Published: March 30, 2012
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We read a recipe recently for a Braised Brisket with Lemon-Parsley Garnish – we know, sounded amazing to use too. Among other things, the recipe called for a 300°F oven (outdoor cooks, just calm down), pan searing and 3 to 3.5 hours in the oven (or until “fork tender”).
Sounds like a good enough recipe. Problem is, we’ve never known a clock (or a fork for that matter) that could read temperature.
When it comes to cooking up great cuts of prime, choice or BBQ meats – time is not the foundation upon which you want to build your dinner. There are too many variables at play for time (or a fork) to be the sole determining factor of the doneness of your meat. Here are three reasons why time is not always of the essence:
Chances are your oven isn’t. Don’t worry, many people never really think about calibrating their oven, but here is why it is important: an uncalibrated oven can mean the difference between cooking a brisket at 300°F or 250°F. With more than a 50°F difference in what the dial is telling you and what’s really happening, determining doneness based on time can leave you with a tough, undercooked piece of meat.
To calibrate your oven you’re going to need a good quality digital over thermometer. Place the probe inside your oven and set the temp to 350°F. When the oven indicates it is at the proper temperature (usually with a ding) check the reading on the thermometer.
Once you know how inaccurate your oven is, you can attempt to adjust it. Adjust the calibration gauge (if it has one) on the temperature knob. If it does not, call a qualified appliance repair person.
Convection verses Conduction
Conduction cooking is probably the most basic and intuitive way of achieving heat transfer: Something hot touches something cold, and Voila! The cold thing heats up. You place a cake, a roast, brisket or turkey in the oven – the heating elements kick on and the inside of the oven warms up. It’s as simple as that.
How efficiently heat is transferred – in this way – depends on the conductivity of the items involved. Copper is an extremely good conductor of heat, which means heat moves through copper cookware and is transferred to the food very quickly. By comparison, stainless steel is a relatively poor conductor of heat. What you’re cooking on/in can change your cook times dramatically.
Whereas conduction is a static process, convection is a more efficient method of heat transfer because it adds the element of motion. A convection oven heats food faster than an ordinary one because it has a fan that blows the hot air around.
And the kicker – convection ovens can reduce cooking times by 25% or more compared with ordinary ovens. They also tend to increase the browning of food by concentrating more heat on the food’s outer surface. If you don’t take convection heat into account during the cooking process, that “recommended” cooking time might come back to bite you in the brisket.
In our brisket recipe, the directions tell us to, “Divide the brisket into four evenly sized pieces.” The 3 to 3.5 hour cook time doesn’t take into account whether or not those are four (3 lb. pieces), four (4 lb. pieces ) or four (2 lb. pieces). When you’re talking about time and temperature, size matters!
Smaller cuts of meat will cook faster – plain and simple. Not only that, but an oven that is being shared by multiple cuts of meat will need more heat to get those internal temperatures to their optimal temperature. Three hours at 300°F for a 2 lb. roast might be too much, whereas the same time and temp for a larger (6 lb. brisket) might not be enough. This is where a good oven thermometer comes in handy.
The bottom line
Few things in this life are certain. Ole’ Ben Franklin suggested there are only two constants in this world, “death and taxes.” We offer up one more for your consideration – death, taxes and temperature! Get yourself a good meat thermometer and there’s no limit to what you’ll be able to do in the kitchen. Let your clock tell time and leave temperature to your thermometer.
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