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Often a recipe calls for covering a dish while it bakes. I understand that this can help to trap steam.

How do you know when it's necessary to use aluminum foil when baking a dish without a recipe?

What are the other advantages of using aluminum foil to cover your dish while it's baking?

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up vote 22 down vote accepted

If it calls for tightly wrapping it, they're trying for steam. More than likely, they're just trying to shield the top from radiant energy, so the top doesn't brown before the whole thing is cooked through.

If you're ever baking a cake, and it's starting to brown, but a toothpick is still coming out wet, I'll move it to a lower rack, and put a sheet pan on the rack above, to keep it from browning much further, but not seal it in such a way that it would steam the cake.

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Interesting technique with the cake. I'll have to keep that in mind! – Jacob R Jul 13 '10 at 12:36

As per the question, it is generally a matter of preventing the food from becoming overly dry. This is particularly an issue for dishes that call for a very long cooking time, or for foods that should be cooked at a high temperature but you don't want to have a crisp texture on the outside.

As for other advantages, off the top of my head one advantage is the ability to trap in other flavors, such as wrapping a baked potato in foil with olive oil, salt, pepper, etc. to season the skin.

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My small experience points at chicken. If you cover it with aluminium foil, it stays much softer. If you don't it gets dry and unpleasant.

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If you are cooking in a small oven, lightly covering with foil as a heat shield is sometimes necessary when cooking larger items. I generally use a very large piece that is well away from the food when I do this, since you are explicitly trying not to trap in moisture.

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This is good for a recipe such as one with liquid and dry rice. But I have found it cooks so slowly that it doesn't ever boil or cook the meat in it until I take the foil off, then I see in 5 minutes boiling on the outer edge. I usually have to do both, covered and uncovered. It just takes much longer than the recipe says covered.

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