When contemplating high altitude cooking, several different challenges are presented. For instance, on sea level, water boils at two hundred and twelve degrees Fahrenheit. For every five hundred feet in elevation, the boiling point reduces one degree. By the time you reach seventy-five hundred feet, your water will boil at about one-hundred and ninety-eight degrees Fahrenheit.
There are about fifteen American states considered at high altitude, although many other locations in the U.S. partly reach the allotted height. Throughout the world, altitude varies and when visiting or camping, it is best to know how to adjust recipes and temperatures for a successful meal.
Cooking Takes Longer
Above twenty-five hundred feet the air holds less oxygen and the pressure increases. This makes everything a lot drier including food that has not been covered. The higher you climb, the more the atmosphere will extract the moisture drying it out considerably. In turn, cooking takes longer. Be sure and keep all food items tightly covered and, if possible, placed in a cooler filled with ice.
As previously mentioned, the boiling point of water reduces as you increase your altitude. Due to atmospheric pressure rapidly decreasing, which causes this phenomenon, planning for extra time to boil your water is recommended. Increasing heat will do nothing for this as the boiling point of water never changes, therefore, do not try to use extra energy. This will only evaporate your water and dry out your food much faster.
Meat and poultry are composed of mostly muscle and fat. The more muscle, the more water content in the meat. This means more potential for drying out and slowing down cooking. When simmering meat in a skillet, it may take up to one-fourth more time to completely cook your food. However, cooking in a closed oven or a pressure cooker will eliminate this extra time, so adhering to sea level recipes is okay for these cooking methods.
Because of the atmospheric adjustment to cooking, burning is common due to time and temperature confusion. It is best to use a food thermometer. This way you can keep an eye on the internal temperature of your food (especially meats and casseroles) to avoid burning or scorching your food. Some internal temperatures for foods are as follows:
- Meats - between 140 and 160 degrees Fahrenheit
- Poultry - about 165 degrees Fahrenheit
- Eggs, stuffings, casseroles and reheating are best at - 160-165 degrees Fahrenheit
Cooking at high altitudes with a microwave may take less time to complete, however, for meats, rice and pasta, it may require sea level time. Using a food thermometer is your best bet when using a microwave for the above mentioned foods.
Any foods that need to rise by using yeast, baking powder, etc, do so much faster. Adjusting ingredients and cooking time is essential. Watching the dough rise as opposed to relying on time is recommended. Reducing the amount of baking powder as well as not over beating eggs is helpful as well.
Keeping food hot should always be monitored at above 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Bacteria growth is most common between 40 and 140 degrees, however, advance between 90 and 110 degrees. The food thermometer, once again, is the tool of choice to keep you out of harms way.