High altitude cooking refers to the special considerations given to cooking or baking at altitudes above 3,000 feet. At high altitudes, where the air is thinner and there is less oxygen and atmospheric pressure, the temperature and time at which foods are cooked are affected. For example, at 2,000 feet above sea level, the boiling temperature of water changes from 212 degrees Fahrenheit to 208. Most cookbooks consider 3,000 feet and higher to be high altitude cooking and provide special instructions for preparing recipes. Similarly, boxed foods also provide preparation instructions for high altitude cooking if the food preparation will be affected.
High altitudes affect food preparation because of the drier air and reduced atmospheric pressure. Foods take longer to cook and can dry out easier in high altitudes. Water and other liquids will boil at a lower temperature and will evaporate quicker at high altitudes. Another affect of high altitude cooking is the increased expansion of leavening gases in cakes and breads.
The considerations that are commonly given for high altitude cooking include adjusting the oven temperature or burner settings, covering foods to avoid over-drying, and increasing the cooking times – especially for meat and poultry. Additionally, certain ingredients in recipes for baking may need to be adjusted. Though oven temperatures do not change with the altitude, changes in air pressure do affect the way certain foods cook or bake.
Approximately 1/3 of the United States is considered high altitude for cooking. Since most cook books and prepared baking mixes provide high altitude cooking instructions, any necessary adjustments are described. However, many recipes that are exchanged between friends and family members may have to be adjusted based on experience with and knowledge of high altitude cooking methods. The most commonly affected foods are meat, poultry and baked goods.
If you ever find yourself cooking at high altitudes with no adjustments included with your recipe, consult someone who has experience with high altitude cooking before you begin. This way you won’t end up with undercooked or over dried meat or baked goods.