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Types of Cooking Methods

Types of Cooking Methods

Last updated on 11/17/2020

The three types of cooking methods are dry heat cooking, moist heat cooking, and combination cooking. Each of these methods uses heat to affect foods in a different way. All cooking techniques, from grilling to steaming, can be grouped under one of these three methods. Understanding and mastering the different types of cooking methods is essential to becoming a great chef or home cook. Knowledge of cooking techniques allows you to work with a variety of ingredients and kitchen equipment to achieve consistent, flavorful results in your cooking. Continue reading to learn about the three main types of cooking, all the techniques that fall under those types, and the foods that are complemented by these techniques.

Click any of the cooking methods below to learn more:

  1. Broiling
  2. Grilling
  3. Roasting
  4. Baking
  5. Sauteing
  6. Poaching
  7. Simmering
  8. Boiling
  9. Steaming
  10. Braising
  11. Stewing
  12. Glossary

1. Dry Heat Cooking

Kabobs of beef, onion, and peppers on an open flame grill

Dry heat cooking works without the presence of any moisture, broth, or water. Instead, it relies on the circulation of hot air or contact with fat to transfer heat to foods. Temperatures of 300 degrees or hotter are used to create browning, a reaction where the amino acids and sugars in food turn brown and create a distinct aroma and flavor. The unique scents of toasted bread or seared meat are both examples of dry heat cooking at work.

Broiling

Broiling works by transferring extremely high heat onto food, usually directed from a radiant located above the food which cooks on one side at a time. Browning can occur very quickly with this method, sealing juices and flavor inside and leaving a crisp exterior. Because this cooking method is fast, it's helpful to use a timer or check the doneness so foods don't become burnt or overcooked. In commercial kitchens, broiling can be performed with a salamander or broiler oven.

Best foods for broiling:

  • Meats: Broiling works best on thinner cuts of meat, like steaks, pork chops, or hamburger patties. Tender cuts are preferred because the dry heat will quickly evaporate moisture and dry out the meat.
  • Poultry: Use chicken or turkey cutlets, breast halves, quarters, and legs in the broiler for flavorful results.
  • Fish: Choose thick, sturdy fish, like salmon, that can handle high heat and won't dry out easily.
  • Fruits and Veggies: Broiling can even be used on fruits and vegetables. Try broiling peaches or grapefruit for a unique menu item.

Grilling

Grilling is similar to broiling, in that it uses radiant heat to cook foods quickly. Most commonly, grilling equipment will feature an open grate with a heat source located beneath the food. Flipping is required to cook foods on both sides and grill marks from the hot grate or rack are desirable.

Best foods for grilling:

  • Burgers: Ground hamburger meat is moist and cooks up very well on a hot grill. The high heat sears the outside of the patty for delicious charred flavor.
  • Meats: The dry heat from grilling will quickly remove moisture from meat so it's best to choose tender cuts or marinate the meat first. Ribeyes, porterhouses, t-bones, and strip steaks have higher fat content and marbling that produces a succulent grilled steak.
  • Poultry: Boneless cuts of chicken work best because they will grill more evenly. Whole chickens can be grilled, but spatchcocking is recommended.
  • Fish: Salmon, tuna, and swordfish steaks are sturdy enough for the grill and won't dry out quickly. It's possible to wrap fish in foil before placing it on the grates to prevent it from falling through.

Roasting

Roasting is performed inside an oven and uses indirect heat that cooks from all sides for even browning. This method of cooking works more slowly, coaxing flavors out of meats and vegetables. Roasting can be performed at very low temperatures between 200 degrees and 350 degrees Fahrenheit for tougher cuts of meat, or higher temperatures up to 450 degrees Fahrenheit for more tender cuts.

Best foods for roasting:

  • Meats: Roasting cooks large cuts of meat slowly and evenly. Prime rib, beef tenderloin, pork butt or shoulder, and pork loin all benefit from roasting.
  • Poultry: Whole chickens or turkeys can be placed in a roasting pan or on a rotisserie spit and cooked for several hours for a moist and flavorful product.
  • Fruits and Veggies: Roasting is a great way to bring out the best qualities in fruits and vegetables. Grapes, cherries, and tomatoes can be roasted to intensify their flavors. Pumpkin, squash, eggplant, and cauliflower are also excellent candidates for roasting.

Baking

Baking and roasting both use indirect heat to surround foods and cook from all sides. The term roasting is used when cooking meats or vegetables, and baking is used when making bread, rolls, and cakes. Technically, these cooking methods are the same, but baking is usually performed at lower temperatures than roasting.

Best foods for baking:

  • Baked Goods: Baking transforms wet dough or batter into a final product with a firm texture. Bread, pastries, and cakes are all baked.
    • Pizza: As pizzas are baked in a hot oven, the dough becomes firm, a crust is formed, and the cheese topping melts.

    Sauteing

    Sauteing is performed over a burner in a hot, shallow pan and uses a small amount of oil or fat to coat food for even browning. This method cooks foods very quickly so it's best to keep the food moving by tossing or flipping. Saute is a French word that translates to "jump". To achieve great results with sauteing, make sure the oiled pan is hot before adding any food, don't overcrowd the pan with too many items, and stir or toss frequently.

    Best foods for sauteing:

    • Meats: Sauteing cooks quickly, so tender meats work best. Use ground beef, tenderloin, or medallions in a saute pan. Small, uniformly sized cuts of meat brown evenly.
      • Poultry: Boneless breasts, strips, or cutlets can be sauteed to sear in flavor.
      • Vegetables: Zucchini, squash, and leafy greens can all be sauteed in olive oil or butter. Carrots, celery, and onions can also be sauteed and often make a flavorful base for other dishes.

      2. Moist Heat Cooking

      A scoop of penne pasta being drained over a boiling pot

      As the name indicates, moist heat cooking relies on the presence of liquid or steam to cook foods. This method can be used to make healthy dishes without any added fat or oil. It's also a great way to tenderize the tough fibers in certain cuts of meat, like beef chuck or brisket. When cooking fibrous vegetables and legumes, moist heat cooking softens the food until it reaches the perfect tenderness. Unlike dry heat cooking methods, moist heat cooking will not produce a browned crust.

      Poaching

      Poaching is a gentle method of cooking in which foods are submerged in hot liquid between 140 degrees and 180 degrees Fahrenheit. The low heat works especially well for delicate items, and moisture and flavor are preserved without the need for fat or oil.

      Best foods for poaching:

      • Eggs: Poaching is a common method of cooking eggs that results in a soft, tender egg white and creamy yolk. No oil is needed so it's more health-conscious than pan frying.
      • Poultry: Broth, wine, or aromatics can be used for poaching liquid, which adds flavor to boneless, skinless chicken breasts. The result is tender chicken that can be cubed, sliced, or shredded and added to salads, pasta, or sandwiches.
      • Fish: Poaching is a great way to preserve the delicate texture of light fish like tilapia, cod, and sole. A special broth, called court bouillon, is used to add flavor to the fish as it cooks.
      • Fruit: Use a sweetened liquid to poach fruits like pears or apples for a unique dessert. The flavor of the fruit is deepened and the texture becomes soft and tender. Any leftover liquid can be used to make a flavored syrup to serve with the fruit.

      Simmering

      Simmering is also a gentle method of cooking foods but uses higher temperatures than poaching, usually between 180 degrees and 205 degrees Fahrenheit. This temperature range lies below the boiling point and produces tiny bubbles. To achieve a simmer, first bring water to the boiling point and then lower the temperature.

      Best foods for simmering:

      • Rice: Simmering produces cooked rice with a light, fluffy texture. Using water that is boiling or too hot causes the rice to become sticky and dry.
      • Meats: Choose tougher cuts of meat that will release fat and collagen as they simmer, like chuck roast.
      • Soups and Stocks: Because simmering releases the fat and proteins from meat, it produces a rich flavorful broth that can be used in soups or stews.
      • Vegetables: Tough root vegetables like potatoes and carrots are cooked to the perfect texture with gentle simmering.
      • Grains: Grains like quinoa, oats, or millet can be simmered until they reach a soft edible texture. Hot cereal is made by simmering grains until most of the water has evaporated, creating a smooth porridge.
      • Legumes: Dried beans and legumes are simmered to achieve a soft, edible texture. Some types of beans, like lentils, cook quickly, while others take several hours of gentle simmering to become fully cooked.

      Boiling

      This cooking technique involves submerging food in water that has been heated to the boiling point of 212 degrees Fahrenheit. The boiling water produces large bubbles, which keep foods in motion while they cook. The expression slow boil means that the water has just started to produce large, slow-moving bubbles but is not quite heated to the boiling temperature. A full boil occurs at the boiling point and results in fast-moving, rolling bubbles. Steam is also released from the water as it boils.

      Best foods for boiling:

      • Pasta: Pasta may come to mind as one of the most commonly boiled foods. The hot water cooks the pasta quickly so that it can be removed from the water before starches break down, preventing a mushy texture.
      • Eggs: Boiling eggs in their shell produces hard- or soft-boiled eggs. The texture of the yolk can range from firm to creamy, depending on the cook time.
      • Vegetables: Tough root vegetables like potatoes and carrots will cook more quickly in boiling water but it's recommended to test their tenderness with a fork so they don't overcook.
      • Steaming

        In steaming, water is boiled continuously to produce a steady amount of steam. The steam surrounds foods and cooks evenly while retaining moisture. Steaming can be performed in a few different ways. For high volume kitchens, a commercial steamer or combi oven is the most efficient. Other methods of steaming include using a pot and steamer basket, using a microwave, or wrapping foods in foil so they can steam in the oven.

        Best foods for steaming:

        • Vegetables: Most vegetables can be steamed with great results. Sturdy veggies like beets, carrots, and potatoes will steam for longer than delicate foods like leafy greens.
        • Fish and Shellfish: For more flavorful results, broth or wine can be used instead of water. Fish stays tender and shellfish like clams, mussels, lobster, or crabs are cooked inside their shells.
        • Desserts: Some types of desserts are steamed rather than baked, producing a moist, silky texture. Creme brulee, flan, and panna cotta are all custards made by steaming.
        • Tamales: Tamales are a popular food made by steaming masa, a dough made of ground corn, and fillings inside a corn husk packet. The steam makes the corn dough tender and moist.

        • 3. Combination Cooking

          A thick stew of carrots and beef in a hot cast iron pot

          Combination cooking utilizes both dry and moist cooking methods. Foods are cooked in liquids at low heat for an extended period of time, resulting in a fork tender product. This technique works with the toughest cuts of meat, gradually breaking down fibers until they melt into the liquid.

          Braising

          During braising, foods are first seared in a hot oiled pan then transferred to a larger pot to cook in hot liquid. The foods are only partially submerged in simmering water, broth, or stock. Using low heat, the foods soften over an extended cook time and the liquid becomes reduced with intensified flavors. Braising is a great method for producing fork tender meats that fall off the bone.

          Best foods for braising:

          • Meats: Braising is most commonly used with cheaper, tougher cuts of meat because it softens and tenderizes the muscle fibers. Choose pork shoulder, chuck roast, or lamb shank.
          • Vegetables: Vegetables can be braised along with meat to add more flavor, or they can be braised alone as their own dish. Root vegetables like potatoes, beets, and turnips are softened during braising. Celery and fennel also respond well to braising, absorbing liquid but maintaining a firm texture.
          • Legumes: Lentils, chickpeas, and green beans can be braised in broth or wine for a texture that's soft but not mushy.

          Stewing

          The key difference between stewing and braising is that foods are completely submerged in hot liquid while stewing instead of being partially submerged. Smaller cuts of meat are used in a stew, but the method of slow cooking at low heat is the same. As the stew cooks, fibrous vegetables break down and fat and collagen from the meats melt away. The result is a thick, flavorful gravy filled with tender bites of meat and soft vegetables.

          Best foods for stewing:

        • Meats: Meats that are rich in collagen and fat do well in a stew pot. Avoid lean cuts and choose brisket, oxtail, or chuck roast.
        • Vegetables: Vegetables add depth to your stews. Onions, carrots, potatoes, and celery are common choices for building a stew, but also consider parsnips, turnips, or rutabaga.

        • Glossary of Cooking Terms

          As you follow recipes, you might come across some cooking terms that are unfamiliar to you. We've added descriptions of some of the most common cooking terms below:

          • Al Dente - describes pasta that is firm and slightly undercooked
          • Baste - to pour juices or liquid fat over meat while it cooks
          • Blanch - to scald food in boiling water for a quick moment and then place it in cold water to stop the cooking process
          • Brunoise - to cut foods in to a 1/8" size dice
          • Caramelize - to heat sugars until they are browned
          • Chiffonade - to roll up leafy greens or herbs and cut into long, thin slices
          • Clarify - to melt butter and separate the solids from the butterfat
          • Cure - to preserve foods by adding salt and drawing out moisture
          • Deglaze - to dissolve browned food residue in a hot pan with liquid
          • Dredge - to coat moist foods in a dry ingredient, like flour
          • Emulsify - to blend two liquids like oil and water
          • Fillet - to cut a portion of meat or fish
          • Flambe - to cover a food in a flammable liquid, like brandy or rum, and light it briefly on fire
          • Fold - to incorporate an ingredient with a careful motion that retains air
          • Julienne - to cut foods into long thin strips
          • Meuniere - a method of cooking, usually used with fish, in which the food is lightly dusted with flour and sauteed in butter
          • Parboil - to precook foods by boiling for a short time
          • Reduce - to thicken a liquid mixture by boiling or simmering, causing moisture to evaporate
          • Scald - to heat a liquid just to the boiling point
          • Spatchcock - to split open a whole chicken or turkey for easy grilling

          With a basic understanding of the three type of cooking methods, you can choose the best technique to use for each dish you prepare. As you create your own signature recipes, you'll know how to use dry cooking to achieve a crispy, brown exterior on meats, or how to use moist cooking to keep your meats fork tender. When needed, you'll know when to use a combination of dry and moist heat to transform tough cuts of meat into succulent, juicy morsels.

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