This Thanksgiving I made my way to the Denver area to visit my brother, and I decided to touch upon the topic of grilling at high altitudes (5000-8000 feet above sea level). At higher altitudes, there is lower air pressure and as a result the boiling point of water drops. At sea level, water normally boils at 212′ F while at 7,000 feet water boils at 198′ F due to the fact there is less pressure to inhibit the boiling of the water (this can fluctuate due to the additives in the water, barometric pressure, etc). Another side effect of the high altitude is the liquids will evaporate more quickly so you’ll need to take this into account as well.
When cooking at high altitudes, food will take longer to cook because it is actually cooking at a lower temperature, and due to the evaporation effect you’ll need to use more liquids. Be careful not to cook your food too fast, as the outside can quickly get crispy from losing moisture, and the inner portions will still not be throughly cooked. Since we are doing a turkey I’ll cover some tips for cooking turkey at high altitudes. You can use these tips for practically any type of poultry and beef.
- Don’t tie the turkey legs together. This allows air and heat to circulate over all parts of the bird.
- Do not stuff the turkey (In fact, don’t stuff the turkey at any elevation).
- Placing heavy duty foil between the lid and your food will direct heat and help considerably in higher elevations (This can take a little practice, be careful to evenly distribute heat and allow for circulation).
- Try and keep your temperature lower than normal in high elevations as cooking too fast will crisp the outside and the inside will not reach proper temperature.
- Keep the lid closed as much as possible.
- Do not pierce the bird unnecessarily as this releases moisture. Use tongs or gloves to turn the bird.
- Cook to an internal temperature of 165′ F. This will prevent a dried out bird.
- Let turkey rest breast-side down for 15-20 minutes to allow moisture to pull back into turkey.
For information on baking and other forms of cooking at high elevations, see this collection of resources from About.com