Basic Cooking Methods

Dry Heat and Moist Heat Cooking

Braised lamb shoulder
Michael Paul / Getty Images

Cooking methods in the culinary arts are divided into two categories:

  1. Dry heat cooking, such as roasting, broiling, or sautéeing.
  2. Moist heat cooking, such as braising, steaming, or poaching.

Because every cooking method uses either dry heat or moist heat (or sometimes both), classifying them this way ensures that every known method falls into one category or the other.

"Dry" Oil and Other Fats

It's worth noting that cooking methods involving fat, such as sautéeing and deep-frying, are considered dry-heat methods. If this seems confusing, remember that oil and water don't mix, so while fat can take a liquid form, in many ways it's the opposite of water—hence "dry" heat.

Choosing the Right Cooking Technique

Using the appropriate cooking method for the type of food being prepared is a major part of the culinary arts. Tough cuts of meat such as beef brisket or lamb shank need to be cooked slowly, at low heats, for a long time, and with plenty of moisture. Prepared properly, these cuts can be incredibly tender and delicious. On the other hand, dry-heat methods typically involve very high temperatures and short cooking times. A piece of brisket cooked in this way—on a grill, let's say—would be tough, chewy, and largely inedible. Interestingly enough, a beef tenderloin steak cooked using a slow, moist-heat method such as braising would also turn out tough, chewy, and inedible—albeit for different reasons.

Dry Heat Cooking

Dry heat cooking refers to any cooking technique where the heat is transferred to the food item without using any moisture. Dry-heat cooking typically involves high heat, with temperatures of 300 F or hotter. Baking or roasting in an oven is a dry heat method because it uses hot air to conduct the heat. Pan-searing a steak is considered dry-heat cooking because the heat transfer takes place through the hot metal of the pan. Note that the browning of food (including the process by which meat is browned, called the Maillard reaction) can only be achieved through dry-heat cooking. Examples of dry-heat methods include:

Moist Heat Cooking

Moist heat cooking methods include any techniques that involve cooking with moisture—whether it's steam, water, stock, wine, or some other liquid. Cooking temperatures are much lower—anywhere from 140 F to a maximum of 212 F, because water doesn't get any hotter than that. Examples of moist-heat cooking methods include:

Cuts of Meat Diagrams

Curious about the different primal cuts of beef, pork, or lamb? These diagrams show the basic cuts of meat, as well as recipes and cooking methods for each one: