The Science of Carryover Cooking: What Is It and Why Is It Important?
Barbecue is as much of a science as it is a skill. Yet sometimes you might think luck is not on your side. You take every precaution before you start grilling, and every precaution during grilling, and still your meats turn up as an unappetizing grey mess. What happened?
Well, if you think you just don't have good luck, you're wrong! What really turns a steak from tender pink on the grill to a grey mess on the plate is carryover cooking. Just what is carryover cooking, and how can you manage it to keep your grilled steaks appetizing?
What Is Carryover Cooking?
Let's start by answering the question the big question; what is carryover cooking? To answer that, we need to have a science lesson! Now, how is meat cooked? With fire, of course, but how is meat actually cooked? To answer this, let's ask the question what is meat? Meat is the former muscle fiber of animals, and said muscle fiber is made of proteins.
We need proteins in our diet, hence why we eat meat. However, raw meat isn't very good for us; not only is there tons of bacteria and harmful microbes, but raw meat tends to be mostly water. This is why when you cook it, you'll be surprised that your cut of meat is shrinking. This water is trapped by the proteins, and as you cook your meat these proteins will unravel and release the trapped water.
This trapped water is the "juice" of the meat, which we're all quite aware of, and by cooking the meat this water is pushed out. So, what does this have to do with carryover cooking? We're getting there, don't worry. Cooking meat involves the use of hot air, normally by a flame, which will cause the proteins to unravel, the water to get loose, and the meat to be cooked.
This is all done through conduction, and if you know your science, you'll be well aware that heat likes to be evenly distributed. After cooking, the surface temperature of the meat will be much hotter than the inside; and as we said, heat wants to be even. Using the moisture that was released, the heat will slowly make its way into the rest of the meat until everything is the same temperature.
The movement of heat into the center of the meat is called carryover cooking, also known as the resting phase. It's the time it takes for the insides of the meat to reach an even temperature with the outsides, and can be anywhere between five to twenty minutes.
Why Is Carryover Cooking Important?
Well, simply put, your meat will continue to cook after its already been cooked. And this can easily leave your meats ruined, as while you might have seared the outsides to perfection you didn't account for the time it would take to rest and have the insides fully cook. Many barbecuers tend to forget this important step, serving their grilling delights fresh off the grill or setting them on platters and allowing them to become unappetizing.
Carryover Cooking can make or break your meal, which is why it's important to take it into account when cooking,
How Do You Take Into Account Carryover Cooking?
So, let's put everything we learned into a thought experiment, shall we? You're cooking some lamb and want it to be medium-rare, so the temperature should be around 120 degrees. As your cooking, you stick in your thermometer and the reading is 120 exact. You take your lamb off the grill, ready to serve and when it reaches the table the insides are a mess.
So what went wrong? Well, you didn't take into account the rest period. By the time the internal temperature is reading 120, the outside is going to be much hotter than you'll want. In turn, letting the meat rest will involve the much hotter outside temperature try to balance out with the 120 degrees on the inside. This is what turns your perfect medium-rare lamb chop into a grey nightmare.
How do you prevent this? You need to take into account the carryover cooking. Taking our example again, the perfect time to remove the lamb from the grill is when you see 105-110 on your thermometer. The outside temperature should be roughly the same as you want the inside temperature and if you let conduction do its thing, you'll have perfect and juicy lamp chops to serve!
That being said, there are still variables you need to take into account; namely the size and thickness of the size of meat. Going back to our lamb chop, imagine if it's only 1/4 inches thick and just over an inch in size. You could leave it on the grill until the internal temperature hits 118 or even 120. Because it's small, the temperature difference between the outside and inside won't matter as much.
Let's scale that lamb chop into one that's an inch thick and two inches in size. Now you'll want to take it off the grill when the temperature reaches around 108-110. A good rule of thumb is the larger the cut of meat, the longer it'll need to rest. After all, there is more space that needs to be cooked internally and more juices present.
How Does Carryover Cooking Interact With The Browning Method?
For our long-time readers, which we hope is all of you, we've written in the past about the Maillard reaction; a.k.a the browning method or food browning. In this process, the heat produces a "crust" over the meat which keeps the juices from escaping. If you're wanting to use the Maillard reaction, you still need to keep in mind of carryover cooking.
The point of the Maillard reaction, with the meat, of course, is to produce a shell to keep the juices trapped inside. Normally the juices will naturally travel out of the meat due to heat, but with a crusted shell these juices will be blocked. This leaves a nice cut of meat that's somewhat crispy on the outside but still juicy on the inside.
Due to carryover cooking, the insides can become too hot as the heat will have a much harder time escaping. In turn, this can still leave the insides grey thanks to conduction. So even if you're browning, take into account carryover cooking. It'll save your meals for sure!
What Other Methods Of Cooking Are Affected By Carryover Cooking?
The short answer, all of them. Any method of cooking where heat is involved will cause carryover cooking. This is simply how heat works, so don't be surprised that a thin steak being seared on the grill and pulled-meat in a slow cooker will both be affected by carryover cooking. This being said, there will be different results and effects depending on how you cook.
For example, if you were to smoke sausages the carryover cooking effect would be much more minimal compared to throwing them on a hot grill. Longer cooking methods, like smoking or a slow cooker, allow the meat to gradually be cooked and heated. This won't create as drastic of changes in the internal and external temperature as throwing the meat onto a grill.
What Sorts Of Meats Are Affected By Carryover Cooking? What About Vegetables?
All foodstuff will be affected by the carryover cooking method provided water is present. Even non-foodstuffs are affected. For example, if you're an outdoors type you may have head about keeping yourself warm by using hot rocks. Putting the rocks inside a fire and then pulling them out will keep you nice and warm all night long.
Well, the reason why those rocks are nice and toasty is the same reason why your meat can suddenly go grew; heat will always try to find an equilibrium, and in the case of rocks heat will escape to the cooler outside air until both it and the rock are similar in temperature. This being said, we don't recommend trying to grill rocks. Your dentist certainly wouldn't approve.
Now, all food will be affected by carryover cooking, but it doesn't affect all food equally. With vegetables, suppose you're grilling a carrot and whole bell pepper. The bell pepper will take less time to cook compared to the carrot, as there is more empty space and it has a thinner skin compared to the more compacted carrot. The same goes for fish, pork, chicken, and every type of meat you can throw on the grill.
The carryover method, or the resting period, is very important to the final product you want to serve your friends and family, or yourself. It's the difference between tender and juicy meats with a bright, rich pink color and a grey nightmare. And it's so easy to avoid having your food ruined, all you have to do is take your meats or vegetables off the grill just a little bit sooner than you normally would.
Once you have mastered carryover cooking, you'll be one step closer to being a barbecue master!
Resting Guidelines: How Long Should Meat Rest?
Thanks to VirtualWeberBullet for the time and temperature table.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
What Does Carryover Cooking Mean?
Well, it's the term used for food that continues to cook after it's removed from the oven or grill. More specifically, carryover cooking is when the residual heat still cooks the food long after it's been removed from a heat source. This is due to the heat having to work through the meat in question in order to find balance; that is the outside of the meat being the same temperature as the inside of the meat.
A "resting period" or allowing your food "to sit" is also the same terms for carryover cooking.
What Is A Carryover Cooking Quizlet?
You may see this floating around. Worry not, as it's just a cheat sheet on which temperature is right for every single cut of meat. If you can find one, we highly recommend printing it out and saving it. You never know when you'll need to know what temperature you need to have rare meat chops at.
Is Carryover Cooking A Concern When Preparing Vegetables?
Yes. And all food in general. Unless you serving your food raw or using a cooking method that doesn't involve heat, carryover cooking will affect your food. This includes vegetables. So keep your eyes peeled on your veggies while they're on the grill and be prepared to remove them sooner than you expected.
Does Chicken Have Carryover Cooking?
Yes. Just like vegetables, all meats will be affected by carryover cooking. This is why knowing how to handle the process is vital to preparing your meats for the same quality you'd find at a five-star restaurant. Or at least your local BBQ joint.
Does Meat Continue To Cook While Resting?
Yes. This is why the term "carryover cooking" exists. The residual heat is still interacting with the meat, and this can last from five to twenty minutes. Depending on the size and thickness of the meat in question, of course.
How Many Degrees Will The Meat Rise While Resting?
Normally the process isn't drastic, but you can expect anywhere from a few degrees up to twenty degrees or more depending on the size and thickness of the cut. As a rule of thumb, the smaller the meat the fewer degrees of temperature change it'll experience while at rest. Whereas the larger cuts will have larger temperature changes.
Do I Need To Wrap My Meat In Foil While It Rests?
This has been a question long argued about at barbecues and barbecue forms. Wrapping the meat as it rests is often recommended to keep the juices trapped and to help speed up the resting process; after all, if blocked the heat can't go anywhere. Others argue that it ruins the texture and flavor of the meat.
For us personally, while we do wrap our meats we recommend trying out a resting period with and without a wrap and seeing which result you like the best.
When Is The Right Time To Remove My Meat From The Grill?
Depending on the size and thickness of the meat, it can be anywhere from a few degrees away from the desired temperature to ten-or-twenty degrees away. As a rule of thumb, the thinner and smaller the piece of meat, the fewer degrees you'll have to worry about.
What Happens If I Don't Pay Attention To My Meat At Rest?
Either it'll become too hot and go grey in the center, or become too cold and lose its appeal. Best to give your meat around five to twenty minutes to rest. Again, depending on the size of the meat; smaller pieces take less time to rest than larger pieces.