Dry Heat Cooking Methods

Pan frying meat and vegetables on the stove

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Dry heat cooking refers to any cooking technique where the heat is transferred to the food item without using extra moisture. This method typically involves high temperatures—300 F or hotter.

Note that the browning of food, as when bread is toasted, can only be achieved through dry heat cooking. This browning, in turn, leads to the development of complex flavors and aromas that can't be attained through moist heat cooking techniques.

Sautéing and Pan-Frying

Sautéing requires a hot pan before cooking. When sautéing, it's important to heat the pan for a minute, then add a small amount of fat (such as oil) and let it heat up before adding ingredients to the pan.

Another key is not overloading or crowding the pan. Too much food in the pan dissipates the heat, causing the food to steam or boil rather than sauté. One method for maintaining a hot pan and ensuring the food cooks evenly is through tossing or flipping the food in the pan—sauté actually means "jump" in French. Some sauté pans have sloped sides to facilitate this, but it's generally only done with smaller pieces of food, especially vegetables.

Pan-frying closely resembles sautéing, but pan-frying uses slightly more fat and a slightly lower temperature than sautéing. This makes it a good method for cooking larger pieces of meat that need longer to cook. Meat that is pan-fried is sometimes finished in the oven to cook through.

Roasting and Baking

The words roasting and baking are largely synonymous since they both describe a method of cooking an item by enveloping it in hot, dry air. This typically happens inside an oven and at temperatures of at least 300 F.

This technique cooks food fairly evenly since all of the food's surfaces are exposed to heat. This differs from pan-searing, for instance, where the surface that touches the hot pan gets much hotter than the side that faces up. Roasting and baking both require that the food be cooked uncovered when used as a dry heat cooking method so that it's the hot, dry air that delivers the heat, not the steam from the food.

Despite these similarities, roasting and baking can mean slightly different things depending on who you ask. Some chefs use the word "baking" only when speaking of bread, pastry and other bakery items. Some may use the word "roasting" only when referring to meats, poultry, and vegetables, but use the term "baking" for fish and other seafood.

Broiling and Grilling

Broiling is another dry heat cooking method that relies on heat being conducted through the air. Because air is a relatively poor conductor of heat, broiling, and grilling require the food to be quite close to the heat source, which in this case is likely to be an open flame. Thus the surface of the food cooks very quickly, making this type of cooking ideal for poultry, fish and the tenderest cuts of meat.

There is one significant distinction between broiling and grilling: Grilling involves heating the food from below, while broiling involves heating from above. In both cases, the food is typically turned once during cooking, and a grid or grate of some kind can be used, giving the food the distinctive grill-marks that are the hallmark of this cooking technique. As with sautéing, it's critical to heat the broiler or grill before adding the food.

Deep Frying

Since deep frying involves submerging the food in hot, liquid fat, it might take some time to get used to the idea that it's actually a form of dry heat cooking. But if you've ever seen the violent reaction of hot oil to a tiny drop of water, you know that oil and water are opposites that want nothing to do with each other. To avoid splatters, make sure anything you place into the hot fat is free from excess moisture. That might mean patting an item dry with a paper towel before frying it.

Deep frying requires keeping the oil at temperatures between 325 F and 400 F. Hotter than that and the oil may start to smoke, and if it's any cooler, it starts to seep into the food and make it greasy. Only high-temperature tolerant oils should be used for deep frying. If fried properly, deep-fried items should actually have very little oil on them.

Foods are often coated in a simple batter to protect it and seal in its moisture. The key to keeping the oil hot is to fry items in small batches, as introducing too much food to the oil will cool it off. Fried foods typically turn golden-brown once cooked.