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Steamy Standing Time: How Food Size Impacts Carryover Cooking

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Areas of Science
Time Required
Average (6-10 days)
Material Availability
Readily available
Low ($20 - $50)
Adult supervision is required when using the oven.
*Note: For this science project you will need to develop your own experimental procedure. Use the information in the summary tab as a starting place. If you would like to discuss your ideas or need help troubleshooting, use the Ask An Expert forum. Our Experts won't do the work for you, but they will make suggestions and offer guidance if you come to them with specific questions.

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"What? My food needs some standing time? How can food stand? I don't see any legs on those baked potatoes!" Whether you're using a traditional oven or a microwave, standing time is an important concept in cooking or baking. When you remove a food from an oven or a microwave, the food retains heat and continues to cook for several minutes after it has been removed from the heat source. This process of the food continuing to cook, using the retained heat in the food itself, is called carryover cooking. It is the reason why many recipes call for standing time. The carryover cooking that occurs during standing time causes the internal temperature of the food to rise several degrees and allows for the temperature to become more equalized throughout the food. How much carryover cooking is possible depends upon the size of the food, its density, its heat capacity (ability to retain heat), and how hot its internal temperature is when you remove it from the oven. Foods that are high in water have a high heat capacity, and therefore, are excellent at carryover cooking. Thus, failure to allow for standing time results in food that is overdone.

In this cooking and food science project, you will explore how much the size of the food relates to its final internal temperature. You will roast different sizes of the same type of meat to the same internal temperature, remove them from the oven, and measure and record their internal temperature every few seconds over several minutes, using an electric probe or instant-read oven thermometer placed in the center of the roast, avoiding any bone. How much does the volume of the roast impact the amount of carryover cooking that can be achieved? What about the surface-area-to-volume ratio (or "compactness" of the roast)? Does that impact how much carryover cooking is possible, as well? As another variation, you could see how different types of foods with different densities, but the same volume are affected by carryover cooking.

A drawing of a roasted ham with a digital thermometer inserted into the middle and thickest portion of the meat

Figure 1. This cartoon shows a roast experiencing carryover cooking outside the oven with an instant read thermometer in its center. (USDA, 2006.)


This source offers a discussion of standing time in microwave ovens:

This source shows how to place a thermometer in meat, avoiding the bone:

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MLA Style

Science Buddies Staff. "Steamy Standing Time: How Food Size Impacts Carryover Cooking." Science Buddies, 23 June 2020, https://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/project-ideas/FoodSci_p067/cooking-food-science/carryover-cooking. Accessed 27 Feb. 2024.

APA Style

Science Buddies Staff. (2020, June 23). Steamy Standing Time: How Food Size Impacts Carryover Cooking. Retrieved from https://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/project-ideas/FoodSci_p067/cooking-food-science/carryover-cooking

Last edit date: 2020-06-23
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