Common Roasting Mistakes and How to Avoid Them
This is Part 2 of common roasting mistakes and how to avoid them. In Part 1, I look at some of the preferences that are not mistakes but variations you can use depending on your own personal cooking style.
Mistake #1: Oven too hot or too cold
Roasting is primarily accomplished through radiant heat–heat waves directly penetrating the meat. If your oven is set too low, the meat won’t properly brown, and your roast will not be very flavorful. If you set the oven temperature too high, the exterior of the meat can overcook and char before the interior gets cooked, leaving you with a blackened, dried out mess.
The Fix — Use Your Thermostat
If you have a very thick piece of meat, such as a standing rib roast or a turkey, don’t be afraid to adjust the temperature as you roast.
Start roasting at a high temperature–475°F – 500°F is not unheard of–for the first fifteen minutes or so to ensure deep browning. Then, reduce the heat to 325°F – 350°F to let the meat finish roasting at a less harsh temperature.
The higher the heat, the more aggressively the heat waves penetrate the meat, and that could mean dry meat as the moisture is literally pushed out by the heat. Once you have achieved optimal browning, there is no need to continue roasting at match speed.
There is an alternate method of dual-temperature roasting that I want to address as well. Rather than starting the roast in a high oven and then backing off the heat, you can also start the meat in a low oven and then turn up the thermostat.
There is no wrong or right way, but know that there will be more carry over cooking with the start low/finish high method because there will be more of a thermal load that must dissipate once the meat is out of the oven.
Mistake #2: Putting the Meat Directly in the Pan
As stated earlier, roasting is a dry heat cooking method. Therefore, it is in the roast’s (and our) best interest to keep the meat as dry as possible when in the oven. Placing the meat directly in the pan inhibits browning on that part of your roast.
Even if the meat and pan and dry to begin with, fats and juices will collect in your roasting pan. All of a sudden, you find your meat sitting in liquid and steaming rather than roasting. Since the temperature of the liquid won’t exceed the boiling point, browning of the submerged meat is impossible.
The Fix — Use a Rack
In order to keep the meat out of the cooking liquids that accumulate in the bottom of the pan, it is essential to elevate the meat. This can be accomplished in a couple of ways.
Many roasting pans come with a metal rack included. Just spray with some pan spray and place the meat directly on the rack.
If your pan did not come with a rack, you have a couple of options: a flat rack or a V-rack. A flat rack is just that, a flat rack not unlike a cake cooling rack. A V-rack has a flat section at the bottom, and then each side comes up at an angle.
The idea behind this type of rack is to help the meat keep its shape. They are especially popular for roasting turkeys.
The option is your own, of course, but I find that meats roasted in V-racks take longer to cook because they are “bunched up.” This means you have to leave your meat in the oven longer and risk some portions being overcooked while waiting for the bunched up portions to cook.
I like to raise my meat off the bottom with an edible rack. Choose vegetables with flavors that will complement your meat and use them to build a platform for the meat to rest on.
Celery sticks and whole carrots do a nice job of this, but don’t discount fruits such as apples or citrus. Just cut them in half, skin on, and place them cut side down in the pan.
Mistake #3: Taking the Meat from Fridge to Oven
Taking a piece of meat straight from the refrigerator and putting it in a hot oven is a recipe for unevenly cooked meat. If you touch meat that is at refrigerator temperature–38°F–40F–the meat feels very firm.
It’s literally uptight– its proteins coiled very tightly. When that uptight meat hits a hot oven, it will contract, squeezing out the moisture and leaving you with a dry piece of meat.
The Fix — Counter Time
Letting the meat sit out on the counter for an hour, or even two, might sound unsafe, but it will give the meat a chance to relax and come closer to room temperature–shoot for around 70°F. If you are worried about surface bacteria, know that you will kill it off in the oven.
Even so, make sure you bring your meat straight home from the store and put it right in the refrigerator. Better yet, take it home in a cooler. The idea is to minimize time spent in “The Danger Zone,” 41°F – 140°F, thus minimizing worry when your meat is coming to room temperature.
Touch the meat when it is at 70F. You’ll find it to be much softer-feeling and relaxed, and when you put it in the oven, it won’t contract. The end result? A juicy roast.
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