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Is Basting Nonsense?


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I have always wondered if basting (and for that matter, barding) is pointless. How could pouring liquid on the surface of a hot chunk of meat do anything but run off or evaporate?

I suppose that like searing, basting might help make a flavorful surface...

We know now that searing meat does not lock in juices and that toughness/juiciness is a function of cooking time and temp and internal fat. Is basting just another old culinary sophism?

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Is basting just another old culinary sophism?

Yes.

Pouring pan juices on the surface of a roast does close to nothing. And opening and closing the oven door every 20 minutes just slows down the cooking, which is a major minus.

Try this; cook 2 cheap chickens with a probe thermometer. One without opening the oven; the other basting like a monkey, both to the same internal temperature. See if there's any difference in the finished product on the plate (other than the basted one took about 25% longer than the other to reach temperature).

There won't be. As you say, it's cooking time, temp and internal fat.

mkayahara, re "evaporative cooling"; try this. Next time you cook a roast, half way through, put your hand on the meat. You'll be able to without burning yourself, at least for a couple of seconds; the surface of a roast takes a long time to reach oven temperature. Now ladle some pan juices over your hand.

You still think the pan juices are cooling the meat by evaporation? I don't think so. The juices were far hotter than the meat, right? Now go to the hospital and get that nasty burn looked after.

Hong Kong Dave

O que nao mata engorda.

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You'll get a burn, but Matt's right about evaporation.

Here's the relevant paragraph from Modernist Cuisine (2:103):

Basting food is a lot like deep-frying it a bit at a time. Whether you're baking in an oven or frying over a burner, dribbling food with hot fat or oil will speed cooking in a couple of ways. First, a coating of oil puts a lid on evaporation, raising the wet-bulb tempearture -- and therefore the effective cooking temperature -- at the surface of the food. The coating of oil can also be much hotter than the boiling point of water, so any water droplets the oil encounters at the food surface flash to steam and erupt through the oil as jets of vapor. These constant eruptions stir the cooler air that surrounds the food, and the resulting turbulence increases the rate of heat transfer -- just as convection currents in a deep fryer do.

Taken together, these two effects heat and dry the food surface more quickly and evenly than either baking or panfrying alone.

Chris Amirault

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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I love roasting and braising, but with one exception I don't baste anything. For poultry especially, basting seems to do more far more harm than good, at least when I do it. My one exception is that I do like to finish thick steaks by basting in butter in an iron skillet just before resting and serving.

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You'll get a burn, but Matt's right about evaporation.

Here's the relevant paragraph from Modernist Cuisine (2:103):

Basting food is a lot like deep-frying it a bit at a time. Whether you're baking in an oven or frying over a burner, dribbling food with hot fat or oil will speed cooking in a couple of ways. First, a coating of oil puts a lid on evaporation, raising the wet-bulb tempearture -- and therefore the effective cooking temperature -- at the surface of the food. The coating of oil can also be much hotter than the boiling point of water, so any water droplets the oil encounters at the food surface flash to steam and erupt through the oil as jets of vapor. These constant eruptions stir the cooler air that surrounds the food, and the resulting turbulence increases the rate of heat transfer -- just as convection currents in a deep fryer do.

Taken together, these two effects heat and dry the food surface more quickly and evenly than either baking or panfrying alone.

So then basting only speeds cooking of the outside of the meat. If you did it often enough (ignoring the effects on oven temp), basting would enhance the differential cooking of the outside vs inside and to get the inside "done" you need to overcook the outside even more than without basting.

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You'll get a burn, but Matt's right about evaporation.

Here's the relevant paragraph from Modernist Cuisine (2:103):

Basting food is a lot like deep-frying it a bit at a time. Whether you're baking in an oven or frying over a burner, dribbling food with hot fat or oil will speed cooking in a couple of ways. First, a coating of oil puts a lid on evaporation, raising the wet-bulb tempearture -- and therefore the effective cooking temperature -- at the surface of the food. The coating of oil can also be much hotter than the boiling point of water, so any water droplets the oil encounters at the food surface flash to steam and erupt through the oil as jets of vapor. These constant eruptions stir the cooler air that surrounds the food, and the resulting turbulence increases the rate of heat transfer -- just as convection currents in a deep fryer do.

Taken together, these two effects heat and dry the food surface more quickly and evenly than either baking or panfrying alone.

Do they comment on the overall loss of heat by opening the oven door to baste? That is the reason why I do not do it.

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I can't go through the book to find it right now, but its discussion of wet-bulb and dry-bulb (that is to say, your oven's) temperatures makes you realize the importance of the former to cooking and, correspondingly, the lower importance of oven temperature. So my guess is that opening the oven briefly affects the item being cooked in a pretty negligible way, if at all.

Chris Amirault

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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I can't go through the book to find it right now, but its discussion of wet-bulb and dry-bulb (that is to say, your oven's) temperatures makes you realize the importance of the former to cooking and, correspondingly, the lower importance of oven temperature. So my guess is that opening the oven briefly affects the item being cooked in a pretty negligible way, if at all.

No fair quoting a book I have on pre-order! Seriously, thanks for sharing this, I can't wait to get my copy.

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Long, long ago, in a place called Long Island, my father used to refer to my habit of slathering sun-tan oil all over myself as "basting." A coating of grease cooks you inside and hastens the crisping of your skin to a lovely golden rosy burnish. Among other things.

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Wow... I didn't expect to see so much favor towards NOT basting! Anyone who's done some serious roasting - high volume restaurants, hotels, etc - SHOULD know the quality of the meat if you did or didn't baste... the sweet/salty juices pouring over the meat again won't make the roast more succulent - it will give the outside a flavorful "crust"(which will make you salivate more, like me right now thinking about it). Most places have some roasting pans that they dent on purpose so the juices collect easier so they can baste easier... I DO find, though, that too much fat dries out a roast by the end....

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Having watched America's Test Kitchen yesterday, where a pork shoulder (bone in "butt") was basted a few times and as it turned out beautifully, I would opt to use their method at least once, before trying it without.

Some things I baste and some I do not. It all depends on the piece of meat or poultry and how much integral fat it contains. Some are cooked in a pot that has a "self-basting" lid and some are tented, which produces the same effect.

I like basting some things. It is simply a satisfying action for me, even if it does nothing to the item being roasted. :rolleyes:

"There are, it has been said, two types of people in the world. There are those who say: this glass is half full. And then there are those who say: this glass is half empty. The world belongs, however, to those who can look at the glass and say: What's up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don't think so. My glass was full! And it was a bigger glass!" Terry Pratchett

 

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1. Surface temperature of meat is about 212 degrees F (disregarding salt raises boiling point some what) as long as the oven temperature is above 212 degrees. You cannot raise this meat temperature even the oven temperature is 500 degrees, basting or no basting.

2. Thermal conductivity of meat is a constant physical property dependiong on moisture and fat composition, etc., basting cannot make BTUs travel faster or slower into the meat center.

3. The only difference is when the meat is below 212 degrees, basting, by conduction, will heat up the meat faster, until 212 degrees, then nothing much can change anything.

Basting for flavor? I just turn the meat over at some point, no basting.

The above are just my superstitions, may not be scientific.

dcarch

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1. Surface temperature of meat is about 212 degrees F (disregarding salt raises boiling point some what) as long as the oven temperature is above 212 degrees.

I don't think that's quite true. The surface temperature of the meat -- the wet-bulb temperature -- is affected by evaporation, which is a cooling process that is affected by the humidity in the oven. So you can have wet-bulb temperatures that are lower. Again quoting MC (2-103):

[A]ll of the additional heat energy arriving at the surface of the food is being used to vaporize water rather than to increase the temperature of the food. ... During this phase of baking, the effective baking temperature becomes stuck at something less than 100/212 -- usually a lot less-- at the wet-bulb termperature, which is defined as the temperature of evaporating water.

Chris Amirault

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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"----I don't think that's quite true. The surface temperature of the meat -- the wet-bulb temperature -- is affected by evaporation, which is a cooling process that is affected by the humidity in the oven. So you can have wet-bulb temperatures that are lower. Again quoting MC (2-103): ----"

In an oven that is above 212 degrees, water in the sauce as well as in the meat will be boiling away constantly based on the BTUs and latent heat of water. In an enclosed environment inside an oven, relative humidity will be very close to 100 %, which makes evaporation impossible.

However, vaporization will be continuing from boiling, and at boiling, the temperature will be at 212 degrees.

I think.

dcarch

Edited by dcarch (log)
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In an oven that is above 212 degrees, water in the sauce as well as in the meat will be boiling away constantly based on the BTUs and latent heat of water. In an enclosed environment inside an oven, relative humidity will be very close to 100 %, which makes evaporation impossible.

This is definitely not right. If your oven was humid then everything you put in it would be braised. The amount of water evaporating off your meat surface is not nearly enough to steam up your entire oven to 100%. This is why covering meat changes the way it cooks - it traps the steam.

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"---This is definitely not right. If your oven was humid then everything you put in it would be braised.--"

I am not sure I understand your definition of "braised". Are you talking about steamed?

In a small volume such as an oven, a boiling container of water (or sauce) can easily create a 100% humid environment. In such an environment, dry bulb and wet bulb temperature will be the same.

When you cover a pot you trap the vapor, creating a more humid environment to retard evaporation therefore you need less heat to reach boiling point. Less evaporation means the food will dry out less.

If evaporation lowers temperature of the food to less than boiling point inside an oven that is above 212 degrees than a convection oven can never work.

dcarch

Edited by dcarch (log)
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You'll get a burn, but Matt's right about evaporation.

Here's the relevant paragraph from Modernist Cuisine (2:103):

Basting food is a lot like deep-frying it a bit at a time. Whether you're baking in an oven or frying over a burner, dribbling food with hot fat or oil will speed cooking in a couple of ways. First, a coating of oil puts a lid on evaporation, raising the wet-bulb tempearture -- and therefore the effective cooking temperature -- at the surface of the food. The coating of oil can also be much hotter than the boiling point of water, so any water droplets the oil encounters at the food surface flash to steam and erupt through the oil as jets of vapor. These constant eruptions stir the cooler air that surrounds the food, and the resulting turbulence increases the rate of heat transfer -- just as convection currents in a deep fryer do.

Taken together, these two effects heat and dry the food surface more quickly and evenly than either baking or panfrying alone.

First of all, by focusing on the benefits of basting with hot oil, is it safe to assume that basting with non-oil ingredients such as water and wine are, indeed, a waste of time?

Secondly, the assumption that pan juices are even close to 100% fat is false. Raw meat is around 75% water and that water is constantly being released into the pan. Even in those environments (such as a small roast in a wide pan) where there is a great deal of evaporation, many chefs maintain a steady supply of liquid to prevent the drippings from burning. Where there is water combined with fat, there are going to be boiling temperatures, not deep frying temps.

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I'm all for basting and turning most things I roast. Turning as I see it is a bit like basting in that the juices that were on the bottom drip over the meat or poultry and crisp up as they cook, but turning also has the effect of letting the roast cook more evenly, since a conventional oven is likely to be hotter at the top than at the bottom. Those fatty salty juices are adding to the flavor and texture of the surface of the meat, and I think that's a good thing.

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Basting is absolute lunacy and nonsense! They're now 5 of the top ten Turkey producers in the US that now say on their instructions, "Do not Baste," Congrats to them! I liken basting to, and I'm not being crude, but if you had a blister on your arm, from a steam burn, would you put a hot boiling liquid on it? breaking it open twenty minutes later?. Where is the moisture in the blister coming from? Yes, it's being pulled from the moisture in the protein. And then repeat it 6-8 times during the cooking process? (ever wonder why Turkeys basted constantly are so dry the next day and need a 1/2 cup of mayo to make them palatable?) Electric ovens take between 8-11 minutes to come back to heat after having the door of the oven opened. (good way to heat hell into the kitchen) Gas stoves are quicker, but not much.. In restaurants, especially in Europe, we cook at 550 - 650 deg. and more. If a chef saw a line cook basting and opening the oven, repeatedly, he'd fire him on the spot. The enemy is moisture. The proper process in preparing any protein in a heated environment is the drying of the protein, eg; fish, poultry, beef etc., with a paper towel, or clean cloth towel, to get all of the moisture off. Then sealing the protein with an oil, brushed or rubbed. Now, when you put this in the oven, on a grate or rack, it creates what is called "Assamar," (look it up) which is like a balloon encapsulating the protein, thus keeping the moisture in the protein, so it can't escape. Any moisture on the surface of the protein will let and create a steam spigot, so to speak, (basting!) releasing the aromatic steam or moisture from inside the protein. You must let the meat rest!!!! after cooking at least 4-6 minutes for smaller proteins and more time (20-30 minutes) for larger items like Turkey, or you'll see immediate moisture (juices) running on your carving board/plate. And NO SALT on the protein before cooking. Salt is Anhydrous! Salt brings moisture to the surface of the protein, want a good grilled tasty Steak? then leave the salt and salt infused rubs off your proteins when cooking. Salt (TT) = to taste, after you've grilled, baked, broiled etc. I personally love salt. After the cooking process! And don't confuse a marinating and or brining process, with salt before you cook, as salting before cooking, salt in the marinating/brining process breaks down connective tissue in the protein and makes the protein less "tough," (for no better word) and it's the same process after you've marinated or brined. You must dry the protein with the towel and oil before putting it in the heated environment. I see these major food magazines getting these amateur writers each year in their "Summer Grilling," issue on how to grill and they ALL salt before grilling, you cannot get a good crusted moist steak by salting it. Folks it's just basic food chemistry.

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  • 9 months later...

What could complicate this discussion is that there's at least 3 types of basting: basting with liquid, basting with 212F fat and basting with hot fat and each of these has a different effect. The Modernist Cuisine excerpt is clearly talking about basting with hot fat which means that it's purported effects are going to be invalid for the other two.

The original purpose of basting appears to have been motivated by the mistaken belief that liquid would be absorbed into the meat, making it juicier. This does not work by the original mechanism and it appears that most basting with liquid does more harm than good.

If you're basting with fat from the drippings, there's also two different conditions, one is that the drippings contain a mixture of liquid and fat and that the entire mass is at the boiling temperature of water, the other is that most of the liquid has evaporated off and the fat is now in the process of deep frying the drippings. This is the fat MC talks about as being optimal for basting.

PS: I am a guy.

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The biggest reason I can see for basting is that it keeps the STUFFING moist. Not the bird itself - I never baste unstuffed birds, but stuffed ones MUST be basted, at least over the stuffing, or that turns out awful and lacking in flavour.

Just my 2 cents from experience, nothing more.

Elizabeth Campbell, baking 10,000 feet up at 1° South latitude.

My eG Food Blog (2011)My eG Foodblog (2012)

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