Much like residential cooking thousands of feet above sea level, operating a commercial kitchen at high altitudes requires particular adjustments to ensure the food your kitchen produces comes out perfect each time. If you’re running into issues baking or cooking at high altitudes, take a look at our tips on running your commercial kitchen in this environment.
What’s Considered High Altitude?
High altitude environments are locations that are located in areas which are 3,500 feet above sea level, but cooking and baking times can be as low as affected at altitudes between 2,000 and 3,000 feet above sea level.
In the US, the states that are impacted by high altitude include Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oregon, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.
Tips on Cooking & Baking at High Altitudes
Once you get above 2,500 feet, the atmosphere begins to get drier and thinner. Because there’s less moisture and air pressure, cooking and baking times are greatly affected, and moisture quickly evaporates. Most notably, boiling water is a bit tougher, as the boiling point decreases as the altitude increases. In general, the boiling point of water decreases by ~2°F for every 1,000 feet in elevation. This means that changes and adjustments to the temperature and recipe need to be made to ensure food is properly cooked.
Here are some simple tips to follow for cooking and baking:
- Never Turn Up the Heat: Turning up the heat does not make food cook faster, as you’ll run the risk of severely drying out whatever you are cooking and possibly burning it. Instead, increase the cooking time.
- Meat & Poultry: Cooking meat and poultry can take up to ¼ more time at higher elevations, depending on the size and thickness of the meat being prepared. Use a meat thermometer to check if the internal temperature is within the recommended range for food safety.
- Boiling Food Items: Food items that require boiling, such as pasta, rice, boiled potatoes, hard-cooked or poached eggs and blanched vegetables will take longer to cook since the boiling point is lower than 212°F.
- Baked Goods: Baked items like cakes, cookies and brownies are greatly affected by high altitudes, and have to be treated differently than other food groups. In general, you should raise the oven temperature by 15-25°F and lower the baking time by 1 minute for every 6 minutes called for. This will keep your baked goods structurally sound and thoroughly cooked.
Operating Commercial Kitchen Equipment in High Altitudes
In general, your commercial kitchen equipment won’t be affected by higher altitudes, as you’ll be making major adjustments to temperature and time for the food itself. But there are some tips to keep in mind for certain pieces of equipment.
To avoid burning the outside and under-cooking the inside of the product you’re frying, the temperature of the oil will need to be decreased. Depending on the food item, this temperature setting can vary, but as a general rule of thumb you should decrease the temperature by about 3°F for every increase of 1,000 feet in elevation.
Since microwaves cook food by heating the water inside a food item, cooking with a microwave can take less time in high altitudes. However, you run the risk of drying out your food because of this. To avoid this, you can decrease the cooking time slightly or add additional water to the food you are preparing in the microwave. Be sure that your food is heated according to food safety guidelines.
Pressurized Cooking Equipment
Pressurized cooking equipment like boilers, steamers and fryers are perfect for high altitudes, as they create the optimal cooking environment by preventing moisture from rapidly evaporating. If you’re experiencing difficulties with cooking food in high altitudes, consider adding a pressurized unit to your commercial kitchen.