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Meat/Chicken/Fish cooking times and fear in the kitchen

 
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tim99



Joined: 28 Jun 2010
Posts: 4
Location: Atlanta

PostPosted: Mon Jun 28, 2010 12:07 pm    Post subject: Meat/Chicken/Fish cooking times and fear in the kitchen Reply with quote

Hello. My first post. I did a search and did not find what I am looking for.

I watch Food Network all the time and would love to cook more and grill more, but I have a fear of not knowing how long to cook food. I have known for some time that I am very comfortable in the kitchen when baking to a recipe, because I have confidence for mixing and setting a timer, but, when it comes to cooking meat or fish, I have doubt that keeps me from cooking what I want.

This weekend I was watching some DVR'ed The Next Food Network Star shows and a steak competition show and a seafood grilling competition, and I was struck by on one hand the cooks seem to just know how long to cook stuff, but then on the other hand the judges are finding some food not correctly cooked, so it is important but not easy.

I am interested in simply getting more comfortable with the cooking time and what the color or feel of a piece of meat is when it is done. I have made some notes on the internet for different thicknesses of steak, different pieces of chicken. But I am still afraid.

One additional thing that messes with my mind is thinking that I need to grill/sear with higher heat for some first period of time, and then cook/bake with lower heat for then some second period of time. But I have not seen what those two temperatures and two times should be.

I know that the way to get better at this is to put my notes to work and dig in a start cooking, so a while back I got a good instant read electronic temperature sensor, and a month ago I read up on freezing and thawing, my other fear, and have now twice bought two ribeye steaks, cut them in two for four smaller steaks, grilled two right away and froze/thawed the other two and cooked them later. So I am getting there...

But I was wondering if there is a better resource to start with for cooking times / temperature / doneness. Like for example, does Alton Brown cover this in a chapter of one of his books?

I would appreciate any tips, or a book or website that would help with this.

I spent a lot of time in the kitchen growing up, but I was never really taught how to cook something from start to finish. I was simply told to do this or that. I have taught myself how to bake, and have cooked a few things from a recipe, but I am still afraid of cooking a steak or chicken or a piece of fish.

Thank you so much,

Tim.
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DrBiggles



Joined: 12 May 2005
Posts: 355
Location: Richmond, CA

PostPosted: Mon Jun 28, 2010 2:45 pm    Post subject: Re: Meat/Chicken/Fish cooking times and fear in the kitchen Reply with quote

Hi Tim,

Excellent question. There are no books, no media that can replace experience. If you don't make mistakes, take notes and start over you won't learn. I would suggest you buy chicken (cheap) and start there. Grilling the perfect steak, smoking a brisket isn't as easy as it sounds. You should be grilling nearly every day and have a backup plan for dinner!

Put down the books and get cooking! If you can bake, you can cook.

xo, Biggles


Last edited by DrBiggles on Mon Jun 28, 2010 7:25 pm; edited 1 time in total
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Jim Cooley



Joined: 09 Oct 2008
Posts: 338
Location: Seattle

PostPosted: Mon Jun 28, 2010 5:45 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Remember when Mom said not to play with your food?
Don't listen to her....

Best way to gauge how well a piece of chicken or beef is cooked is by touch. You want to learn how hard/soft it is, as well as how springy/stiff it is.

So play with your food the next time you cook it!


I have trouble with fish, and aside from using a fork to see if it's flaky I'm at a loss. Maybe someone has some tips in the piscatorial department?
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tim99



Joined: 28 Jun 2010
Posts: 4
Location: Atlanta

PostPosted: Tue Jun 29, 2010 12:00 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

So last night I grilled a 1.5 inch thick skinless chicken breast. My notes say 12 to 18 minutes and 165 degrees internal. Grilled it on my electric indoor grill for 6 minutes a side. Not done. For another 3 min each side for 18 minutes. Not done. Did not want to grill it more so I heated up the oven and cooked it at 350 degrees. Took 10 min to heat the oven and another 10 for 20 min in the oven, to get to 165.

I am sorry, but the chicken "felt" exactly the same from when the internal temperature was 115 up to when it was 165. I agree with the feel of steak, I have experimented with that, and it does change as the inside gets cooked. But after last night I think that internal temp is the way to go with chicken. Thank God for my Thermopen. Now I want an infrared thermometer to get the grill or pan temperature.

So now I am wondering if it is the springy feel for steak, the temperature for chicken, and the color (change from translucent to white) for fish.

Otherwise my life has basically changed. I used to grab a hamburger or chicken sandwich with fries and a soda on the way home. I have discovered frozen vegetables, am starting to cook pieces of meat, and am drinking V8 juice more than soda. All of this is better for me and cheaper.
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Dilbert



Joined: 19 Oct 2007
Posts: 1018
Location: central PA

PostPosted: Tue Jun 29, 2010 1:52 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

>>electric indoor grill
that could explain most of the timing issue.

the heat output on an electric grill - especially one designed for 'indoor' use - is not even remotely similar to a gas or charcoal grill.

frankly, methinks you may be over thinking "thing-ks" - go forth and cook - it will come. there is absolutely no substitute for experience - unless you ave exactly the same grill at exactly the same temperature and you chicken is exactly the same starting temperature and exactly the same thickness and with exactly the same moisture content, you can forget about "eighteen minutes" anyway. keep the thermometer, throw the clock off the train.

for example the chicken - I pierce it with my pointy carving fork - used an ice pick before I got the fork . . . why? because when grilling or frying the outside of chicken can get hard faster than one expects and fools the squishy test. sticking in the ice pick with a little wiggle lets me judge the interior. yes, it make a hole and some juice runs out. then again, I don't cook chicken to 165'F either.

in the fish department, fish is easy to overcook - especially when using high heat methods - i.e. grilling & frying. my own 'testing' methods vary by cooking method - pan frying, oven baked, over broiled, poached, baked in pastry . . .

and the next issue with "is the fish done yet?" is personal preference.
I know a couple people that could play ice hockey with their salmon steak - and they think that's "perfectly done" - to me, it's inedible.
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tim99



Joined: 28 Jun 2010
Posts: 4
Location: Atlanta

PostPosted: Tue Jun 29, 2010 8:27 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Below is the best site I have found with cooking times:

http://www.recipetips.com/kitchen-tips/t-129-/cooking-temperature-and-time.asp

Thanks for the encouragement to go forth and cook. I think I was I was incorrectly thinking that I had, or could create, the same control over grilling that I had over baking. I will use the above referenced times for starting points only and will take notes.
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Michael Chu



Joined: 10 May 2005
Posts: 1631
Location: Austin, TX (USA)

PostPosted: Tue Jun 29, 2010 9:09 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

tim99 wrote:
Below is the best site I have found with cooking times:

http://www.recipetips.com/kitchen-tips/t-129-/cooking-temperature-and-time.asp

Thanks for the encouragement to go forth and cook. I think I was I was incorrectly thinking that I had, or could create, the same control over grilling that I had over baking. I will use the above referenced times for starting points only and will take notes.


The cooking times on that site are too simplified to be accurate. I think one of the problems is that you're trying to cook based on time and that's never going to work well - even in baking. Since you've got a thermapen, you've got the right tool. You're going to have to make your own timing table for your own setup. The goal in most cooking applications is to reach a certain temperature. Recipes give times because it's assumed that many people don't have thermometers (which is why they say cook for 6 minutes or when cut juices run clear or temperature reaches 160F). But there are too many variables for the time thing to work well - how thick is your chicken breast, how much variability is there in the temperature of your electric grill or oven, what was the starting temperature of your food, etc.

Since you have a thermometer, take the guesswork out and just go with the thermometer. Once you figure out how long it takes to get to the desired temperature on a particular piece of equipment, write that information down for future reference when using a thermometer is inconvenient.

As an example of how cooking times can be off, I recently cooked a prime rib (something I've been doing for years without an issue) where the cooking time was way off from expectation. This was due to the shape of the roast (not as round in cross section as previous roasts - this increases surface area per unit volume) as well as having a new oven (temperatures kept by the oven were very different than expected). Both of these variables will be present whenever a recipe is given to someone else, and both of these things are not taken into account when a recipe tells you to cook for x amount of time. (When I wrote the prime rib article on this site almost 6 years ago, I committed that error and will never do it again.) If you look at the charts I posted on my blog, you can see how "off" a particular oven's temperatures can be and how that can affect cooking time. That's why I advocate relying on the thermapen until you gain enough experience on your equipment to go by time.
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tim99



Joined: 28 Jun 2010
Posts: 4
Location: Atlanta

PostPosted: Tue Jun 29, 2010 11:45 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

You guys have been very encouraging. I guess that I thought that there was some sort of smoking gun or magic bullet or super secret that experienced cooks had that I did not.

I think that the wack in the side of the head that I needed was to change my mind to think now that even though I do not have a lot of experience, I do have enought information to start, the skills to experiment and take notes, and the ability to learn for myself what is good for my equipment and my location and the food that I want to cook.
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DrBiggles



Joined: 12 May 2005
Posts: 355
Location: Richmond, CA

PostPosted: Thu Jul 01, 2010 12:08 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

And remember, even if someone has been grilling or smoking for 30 some odd years doesn't mean we don't make mistakes. I set a trio of oiled/rubbed chicken breasts in the most awesome cooker of all time (I believe it to be revolutionary and not evolutionary) and promptly ended up taking a nap.

When I woke up, dinner was over and it was time to order a pizza.




All it means is, get out there and make some mistakes and learn from them.

xo, Biggles
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jeffy
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PostPosted: Wed Sep 08, 2010 7:57 am    Post subject: cooking times Reply with quote

A lot of my friends have issues w/ cooking meat to the 'right' temperature as well. Even though it does take a lot of practice, here are a few engineer tips that serve me well

- Thicker cuts require lower temp cooking. Burgers and thin meats (pounded chicken breasts, thin fish fillets, shrimp, etc) can be seared and cooked over high heat. Anything over 3/4 of an inch or so is going to need med or med-high heat, otherwise the outside will be toast while the inside is still raw. I'm guessing this is what happened w/ your chicken breast

- Food continues to cook after pulling it off heat and letting it rest (which you should almost always do). So, if you pull a steak at the desired doneness, its going to cook up another degree of doneness which isnt what you want. This is trickiest when it comes to fish, because you're constantly worried about raw fish, but you just have to trust in carryover.

- Flip meat when it's cooked halfway (assuming a one-side cooking method). My general rule of thumb is just to watch the food cook until its just past half way on the outside edge. The outer edge cooks slighly faster than what's inside, and so if you flip when it's just past halfway, you know that side is done. The other side usually takes about 20% less time than the first side, because the food isn't cold from the fridge anymore.
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