I've noticed that cooking show inches are not very accurate. I can usually see that the "half inch slices" called for by the chef are no where near that, which is fine, since I can see the thickness for myself. It only just occurred to me that cooking show minutes might be way off as well. If they say "put this under the broiler for five minutes" they could mean anywhere from two to ten minutes if their sense of time is as warped as their sense of distance. But the shows are edited for time, so I have no idea if they're fudging.

How literally do you interpret times given by cooking shows? Is there a fudge factor?

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    My impression is that the shows that are intended to teach do a pretty good job of giving accurate instructions. Shows that are intended to just entertain? Fuhgeddaboutit. – Jolenealaska May 17 '14 at 6:14
  • Shows are meant to tell you what could be done rather than what should be done. – Cynthia Avishegnath May 18 '14 at 22:01

There is no single answer to that question: it is going to vary program by program. Some shows, like America's Test Kitchen, are going to be quite precise--at at least, they will intend to be. Other shows, not naming any names, less so.

The thing is, with very very few exceptions, you should not be cooking to time anyway. The time in a recipe is just a guideline so you have some expectation for logistical planning, and to know when to start testing.

Quality recipes--and quality television shows giving you recipes--should always give a test for when a food is done. This can vary from "pulls away from the side of the pan" for brownies, to "pulls apart easily with a fork" for a braised pork shoulder, to "internal temperature of 135 F" for a roast.

Even for shows that intend to give you very good time estimates, testing is still important, because there are many variables that effect how long it takes food to cook. For something as simple as a steak, the starting temperature of the steak, the thickness of the steak, the starting temperature of the pan and its thermal mass, and the power and setting of your burner (hob) will all effect how long it takes the steak to finish. You probably don't have the same room temperature as the test kitchen where the recipe was developed, the same stove, the exact same settings, and the same thickness of steak.

Such variables apply to almost all recipes. The test is what tells you when to stop cooking; the time is only an estimate.

As an aside, the few things that must be cooked to time are those that are 1) uniform in size and cooking properties; and 2) foods for which it is difficult or impossible to observe the effect of the cooking directly. The only two examples I can think of that are appropriate are cooking eggs in the shell, and roasted peanuts in the shell.

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    There are many instances in baking where you have to go by time, because any kind of test would ruin the recipe - for example soufflés, meringues, or choux pastry. All of the prior preparation has to be very precise in order to compensate. – Aaronut May 17 '14 at 13:48
  • @Aaronut, due to differences in conditions, is your only option trial and error or is there specifics you can do for the preparation. – WetlabStudent May 17 '14 at 20:57

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