Heat Cheat Sheet: Your Guide to Cooking Methods

Written By Geremy Capone

Image of a woman cooking vegetables on a stovetopSince the dawn of time, man has tried to understand fire: how to build it, how to control it, and how to use it. Thankfully, most of us don’t need to rely on the elements of nature to cook our food anymore, but controlling the elements of heat in the kitchen can still be a daunting task.

"Roast", "simmer", "braise", or "sauté". What's the difference? Here's an explanation of some of the more common cooking methods.

What do "Dry Heat" & "Moist Heat" Mean?

All cooking methods fall into one of two categories: "dry heat" or "moist heat". Each category has its benefits, and the best type of heat to use depends on what you are cooking.

  • Dry heat is when the heat is transferred to food without the use of water. Think grilling on a BBQ, searing in a pan, or even roasting in the oven. Dry heat cooking usually takes a higher temperature but a shorter amount of time.
  • Moist heat uses water-based liquids (like water or stock) to help conduct heat into the food. For example, using water to boil asparagus or using stock to slow cook some brisket. One advantage of moist heat cooking is that it's great for "low and slow" recipes, those that use a low temperature for a longer amount of time.

When to Use Dry Heat

Dry heat cooking methods are best when trying to cook something fast like fruits and vegetables that don’t require a lot of cooking, or for tender cuts of meat (those with little connective tissue). It’s also the best way to achieve browning or caramelization of an ingredient, and browning = flavour town!

Dry Heat Cooking Methods

Cooking MethodTemperatureEquipmentDescription
Bake or RoastLow to highOvenTo cook food, usually in the oven, by surrounding it with dry heat.
Pan-FryMediumSauté pan, skillet, or wokCooking in a shallow pan with a moderate amount of fat.
Grill​Medium to high​Barbecue or a cast iron grill pan​Cooking your food on an open grid, just above a heat source.
Sauté​Medium high​Sauté pan or skillet​Cooking food quickly in a shallow pan with a small amount of fat.
Deep-FryHighDeep fryer or deep potCooking your food while completely submerged in hot fat.
​Broil​High​Oven with a broiler, or a salamander broiler​Cooking food with a heat source coming from above.

When to Use Moist Heat

Because moist heat cooking methods tend to use low heat for longer amounts of time, it’s great at gently tenderizing food. So tough cuts of meat (those with a lot of connective tissue) like pork shoulder or beef brisket benefit from slowly cooking with some liquid.

Moist heat is also great for cooking things evenly, for example, boiling an egg in water or poaching a piece of fish in stock. With this cooking method, the liquid conducts heat to the submerged food, cooking it evenly.

Moist Heat Cooking Methods

Cooking MethodTemperatureEquipmentDescription
PoachLowDeep sauté pan, pot, or deep baking panGently cooking in water or any water-based liquid at a temperature between 71°C to 82°C.
BraiseLowRoasting pan or any deep panCooking food slowly, covered in a small amount of liquid.
SimmerMedium high Deep sauté pan, pot, or deep baking panThe liquid is gently bubbling at a temperature between 85°C and 96°C.
Boil​High​Deep sauté pan, pot, or deep pot​Cooking in water at a temperature of 100°C.
Steam​HighDouble boiler or a bamboo steamerCooking with steam.
​Blanch​High​Deep sauté pan, pot, or deep pot​Partially cook an ingredient very briefly, in boiling water.