Another pet peeve about recipes

I’ve complained about online recipes before, but there’s another thing that I just don’t understand. When someone writes a recipe, they go to great lengths to document every step. They quantify the ingredients, they explain the steps involved, and, if they go the extra mile, they tell you what can go wrong and how to fix it. But after all of the weights, ratios, and ordered lists, the recipe writer throws out a cooking time.

“Bake uncovered at 400° for 25–30 minutes.”
“Grill over high heat for four minutes per side, flipping once.”
“Smoke at 225° for 90 minutes per pound.”

These instructions are so close to arbitrary that it’s amazing anything other than casseroles and crockpot recipes come out correctly. Why do people go through the hassle of documenting everything in concise terms only to throw out an estimate at the end?

If someone asked you how to get to a new restaurant in town, you wouldn’t say to them, “it’s an eight minute drive with a couple of right turns in the middle. See you there.” Instead, you’d tell them what streets to turn on, and you would explain the drive in distance, not time. Time varies. Distance doesn’t.

If someone asked you how to build footings for a new back deck, you wouldn’t say to them, “go dig holes for six to eight hours and then pour some concrete at the end.” Instead, you would explain how to measure and line up the holes, how deep to dig them, and how high to pour the concrete. Measurements are concrete, not abstract.

So why don’t recipes explain doneness in terms of temperature? Sure, we’re told to measure the temperatures of foods when illness is a concern, but why not measure the moment of top quality?

No two ovens cook the same. No grills hold absolutely steady heat. Everything from humidity to elevation to the shape and make-up of the cooking vessel will alter the cooking time. Yet the internal temperature of a perfectly cooked, medium-rare steak is the same whether it’s cooked in a pan, under the broiler, or outside on the grill. This is true for steamed carrots, roasted cauliflower, and chocolate chip cookies as well.

Why do we still cook to time rather than temperature? We have the tools. We can easily measure these things. Yet this information is kept from us. Sure, I appreciate the time estimate for planning purposes, but at least give me the optimal internal temperature so that I can know, rather than guess, that the dish is done.

We’ve all cooked a homemade lasagna and pulled it out of the oven when “the sauce is bubbling” only to find that it’s still lukewarm in the center. A leave-in temperature probe would have told me that it wasn’t finished cooking if only I had been told what the optimal temperature was in the first place. But I wasn’t given that important information. Why not?

Another pet peeve about recipes

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