What Is the Difference Between Baking, Roasting, Searing, Boiling & Braising?

by Molly Thompson

Don't let unfamiliar cooking terms keep you from trying a new recipe. Even novice cooks are probably familiar with the terms "baking" and "boiling," which are relatively easy to master. And perhaps "roasting" triggers fond memories of Sunday dinners at your grandmother's house, where old-fashioned roast beef was the focal point. "Searing" and "braising," on the other hand, might be less familiar terms. Once you understand what these techniques involve, you might find yourself ready to tackle some new culinary delights.

Baking and roasting are cooking methods that involve using the dry heat of the oven to cook the food. Roasting typically involves placing the food on a shallow rack in the cooking pan, while baking does not. Also, baking is always done in an uncovered pan or baking sheet. Roasting can be done in an open pan or in one covered with foil or a lid, with a little liquid added. Finally, while roasting is used primarily with meat or poultry, baking is a technique that is used to prepare a wide range of non-meat foods.

Searing refers to the practice of browning meat quickly over high heat to seal in the meat’s juices. Sear meat on the stove, under the broiler in an oven, or over the open flame on the grill. Use cooking tongs to handle seared meat; using a fork might pierce the meat, which allows the juices to escape. After meat is seared, you can cook it at more traditional temperatures to complete the cooking process, resulting in a juicy finished product.

Boiling is a consistently reliable method of cooking vegetables, pastas, eggs, soup and a wide range of other foods. This process involves completely immersing the items to be cooked in water brought to a full boil over a medium-high or high temperature on the stove. Water flavored with chicken or beef bouillon is frequently used to boil pastas and rice, to add flavor during the cooking process. Frostings and many sauces are also boiled in the early stages of their preparation, to allow flavors to blend effectively. Boiling typically is done in an uncovered pan, although a lid can prevent liquid from evaporating during extended cooking.

Braising is a liquid-based technique for preparing dense foods, such as meat. You braise meat, such as a rump roast, by browning it first in a large pan over moderate heat, turning so all sides brown evenly. Simmer the meat in a covered pot over low heat in a small amount of water or broth until the meat is tender. This technique is particularly useful for less tender cuts of meat. The browning part of the process adds flavor to the meat, while slowly simmering the food in the covered pan helps tenderize it.

About the Author

Molly Thompson has been writing for classified U.S. government presentations and publications since 1980. She holds B.A. degrees in psychology and political science from Wellesley College, as well as an M.A. in Russian area studies from Georgetown University. Thompson established and runs a strategic analysis/research company and is also a professional genealogist.

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