How do you calculate time per pound?

Determining the time needed to cook food based on its weight, also known as calculating time per pound, is an important skill in cooking. It ensures your food is thoroughly and properly cooked without over or undercooking. Here are some tips on how to calculate cooking time per pound for various foods.

Why Calculate Time Per Pound

There are a few key reasons you should calculate the time needed to cook foods based on their weight:

  • Ensures proper food safety – Calculating time per pound helps ensure potentially hazardous foods like meat and poultry reach safe internal cooking temperatures needed to destroy harmful bacteria.
  • Prevents over/undercooking – The thickness and size of food affects how long it takes to cook through. Time per pound accounts for this variance.
  • Standardizes recipes – Using time per pound allows you to cook a specific food item consistently regardless of its weight or portion size.
  • Adapt oven recipes for the grill or smoker – Knowing the time per pound allows you to adjust oven recipes for outdoor cooking.

How to Calculate Time Per Pound

Calculating time per pound requires just two pieces of information – the total weight of the food item and the recommended cooking time per pound for that specific food. Here is the basic formula:

Total Cook Time = Weight of Food (in pounds) x Recommended Cook Time per Pound

For example, if you are cooking a 5 pound pork roast and the recommended cook time per pound for pork roast is 18-20 minutes per pound, the calculation would be:

Total Cook Time = 5 pounds x 20 minutes per pound = 100 minutes (1 hour, 40 minutes)

Let’s look at some average cook times per pound for common food categories:

Cook Times Per Pound for Meats

Food Cook Time Per Pound
Chicken, whole 18-20 minutes
Turkey, whole, unstuffed 15 minutes
Beef roast 18-25 minutes
Pork roast 18-20 minutes
Meatloaf 60 minutes
Steaks 8-12 minutes

Keep in mind these are general estimates. Times can vary slightly depending on shape, bone-in or boneless, and desired doneness. Always use a meat thermometer for the most accurate doneness.

Cook Times Per Pound for Vegetables

Food Cook Time Per Pound
Potatoes, whole 45-60 minutes
Carrots 15-20 minutes
Brussels sprouts 10-15 minutes
Broccoli 5-7 minutes
Cauliflower 10-15 minutes

For boiled vegetables, always start timing once the water reaches a boil again after adding the vegetables. Roasting times may take slightly longer than boiling.

Tips for Calculating Time Per Pound

Here are some additional tips for getting the most accurate cook times:

  • Weigh food after it is prepared and trimmed – Bones, fat, and other trim can affect the final weight and cook time.
  • For stuffed foods, calculate total weight including stuffing.
  • For bone-in cuts, use the weight before bones are removed if cooking bone-in.
  • Extend cook time for frozen foods, typically 1.5 times as long.
  • Cut food into smaller portions to reduce cook time.
  • Use a meat thermometer for bone-in cuts to test doneness.
  • Let meat rest before carving to allow juices to redistribute.

Cooking Times for Common Foods Per Pound

Here are some estimated cook times per pound for common food items:

Beef Cook Times Per Pound

Cut of Beef Cook Time Per Pound
Beef roast 18-25 minutes
Ribeye roast 18-22 minutes (140F)
Tenderloin roast 30 minutes (140F)
Sirloin tip roast 25-30 minutes (145F)
Tri-tip roast 15-20 minutes (145F)
Brisket 60 minutes
Meatloaf 60 minutes
Beef kebabs 8-12 minutes

Pork Cook Times Per Pound

Cut of Pork Cook Time Per Pound
Pork roast 18-20 minutes (145F)
Pork tenderloin 20-25 minutes (145F)
Bone-in ham 18 minutes per pound (140F)
Spiral cut ham 10-12 minutes per pound
Pork chops 6-8 minutes (145F)
Pork kebabs 8-12 minutes

Poultry Cook Times Per Pound

Type of Poultry Cook Time Per Pound
Whole chicken 18-20 minutes (165F)
Chicken breasts 8-12 minutes (165F)
Chicken thighs 20-25 minutes (165F)
Whole turkey 15 minutes (165F)
Turkey breast 10 minutes (165F)
Duck 18-22 minutes (165F)

Seafood Cook Times

Type of Seafood Cook Time
Fish fillets 8-10 minutes
Shrimp 1-2 minutes
Scallops 2-3 minutes
Crab legs 4-8 minutes
Lobster tails 5-8 minutes
Clams and mussels 4-5 minutes
Oysters 3 minutes

For seafood, cook times are not calculated per pound since they cook relatively quickly. Use thinner, uniform cuts and pieces to ensure even cooking.

Cooking Guidelines for Other Foods

In addition to meat, poultry and seafood, here are some general cooking time guidelines for other foods:

  • Vegetables: Boiling times range from 2 minutes (spinach) up to 45-60 minutes for dense vegetables like potatoes and carrots. Roast at 400°F, allowing more time for larger vegetables.
  • Fruits: Depends on fruit size and density. Apples and pears take 15-20 minutes to bake or roast, while berries and peaches take under 10 minutes.
  • Eggs: Soft boil 3-6 minutes, hard boil 12 minutes, fry sunny side up 2-3 minutes, scramble 2-3 minutes, bake 12-18 minutes at 325°F.
  • Pasta: Boil 6-8 minutes for dried pasta. Fresh pasta takes just 2-3 minutes.
  • Rice: Cook white rice for 18-20 minutes, brown rice for 25-40 minutes depending on type.
  • Beans: Soak beans overnight first for faster cooking. Then simmer for 1-2 hours until tender.
  • Breads: Quick breads like muffins take 20-25 minutes at 350°F. Yeast breads take 25-35 minutes at 375°F.
  • Cakes: Bake 30-40 minutes at 350°F depending on size and density.

Tips for Cooking Frozen Food

Cooking food from a frozen state takes longer than fresh or thawed food. Here are some general guidelines for frozen foods:

  • Extend cook times by 50% for frozen cuts of meat, poultry and fish.
  • Add 5-10 minutes extra for cooking frozen ready-made foods like pizzas, casseroles, etc.
  • Do not thaw frozen vegetables before cooking – add directly to boiling water or hot pan.
  • Always cook frozen foods thoroughly to safe internal temperatures.
  • Test doneness earlier than recommended cook times as appliances vary.
  • Preheat oven when baking frozen foods to prevent temperature drop.
  • Reduce oven temperature by 25°F if not preheating when baking frozen foods.

Key Takeaways

Here’s a quick summary of the key tips for calculating time per pound:

  • Know the recommended cook times per pound for different food types.
  • Weigh foods after trimming to get accurate cook times.
  • Calculate total cook time by multiplying weight x time per pound.
  • Use a meat thermometer doneness for meats.
  • Add 50% more cook time for frozen foods.
  • Cut food into smaller pieces to reduce cook times.

Using time per pound guidelines helps remove the guesswork in cooking and ensures your food turns out perfectly cooked from edge to edge. With practice, you’ll be able to estimate cook times with reasonable accuracy. Always err on the side of caution and test doneness early, as you can keep cooking if needed but you can’t reverse overcooking.


Determining cooking times based on the weight and recommended cook times per pound for foods is a simple but effective technique for getting consistent, quality results. While exact times will vary based on preferences and many other factors, the time per pound method eliminates a lot of uncertainty and helps prevent under or overcooking. With the proper time per pound reference tables and a reliable food thermometer, you’ll be able to master cooking foods like roasts, chicken, steaks and more. Just remember to weigh foods after trimming, allow extra time for bone-in or frozen items, cut items into smaller portions if needed and always double check doneness during the cook time. In no time, you’ll be calculating cook times with ease and serving up perfect meats, poultry and other foods to your family and guests.

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