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It may not be fair to our friends in the Denver or Mexico City, but it’s true: Most recipes are designed for cooking at sea level. Once you hit 3,000 feet of altitude or above, you’ll need to make some adjustments to compensate for the change in air pressure.
From increasing your liquids to cooking your food longer, here are some basic tips for how to adjust recipes when cooking or baking for altitude.
But First … Why Does Altitude Affect Cooking and Baking?
Let’s remember our high school physics: When the altitude goes up, the air pressure goes down. This decrease in atmospheric pressure means that water boils at a lower temperature and evaporates more quickly. Food has a harder time retaining heat, so it takes longer to cook. (Just to make things complicated, however, this evaporation has the opposite effect on baked goods).
This, combined with the drier air, can cause the food to lose moisture as well. The higher the altitude, the greater the effect it will have on your cooking and baking. You’ll likely need to make more adjustments when cooking at 7,000 feet above sea level than 3,000.
Cooking for Altitude
Expect meat to require a longer cook time in high altitudes. Regardless of how you are preparing it, ensure that it is cooked through by using a meat thermometer to verify its internal temperature. Cooking it longer can also mean that meat dries out more easily, so consider basting it during the final 5-10 minutes.
Cook vegetables for an additional five minutes. If steaming your veggies, add 25% more water than before, as it will evaporate more quickly.
If grilling your meat, veggies, or other food items, you’ll want to cook them at a lower temperature than usual, and for longer. Place them farther from the heat source, to keep the food from burning and drying out during the extended cook time.
Because the boiling point of water is lower in high altitudes, pasta cooks more slowly. In addition to increasing the cook time, Denver chef Jon Emanuel recommends using a large pot of water even if only cooking a small serving of pasta. This keeps the temperature of the water from dropping as much when you add the pasta. Chef Emanuel also recommends adding extra salt, which raises the boiling point of water.
Like pasta, rice will take longer to cook in high altitudes. However, you need to be more precise when adding water to a pot of rice. Boil the rice in just 15-20% more water than usual, and add a few minutes to the cook time.
Soups and Sauces
Faster evaporation is the biggest concern when preparing soups and sauces in high altitudes, as it will affect the consistency. Add 1-2 tablespoons of water at a time to sauces and up to a cup of water to soups to achieve the desired texture.
To avoid making your slow-cooker foods very-slow-cooker foods, defrost any frozen ingredients before adding them to the pot. Be sure to check the internal temperature of meat before digging in as well. If using a thickening agent like flour, increase the amount of water added as well.
Hard-boiled eggs can be tricky in high altitudes because the boiling point of water is lower. The Mountain Mama Cooks blog recommends several tips: use eggs that are 1-2 weeks old, allow them to reach room temperature before cooking, and cook at a rolling boil in an uncovered pot for 15 minutes. Remove eggs from heat, and let sit for three minutes before running them under cool water for 1-2 minutes.
Baking for Altitude
Temperature and Time
Cakes, cookies, breads–they all cook faster in high altitudes due to the increased rate of evaporation. This means they start to dry out and expand too much if you leave them in for the recommended length of time. To counteract this, King Arthur Flour recommends increasing your oven temperature by 15-25 degrees Fahrenheit and decreasing your baking time by 5-8 minutes for every half hour recorded in the recipe.
The accelerated rate of evaporation can also cause the sugar to become overly concentrated, which can ruin the structure of baked goods like breads and cakes. A good rule of thumb is to use one less tablespoon of sugar per every cup in the recipe.
To keep your baked goods from drying out, you’ll want to add liquid, though the amount will depend on how high the altitude is. Better Homes and Gardens recommends adding 1-2 tablespoons per cup at 3,000-5,000 feet, 2-4 at 5,000-7,000 feet, and 3-4 above 7,000 feet.
Baking is all about chemistry, which makes adjusting leavening ingredients like baking soda and baking powder a tad complicated. Check out King Arthur Flour’s helpful chart to see what specific changes you should make based on your elevation and the acidic ingredients in your recipe!
– Emily Polson
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