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Nov 21, 2010 07:47 AM


Good Morning!

When I cook a roast or chicken in the oven, I usually add water to the pan underneath the rack to make it easier to clean. I usually have to keep adding water which is making me think that, without meaning to, I'm really steaming the food, which I don't want.
Thoughts? Thanks, Leslie

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  1. I don't think it's "steaming".
    I'd say you're still roasting, but the pan of water underneath may add just enough humidity to the oven to prevent the chicken from drying out while making it easier to clean.

    When I cook a pork loin or ribs on the upper rack of my gas bbq, I'll have a pan of water below to keep it moist inside, but it isn't "steaming" the meat. It also keeps the inside of the bbq clean by having the drippings drop into the pan of water.

    1. It's just a water bath.

      I use a water bath all the time when baking cheesecakes. It's still baking, and no one will every say that a water bath in the oven means that the cheesecake has been "steamed" as opposed to baked.

      1 Reply
      1. re: ipsedixit

        I think a water bath is a technique that insures the temperature of the item being baked will remain constant (when placed in the bath), like baking puddings.

        I assume you're using a roasting pan to cook the roast or chicken?
        Then no need to worry about having a pan of water underneath if you're worried about clean up or if you're steaming. Using the pan of water in the bbq also catches the drippings to prevent flare ups.

      2. as others have said, you're not steaming, just increasing the humidity in the oven slightly. i always keep a pan of water in the bottom of the oven when i'm baking - it really does prevent things from drying out!

        1. Are you saying you put a separate pan of water beneath the roasting pan, or using a roasting rack to hold the meat, and pouring water into the roasting pan itself?

          If the former, you are making it harder to achieve crisp skin on poultry and a tasty brown crust on other roasts. If the latter, you are sacrificing the fond that develops in the bottom of the pan.
          It's not hard to clean such a pan. Deglaze it on the stovetop with your choice of liquid, then boil it down and thicken to make terrific gravey. If the roasting pan can't go onto a burner (pyrex, etc.), bring your liquid to a boil separately, pour it into the still-hot pan, and stir with a rubber scraper until the fond has dissolved. Then pour into a saucepan to reduce the volume.

          I don't buy monku's idea that the humidity created could preserve the moistness of the finished chicken. I don't know the physics but don't think this would work any more than putting a piece of raw meat next to a vaporizer would increase its internal moisture.

          13 Replies
          1. re: greygarious

            A water bath, or adding a pool of liquid in your roasting environment, will not increase the moisture quotient of the chicken. It will simply prevent overheating and allow it to be prepared low and slow.

            1. re: ipsedixit

              ipsedixit, This is not a water bath. The cooking vessel would need to sit in the water for the temperature control that you are speaking of.
              The poster is putting water below the chicken that is on a rack.

            2. re: greygarious

              I don't buy monku's idea that the humidity created could preserve the moistness of the finished chicken. I don't know the physics but don't think this would work any more than putting a piece of raw meat next to a vaporizer would increase its internal moisture.


              Same principle as if you were in the hot dry desert.
              You're more likely to get "dehydrated" when it's hot and dry, than if it were hot and humid.

              I wouldn't think a piece of meat next to a vaporizor would increase it's internal moisture either.

              1. re: monku

                Errr, no. It's heat that makes you dehydrate. Whether or not it's a "dry heat" only affects your level of comfort.

                In a dry heat, you will sweat, and the sweat will evaporate and have a cooling effect.

                In high humidity, same heat. you will still sweat, but the sweat will be slow to evaporate, the cooling effect will be less, and you will feel greater discomfort due to feeling sweaty and greasy.

                1. re: ZenSojourner

                  How about the principle behind a food dehydrator?
                  ........dry circulated air will remove moisture from food.

                  1. re: monku

                    That works for dead bodies, but not for live ones. Live bodies have actively working systems; dead bodies do not.

                    We hope. Vampires aside.


                    1. re: ZenSojourner

                      Back to the OP's situation....roast or chicken ("dead bodies"), a dry oven can act like a food dehydrator?

                2. re: monku

                  I'm going to agree (gasp!) again with monku here.

                  Adding water, or steam, to your oven will help prevent dryness.

                  Think about the principle behind spraying your bread dough with water during the first 10 minutes or so of baking bread. Yes, you spray to ultimately end up with a crusty outer layer, but in order to achieve that you spray the bread with water (or even with a bowl of water in the lower oven rack) in order to ensure that the outer layer is flexible and moist.

                  A flexible and moist outer layer during the initial stages of baking achieves the greatest amount of oven spring and loaf volume. Steaming the dough as it bakes also gelatinizes starch on the outside layer, producing a bread with a crisp crust and a brown crust color in varying degrees; but too much steam (or water) obviously results in an undesirable, soggy crust.

                  Steam also helps to prevent wild breaks in the loaves because it delays the setting of the bread's crust, allowing it more time to bake and brown. However, you want the opposite during the last stages of baking, where a dry oven is required when the crust is browning; after the steam is removed, the gelatinized layer dries out forming a thick crunchy crust.

                  So, a long winded way of saying, I don't see why the same principle doesn't apply to roasting a chicken.

                  1. re: ipsedixit

                    I notice at the bahn mi sandwich places that make baguettes on the premises, they have special ovens that emit steam.

                    1. re: monku

                      Yup, and the reason is that they want a crunchy crust, without overbaking and drying out the inside of the bread rolls.

                    2. re: ipsedixit

                      Flour absorbs a lot of water. Meat does not.

                      1. re: greygarious

                        I think you may have the wrong idea.
                        I implied the meat "absorbs" the moisture, I'm saying saying some moisture in a dry oven will prevent some of the "drying" out of the meat.

                        1. re: greygarious

                          Flour absorbs a lot of water. Meat does not.

                          Ok, but what about adding water to indirect grilling for BBQ?

                          I'll be the first to admit I am no BBQ expert, but I've often read and heard that one way to prevent your meat (or ribs) from drying out when doing a slow and low indirect grill is to add a pan of water, which will keep the environment moist and reduce overheating.

                          It's not so much about absorbing moisture (after all, a cheesecake does not absorb the moisture from the water bath, right), but about maintaining a humid cooking environment to prevent drying out the the thing you are cooking.

                          The difference is between drying out the chicken versus added moisture. I think we are talking about the former, not the latter (at least for meats).

                  2. Sounds like you have used this method a lot. What was your result? Was the Chicken steamed? or did it brown up nicely?
                    Do not discount your own experience, If you use this method and you are happy with the results why change it.
                    Putting the water under your chicken is not steaming but it does inhibit browning a bit and you will have no fond in the pan to do a sauce with.
                    As far as the water controlling temp. or keeping the chicken moist I do not believe it would achieve either of these goals. Think about cooking chicken IN water. It can end up being the driest chicken you ever ate.
                    If you have a problem with chicken drying out you could brine the bird or be more careful with your cooking time/temp.
                    The way steam works with bread crust has no relationship to how it acts with chicken skin.
                    The steam injection in baking has nothing to do with the moister of the bread interior it is solely to allow a bit more expansion and to gelatinize the starches which later caramelizes.

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: chefj

                      Putting a pan of water while roasting will prevent the meat from scorching.

                      According to the USDA when used in a smoker it will prevent flareups and the steam will destroy any airborne bacteria in a closed grill

                      This recipe says the pan of water creates steam helps cook the roast with moist heat

                      1. re: monku

                        The poster is using a rack.
                        They are not smoking they are roasting.
                        They are not cooking a roast they are cooking a chicken.

                        1. re: chefj

                          OP said:
                          "When I cook a roast or chicken in the oven"