High Altitude Cooking Information

Discussion in 'Messages for All Guests and Members' started by smokinhusker, May 2, 2012.

  1. Just a bit of info regarding high altitude cooking, for those that didn't know. This is not the complete article and you are welcome to visit the website to read it in its entirety: http://www.fsis.usda.gov/factsheets/High_Altitude_Cooking_and_Food_Safety/index.asp

    High Altitude Cooking and Food Safety

    What is considered high altitude?

    Most cookbooks consider 3,000 feet above sea level to be high altitude, although at 2,000 feet above sea level,

    the boiling temperature of water is 208* instead of 212*F. Most of the western United States (Alaska, Arizona,

    California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, South Dakota, Texas, Utah,

    Washington and Wyoming) are wholly or partly at high altitude, however many other states contain mountainous

    areas that are also well above sea level.

    How is the air different at high altitudes?   

     Above 2,500 feet, the atmosphere becomes much drier. The air has less oxygen and atmospheric pressure,

    so cooking takes longer. Moisture quickly evaporates from everything.

    How do high altitudes affect cooking?

    At altitudes above 3,000 feet, preparation of food may require changes in time, temperature or recipe. The reason is the lower atmospheric pressure due to a thinner blanket of air above. At sea level, the air presses on a square inch of surface with 14.7 pounds of pressure; at 5,000 feet with 12.3 pounds of pressure; and at 10,000 feet with only 10.2 pounds of pressure - a decrease of about 1/2 pound per 1,000 feet. This decreased pressure affects food preparation in two ways:

    1. Water and other liquids evaporate faster and boil at lower temperatures.

    2. Leavening gases in breads and cakes expand more.  

    As atmospheric pressure decreases, water boils at lower temperatures. At sea level, water boils at 212*F. With each 500-feet increase in elevation, the boiling point of water is lowered by just under 1*F. At 7,500 feet, for example, water boils at about 198*F. Because water boils at a lower temperature at higher elevations, foods that are prepared by boiling or simmering will cook at a lower temperature, and it will take longer to cook.

    High altitude areas are also prone to low humidity, which can cause the moisture in foods to evaporate more quickly during 

    cooking. Covering foods during cooking will help retain moisture.

    Why must cooking time be increased?

    As altitude increases and atmospheric pressure decreases, the boiling point of water decreases. To compensate for the lower

    boiling point of water, the cooking time must be increased. Turning up the heat will not help cook food faster. No matter how high the cooking temperature, water cannot exceed its own boiling point - unless if using a pressure cooker. Even if the heat is turned up, the water will simply boil away faster and whatever you are cooking will dry out faster.

    How do high altitudes affect the cooking of meat and poultry?

    Meat and poultry products are composed of muscle, connective tissue, fat and bone. The muscle is approximately 75% water

    (although different cuts of meat may have more or less water) and 20% protein, with the remaining 5% representing a combination

    of fat, carbohydrates and minerals. The leaner the meat, the higher the water content (less fat means more protein, thus more water).

    With such high water content, meat and poultry are susceptible to drying out while being cooked if special precautions are not

    taken. Cooking meat and poultry at high altitudes may require adjustments in both time and moisture. This is especially true for meat cooked by simmering or braising. Depending on the density and size of the pieces, meats and poultry cooked by moist heat may take up to one-fourth more cooking time when cooked at 5,000 feet. Use the sea-level time and temperature guidelines when oven-roasting meat and poultry, as oven temperatures are not affected by altitude changes. 

    And I found this in a Traeger manual:


    - When estimating cooking times for outdoor smoking, ambient air temperature, weather conditions and  altitude will alter your cooking times. If it is hot outside, it will take less time for food to cook. If it is cold, wet or windy, it will take longer for food to cook. The thermostat control will help provide a constant temperature at the setting you’ve chosen once the grill has come up to the temperature you set it at.
  2. Thanks for the great info. Let's go back to that boil testing of probes post again. :biggrin:
  3. Which post is that? I don't recall seeing it. I calibrate my therms both ways, boiling and ice to make sure they are accurate. 
    Last edited: May 2, 2012
  4. forluvofsmoke

    forluvofsmoke Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    I may have stumbled into that document once upon a time...seems very familiar, anyway. I can personally vouch for the above info about longer cooking times at a given chamber temp at higher elevation. I live at 5,000 ft elevation and my home stomping grounds are around ~1,200 ft. When I've been back for visits and do any cooking, I get slapped in the face with faster cooking and reheats. I'm getting better at remembering it now days, though...it's that initial learning curve to overcome, then, it's a down-hill ride after that, unless I spend too much time there...then when I get back home, I have to learn how to cook all over again...LOL!!! I still forget to bump temps from the normal 225* to around 240* with larger cuts of meat, for my elevation.

    Here's the table I post for others to reference for thermometer calibration or verification...pretty much goes hand-in-hand with the above document:


    Thanks for the info, Alesia!

    Last edited: May 3, 2012
  5.       Thank you for the additional info about the calibrating, Eric! I'll definitely try bumping up my chamber temp as you suggest to help me along. I'm sure it couldn't hurt. I'm thinking I'll put a post it on the top of the smoker to remind me to bump up the chamber temp when doing larger cuts of meat. Funny though when I moved to this altitude I ruined lots of things in the kitchen, one that I'll never forget is homemade old fashioned fudge...it took 3 days of soaking the pan to get it out of there...didn't know I had to adjust the cooking temp and many cakes fell as well. 

    I absolutely understand the change when cooking at a lower elevation and nearly ruined several meals while visiting in SE Ohio! [​IMG]

    EDIT: I just started reading the article you reference and it looks like it will be very helpful. 
    Last edited: May 3, 2012
  6. danelmore

    danelmore Fire Starter

    Last edited: Jun 9, 2012
  7. You are very welcome and I thank you for your experienced comments as well!
  8. Try making coffee on a campfire at 5000+ feet,takes a long time,LOL.
  9. Yep it does and takes a while even on a propane stove! 
  10. thoseguys26

    thoseguys26 Master of the Pit

    Not only that, your coffee cools down twice as fast then at sea level. 
  11. rabbithutch

    rabbithutch Master of the Pit OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    Thanks for posting this information!

    I live at approximately 700', MOL. That means that water boils at 210.7 here. I doubt that the difference affects my cooking but it's good to be made aware of the issues of temperature and barometric pressure.

    I need to calibrate my ET-73 and my ET-901. I got a new probe for the 901 and checked it in boiling water. It stabilized at 214*. I haven't checked the 73 yet. I need to do that and to check both of them in slushy ice.

    And, yes, my old probes showed up 3 days after my new gear arrived.
  12. simlid

    simlid Newbie


    Thanks for the great info. Just a further question/sanity check. I come from sea level originally so never had these type of issues. However I now live at approx 6400 feet and am trying (really I am) to get into smoking but it just keeps kicking me. 

    Today as an example I placed a 4.5 lb pork butt on my Masterbuilt Electric 40" at 8am. The temp was set to 252 although this equated to 245 due to thermo inaccuracy that I tested. I applied wood (smoke) until 2pm and then as it had reached 160 wrapped in foil. At about 2:45 to 3pm the butt had risen to 172 then stalled. It is now almost 6 hours into the stall (the temp dropped 2 degrees) and I have just seen 1 degree of heat increase. Everything I know about cooking (not smoking mind you) tells me this is way to long for a cut this size but I have not fiddled with temp, opened the door or unfoiled at this time. I am determined to see if through but was wondering if you or others have any type of guideline on cuts and rough times so I know when to leave it and when to panic about the meat in the smoker.

    Thanks to you and all. I am determined to get better at this form of cooking and appreciate the input
  13. Sorry I'm replying to this so late. When it comes to smoking pork butt and beef brisket, it takes patience in addition to low and slow. My last butt did the same as your...it stalled, dropped temp and took forever to get going again. I have had stalls from as short as 3 hrs to 6 hrs and they are aggravating to say the least, thankfully all have taken place while I was sleeping so I was able to get through the panic mode. No two pieces of the meat are the same. Yes I agree cooking is way different than smoking.

    The general guideline for these cuts of meat is 1.5 - 2 hrs per pound of meat, then when you add the altitude and the other variables (temp, barometric pressure, etc), the smoking time may take up to one-fourth more cooking time. 

    I did do a search for some posts I had seen on the explanation of the stall and you can access them here:


    The first pork butt I smoked put me into the panic mode but I had the time and just rode it out. I do know that others have removed theirs from the smoker and finished it off in the oven to the desired IT and that does seem shorten the time. 

    Sorry I can't be of more help and I certainly hope it all came out well.

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