2014 DKBooks
Photo: Carryover cooking - Start checking for doneness well before you think the food is ready to come off the grill; it will continue to cook after it comes off the flames. If the recipe recommends letting meat rest, inverting a foil pan over it, or tenting it with aluminum foil, will keep it warm as it sits. © Provided by DKBooks Carryover cooking - Start checking for doneness well before you think the food is ready to come off the grill; it will continue to cook after it comes off the flames. If the recipe recommends letting meat rest, inverting a foil pan over it, or tenting it with aluminum foil, will keep it warm as it sits.

© Provided by DKBooks

© Provided by DKBooks

© Provided by DKBooks

Carryover cooking - Start checking for doneness well before you think the food is ready to come off the grill; it will continue to cook after it comes off the flames. If the recipe recommends letting meat rest, inverting a foil pan over it, or tenting it with aluminum foil, will keep it warm as it sits.

Knowing When Food is Done

Since each live fire is a bit different from all others, the cooking times we give in recipes are really just estimates based on our experience. That means judging the doneness of food is perhaps the most important skill a grill cook can possess. Whichever method you use , testing for yourself is of crucial importance, and we recommend that you do it early and often. Remember that there is only a relatively small window of perfect doneness, and you need to catch the food at that point.


Is it done yet?

Whichever method you use to check for doneness, remember that the food will keep cooking for a while after it is removed from the heat (this is called “carryover cooking”).

Take that steak off when the degree of doneness is one less than you like it; when it looks rare if you really want it medium-rare, for example. The same goes for thick chops and juicy roasts of red meats.

Remove fish from the flames when it still has a trace of translucency in the middle, since your ultimate aim is a fish (or shrimp) that is just barely opaque in the center.

When it comes to chicken, though, ignore the rules above: Leave it on the fire until it is completely opaque all the way through and there is no pink at all in the center or, especially, down near the bone.


The “hand method”

As protein cooks, it becomes increasingly firm. Experienced cooks can judge the degree of doneness of a piece of meat (or fowl or fish) simply by pushing on it with a finger. The firmer it is, the more done it is. Young cooks are taught that rare corresponds to the fleshy area (A) between the thumb and forefinger, for example, while well-done feels like the base of the thumb (B). This method does require a lot of practice. That doesn’t mean it’s not worth learning, it just means backing it up while you learn.


“Nick and peek” method

Totally practical, totally reliable: As the name implies, you simply pick up one of whatever you are cooking, nick it slightly with a knife so you can look inside, and check its state of doneness. That’s all there is to it. You couldn’t get much easier or more accurate. And don’t worry about losing a lot of juice by cutting into the food; the very small amount of juice you may lose pales in comparison to serving raw or burned food.


A meat thermometer

For large cuts of meat or whole fowl—basically anything that you grill-roast—the best option is to check the internal temperature. With a roast, you want to poke the thermometer all the way through to the other side of the meat, then draw it back to the midpoint to get a reading. When checking the doneness of a whole bird, insert the thermometer at an angle into the area between the drumstick and the breast, looking to hit the thickest part of the thigh.

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