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Three Methods for Determining Doneness

Few kitchen mishaps are more frustrating than improper cooking. Here's how to cook food right every time.

1. Five Senses

Seasoned cooks rely on taste, touch, sight, smell, and even sound to know when foods are done. Novice cooks often forget that these five tools are always available.

2. Time

Many cooks get themselves in trouble by slavishly following times in recipes. All times are estimates, and actual times will vary with different ovens, stovetops, and grills. The exact size and initial temperature of ingredients will also dramatically affect their cooking time. In the test kitchen, we use timers to remind us to check foods early. If a recipe reads, "Bake for 60 minutes," set your timer for 45 or 50 minutes.

3. Temperature

In the test kitchen, we rely on digital instant-read thermometers. Dial-face thermometers are slow to register and can't read high temperatures associated with candy making or frying (most models cut off around 220 degrees). In addition, the sensor on dial-face thermometers is located at least 1 inch up from the tip, so these thermometers won't work in shallow liquids or thin cuts of meat. On digital thermometers, the sensor is located at the tip.

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