What Is Carry Over Cooking

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Carry Over Cooking is a fundamental concept in food science, crucial for anyone who loves to cook or simply enjoys a perfectly cooked piece of meat. This phenomenon occurs when food, especially meat, continues to cook even after being removed from its heat source. Understanding what is carry over cooking is essential for achieving desired doneness and preserving the quality of meats like steaks, roasts, and other varieties.

Flat iron steak with compound butter cooked to medium rare.

The goal with any of our recipes is to make sure you can be the hero of the grill or smoker and cook your food to your desired temperature and flavor profile. In order to do this it’s important to understand the science of carry over cooking.

The Science Behind Carry Over Cooking

At the heart of carry over cooking is the transfer of heat. When you cook meat, heat moves from the surface inward. Even after the meat is removed from the oven, stove, or grill, or even fire pit, the heat doesn’t stop instantly. Instead, it continues to flow towards the cooler center of the meat, causing the internal temperature to rise. This residual cooking process is what we refer to as carry over cooking.

Thermoworks wrote a very detailed article about the science behind carry over cooking.

Factors Influencing Carry Over Cooking

Several factors can affect the degree of carry over cooking:

  • Size and Thickness of Meat: Larger and thicker cuts of meat, like roasts, exhibit more pronounced carry over cooking. Primarily due to the greater mass and internal heat.
  • Cooking Temperature: High-heat cooking methods will lead to more significant carry over cooking.
  • Type of Meat: Different meats, due to their structure and fat content, respond differently to carry over cooking. Think American Wagyu versus Choice steaks and their very different marbling.

Carry Over Cooking in Steaks

Steaks are a classic example where carry over cooking plays a vital role. A perfectly cooked steak is often judged by its internal temperature and level of doneness, from rare to well-done.

Grilled steak sliced on a cutting board.

If you desire a medium-rare steak, you should remove it from the heat when it’s a few degrees below the target temperature. Meaning if you want that medium-rare steak at around 135 degrees F, then you should pull it from the grill when the internal temperature reads 130 degrees F. The carry over cooking will bring it to the perfect doneness without overcooking.

The Importance for Roasts

Roasts, due to their size, are particularly susceptible to carry over cooking. A roast pulled out of the oven or grill at its target temperature will likely end up overcooked. Therefore, it’s crucial to remove roasts before they reach the desired internal temperature, allowing the carry over cooking to finish the process gently.

We do this with our Grilled Prime Rib. We are sure we remove the roast well before it’s at our desired internal temperature.

Boneless Smoked Prime Rib on a platter topped with horseradish butter

Carry Over Cooking Chart

Target Finishing TemperatureRemove Steak At:Remove Roast At:
Black and Blue (120°F)110°F100°F
Rare (120-130°F)115 – 120°F 110°F
Medium Rare (130-135°F)125 – 130°F 120°F
Medium (135-145°F)130 – 135°F 125 – 130°F
Medium Well (145-155°F)140 – 145°F 135 – 140°F
Well Done (155°F and above)150°F 145 – 150°F

Other Meats

Carry over cooking happens in other meats. It’s also essential when cooking poultry, pork, and lamb. The key is to know the ideal internal temperature for the type of meat and its cut. Also to account for the increase in temperature during the resting phase. For example when cooking chicken the perfect chicken temperature will vary depending on whether it’s the breast or the thigh.

Tips for Perfectly Cooked Meats

  • Use a Meat Thermometer: This is your best tool for monitoring internal temperature. Use both an instant read and a leave-in version.
  • Measure Thickest Part Of Steak: Regardless of the cut always take the temperature in the thickest part of your cut.
  • Resting Time: Always allow your meat to rest after cooking. This period not only allows for carry over cooking but also lets the juices redistribute.
  • Understand Your Recipes: Many recipes assume carry over cooking, so read them carefully and focus on your perfect temperature.

Cooking At Lower Temperatures

When cooking at lower temperatures, like smoked brisket or even smoked pork butt, or when braising cuts like short ribs, carry over cooking still occurs.

Smoked brisket sliced on butcher paper with pickled vegetables.

Certain cuts of meat are better served cooked at a low temperature or braised for long periods of time so they achieve a beautiful texture. Even when cooking at lower temperatures carryover cooking still happens and should be accounted for.

It’s not uncommon to want your brisket or braised short ribs to cook to an internal temperature of over 200 degrees Fahrenheit. When we mention remove the meat when it reaches 200 degrees F, and let the meat rest it’s also to take carry over cooking into consideration. Since they are typically larger roasts you can expect a fair amount of increase in temperature as the meat rests.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is an example of carry over cooking

If you remove your steak when the internal temperature reaches 135 degrees you can expect the steak to continue cooking to 140 as your final temperature. So if you wanted a medium rare steak, this result will start to get into the medium and medium-well territory.

how do you prevent carry over cooking?

Unless you have a flash cooling method like restaurants, you won’t prevent carry over cooking. The best way to prevent overcooking your food is to know carry over cooking will occur and pull your meat off just before your desired internal temperature, taking into account the additional rise that will happen.

how much do steaks carry over cook?

Expect a steak to carry over cook 3 to 6 degrees Fahrenheit depending on the level of thickness. We typically assume 5 degrees. So if we want a steak at 130 degrees, we remove it and let rest when the internal temperature reaches 125.

how much do roasts carry over cook?

Expect a large roast (anything over 3 pounds) to carry over cook between 5 and 10 degrees Fahrenheit. For example when we make Smoked Prime Rib we remove it at 125 degrees F and expect it will increase in temperature to 135 degrees as it rests.

Tools Needed To Measure Temperature

  • Instant Read Meat Thermometer – Having a good quality instant read thermometer allows you to take the temperature quickly and remove the meat when it hits your target temperature. We recommend the Thermoworks Thermapen One or the Thermoworks Thermopop.
  • Leave-In Bluetooth Thermometer – You can buy various thermometers that you leave in your meat as it cooks. It will relay to a receiver or your phone the internal temperature in real time. Then you complement that with real time measurements using your instant read thermometer. We use and recommend the Thermoworks Smoke Unit or the Smoke X.
Smoke thermometer by Thermoworks

Chef’s Note: We strongly recommend that you do not use a dial thermometer. These take too long to measure temperature and are not precise enough.

Get Cooking

Mastering carry over cooking can elevate your culinary skills dramatically, ensuring that meats are cooked to perfection every time. By understanding and anticipating the effects of residual heat, you can avoid the common pitfall of overcooking, resulting in juicier, more flavorful dishes. Whether you’re a seasoned chef or a home cook, paying attention to this subtle yet significant aspect of cooking will make for better results.

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Fire + Wine Cookbook

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About Vindulge

Mary (a certified sommelier and recipe developer) and Sean (backyard pitmaster) are co-authors of the critically acclaimed cookbook, Fire + Wine, and have been creating content for the IACP nominated website Vindulge since 2009. They live in Oregon on a farm just outside Portland.

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About Mary

I'm Mary, a wine/food/travel writer, Certified Sommelier, mom of twins, former vegetarian turned BBQ fanatic, runner, founder of Vindulge, and author of Fire + Wine cookbook. Thanks for stopping by!

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