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Kitchen Notes: Heat Transfer and Cooking
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PostPosted: Sat Jun 02, 2007 4:30 am    Post subject: Kitchen Notes: Heat Transfer and Cooking Reply with quote

Having a fundamental understanding of what is going on in the kitchen can not only help you avoid disasters but also assist in making the right decision the first time you try out a recipe or wing it. Understanding how heat transfer affects your cooking is a first step in realizing why we'd choose a particular cooking implement or specific heating method (steaming vs. baking, frying vs. boiling) for one dish but not another. In this article, Burr Zimmerman describes how heat transfer works as it relates to cooking.

Imagine you are on the bank of a river. It's raining, hard, so you and some other workers have started to build a wall of sand bags. You each have a shovel, sand, and bags. The harder you work, the faster you can build the wall. The more people you have, the faster you can build the wall. In a way, building a sandbag wall can illustrate how heat moves into food, called heat transfer. We'll come back to this sandbag wall example in moment.

The Basics of Heat
Cooking, ultimately, is about heat, how heat enters the food and what happens to the food when it enters. This article focuses on heat transfer in cooking, or how heat is applied to and enters food. I won't spend much time on the chemical reactions that occur in food during cooking.

In cooking, typically there is a heating element (such as a fire), a heat transfer medium (oil, water, air, a pan, etc.), and the food itself. The heat moves from the element through the medium to the food. 'Temperature' and 'heat' are often used interchangeably, but they are not the same thing! Temperature is the driving force for heat transfer. Like gravity moves masses, temperature moves heat. Heat moves from hotter materials to colder materials (a temperature difference causes the heat to move).

Temperature measures, roughly speaking, how much the molecules in a material are vibrating. Temperature is a property of a material independent of how much of a material there is.

Heat, or thermal energy, is a measure of the amount of energy that is contained in a material (this is a bit simplified - there are lots of different measures and forms of energy). Heat depends on how much of the material you have: if you double the amount of a material, you double the heat.

When you 'heat' something, it means you are transferring energy into it, or adding thermal energy to it. As you increase the thermal energy in a material, it often increases in temperature (but not always!). An example is boiling water. As you add heat to water, its temperature increases... until you reach the boiling point. Then, as you add heat, the temperature stays constant until the water is completely boiled off.

In cooking, there are three general ways that heat can be transferred from one material to another. Most engineers have taken courses in heat transfer and have heard of the big three: 'conduction', 'convection', and 'radiation'. All three play a role in cooking, but depending on the cooking method, only one or two may be important. Before looking at how they apply to cooking, let me briefly define each:

Conduction - this is heat transfer due to contact of molecules. Thermal energy, which can be thought of as the vibration of molecules in place, is transferred directly from one material into another in contact with it. If you touch a hot pan, your hand gets hot too (don't do that!). A temperature gradient forms from hot to cold - the bigger the temperature difference, the faster the conduction. The kinds of materials matter too - some materials (e.g. metals) conduct heat better than others (e.g. air).

Convection - this is heat transfer due to the bulk movement of molecules. Molecules move - changing places, not just vibrating in place - and take their heat with them. When heating a pot of water, before it boils, conduction will make the water nearer the heat source will be warmer than water far away. When you stir the pot, the hotter molecules move away from the heating source, taking their heat with them, and are replaced with colder ones.

Radiation - this is heat transfer due to energy waves emitted by another object. Energy in the form of electromagnetic radiation (as distinguished from 'nuclear radiation', which is completely different) is absorbed by food. The two most common types of radiative energy in cooking are infrared waves ('heat waves') and microwaves. Unlike conduction and convection, radiation doesn't require a medium to be between the heat source and the food (in fact, the medium just gets in the way). The energy is literally 'beamed' directly to the food.

I also want to define a couple other terms that are critical to understanding heat transfer.

Thermal Conductivity - this describes how readily a material will give or take heat through conduction. A material with high thermal conductivity will transfer heat quickly, while a low conductivity material will transfer heat more slowly. Be careful - moving heat rapidly does not necessarily mean rapid temperature change.

Heat Capacity - the other important aspect of moving heat is how much the temperature of a material changes when you move a certain amount of heat into it. Heat capacity refers to how quickly a material's temperature changes with the addition of heat. As you add heat to a material with high heat capacity, it will increase temperature more slowly than a material with lower heat capacity.

Absorbance - The way in which a material absorbs radiation is called its absorbance (more specifically, the fraction of radiation at a given wavelength that is absorbed). Absorbance here is a specific term related to radiation, and should not be confused with 'absorption'. In order for a food to absorb heat from radiation, it must be able to absorb the radiation. Materials absorb different kinds of radiation differently. For instance water does not absorb light strongly, but it does absorb microwave radiation readily.

So armed with some definitions, let's re-examine the sandbag wall. The analogy is a little bit loose, so bear with me.

If the amount of heat transferred is like the amount of the wall built, then heat capacity and thermal conductivity can be thought to relate to the endurance and the work rate, respectively, of the workers. A high heat capacity material can keep giving heat without losing (much) temperature - that's like a worker who can keep working without getting tired. A highly conductive material transfers heat quickly, something like a worker who can fill bags very quickly -- although that doesn't mean it can do so for very long.

Temperature is like the height or reach of the wall workers - with heat transfer, once two objects are the same temperature, they no longer transfer heat. Similarly, as the wall gets higher, it becomes harder to add bags to it. Eventually the wall will be tall enough that the workers can't reach high enough to add any more bags. If food is uniformly the same temperature as its surroundings, no heat transfer will occur (although chemical reactions will still be occurring, so 'cooking' may still be happening.

Continuing the sandbag wall example, consider conduction of heat. Conduction is like the direct laying of bags on the wall by workers. Heat capacity is like the endurance of each worker - a high-endurance worker can keep working
without slowing down effort or reaching his endurance limit, and a high heat capacity material can deliver a lot of heat without changing temperature as much. Thermal conductivity is like the worker's speed in filling and laying bags. A material with high thermal conductivity moves bags quickly. However, highly conductive but low heat capacity materials do not make for good heat transfer (think aluminum foil). Like a worker who works fast, but tires quickly, aluminum foil heats and cools quickly, so heat transfer likewise ends quickly.

Let's compare the properties of common cooking media: air, steam, liquid water, vegetable oil, steel, and aluminum.

Table 1: Thermal Properties of Common Cooking Media
All values approximate; many are functions of temperature
MaterialTypeHeat Capacity (J/g-K)Thermal Conductivity (J/sec-m-K)Effective Temp.Range (°F/°C)And therefore, it's good for... (applications)
Air1*0.02Virtually no limitHigh temp, radiative cooking, deep browning
Steam2*0.02212°F / **100°C**Gentle, low temp, "drier" than boiling
Water4.20.632-212°F / 0-100°CLow temperature, faster than steam, add water to foods (e.g. pasta)
Cooking Oils20.240-450°F / 5-230°CModerate temperature, moderate browning
Aluminum0.9250Melts at > 1100°F / 600°CTo distribute heat evenly across a surface, high and low heat

* Remember, the heat capacities are listed in terms of mass, not volume. It would take roughly 1000 times the volume of gas (temperature dependent) to have the same mass as water or oil.
** Higher temperatures possible with pressure cookers

As an aside, heat also conducts within food. A grilled steak cut open is a great illustration of conduction within food. The outside is charred and yummy. The inside is cool, red (and yummy, if you like a good rare tenderloin like I do!). With conduction, a temperature gradient forms from the hot outside to the cool inside. The color of the meat, transitioning from brown to pink to red shows the temperature gradient!

Conduction also explains the phenomenon of "carryover", or how the internal temperature of a food continues to rise after you remove it from heat (e.g. a roast from the oven). When the outside of food is very hot and the inside is much cooler, even after you remove it from the heat source, heat in the hot outside of the food will continue to transfer to the cool interior. The hot outside of the steak transfers heat to the cool center even after you remove it from the grill; a thermometer in the center will register a temperature increase.

Continuing our example of building a sandbag wall, now consider convection. Convection is like moving in fresh workers at the wall and giving tired workers a break. Recall that convection is the movement of heat due to bulk movement of a medium. In terms of heat transfer, food is generally a closed system; the cooking medium (air, water, oil) transfers heat to the food by conduction, but does not itself move into the food very much. Sometimes medium gets in (a good thing in pasta, bad in frying), but not enough to make a big difference in heat transfer. Thus, in cooking, convection's job isn't to heat the food directly, but to make sure that heating (conduction) happens efficiently.

Remember that a temperature difference causes heat transfer, and a larger temperature difference means more heat transfer. So the way that convection can contribute to heat transfer is by moving cooking medium around, replacing the cold medium (next to the food, where it has transferred its heat to the food already) with hot medium, and exchanging hot for cold next to the heating element. Moving material, taking its heat with it, transfers more heat within the medium than would conduction alone. And, because the average temperature of the medium close to the food stays higher, more heat transfer occurs into the food, and the food cooks faster. The larger the distance from the heating element to the food, the more convection matters. In frying or baking, convection makes a big difference. In sautéing, where the distance from the hot pan to the food is small, convection is much less important (and convection is negligible in solid materials anyway).

Lastly, consider radiation. Radiative heat transfer is like having a second group of workers separated from the wall heaving sandbags on top of it. Some bags don't make it and bounce off or go past the wall. It's pretty hard to have them land on the wall, especially if the wall is tall or far away. In real life, radiative heat transfer involves a source of electromagnetic radiation that beams energy to food. The radiation particles (yes, they behave like particles in this instance) are absorbed sometimes by the food. Each food - each part of the food in fact - has its own characteristic way of interacting with the radiation, known as its absorbance. When food absorbs radiation, the energy of the radiation particle is converted to heat. The food can also reflect the radiation, or simply let it pass through. I'm not going to discuss microwave absorption in too much detail, but compare identical containers of oil and water when heated in the microwave. Despite that water's heat capacity is higher than oil, its temperature will rise faster than the oil. This is because it is absorbing more heat from the microwave radiation than the oil is.

Another consideration in radiative heating is the cooking medium. Radiative cooking is done almost exclusively in air because water, oil, and other liquids and solids absorb radiation strongly. Using the sandbags as an example, the second wave of workers far from the wall are throwing bags at the wall. With air, the row of workers near the wall are spaced far apart, and nearly all the bags hit the wall (they may not land on the wall, but at least they get there). With water or oil, the workers at the wall are packed much more densely. Instead of the bags landing on the wall, they hit the workers. Infrared radiation, the glowing heat you feel from hot coals, is absorbed strongly by foods, but it does not penetrate food deeply. When you cook under a broiler, infrared radiation is absorbed by the food's surface, and then conducted into the food. In contrast, microwaves can penetrate food more deeply; the interior of the food can be heated directly.

Radiation is also convenient in that it can largely be controlled independently of conduction and convection. For example, you can change the setting on your microwave, move food away from the coals, cover food, etc. Thus radiation is an added, controllable element to ensure you get the results you want.

One last note - you do not need to have a glowing red material for radiation to occur. All things - food, ice, you, my dog - emit infrared radiation. Infrared detection is how some night vision goggles work. In your oven, radiation is important too. Some heating occurs through conduction and convection of hot air, but some also is due to radiation. Radiation is important especially for browning of food during roasting. Putting foil over your casserole not only prevents convection, but also radiation.

Engineering Heat Transfer
Now that you have the knowledge, let's compare different cooking methods' reliance on heat transfer.

Table 2: Common cooking methods and how they cause heat transfer
Deep fryingHighModerateLow
Microwaving LowLowHigh

Table 3: Qualitative comparison of maximum temperature and rate of heat transfer using various cooking methods.
The higher the heat transfer, the lower the cooking time. Temperatures are qualitative illustrations only - most cooking methods span a broad temperature range.
* Temperature is a property of matter, not radiation, and doesn't apply directly to radiative heat transfer. Since we are discussing temperature as it relates to heat transfer, microwaves and infrared waves are listed as 'high temperature' because they can transfer heat into even very hot foods.

So how is this useful in cooking? You can use this information to achieve the exact doneness that you want for your food along with the precise amount of browning you desire.

For instance, do you want a rare steak with beautiful char lines? Crank up the heat, put the steaks directly over the coals, and oil the grill grates. The direct radiation will char the outside faster than the inside can cook, leaving a rare inside. The oil on the grates will improve conduction of heat from the grates to the steak. Cast iron has tiny pores and pockets filled with air; heat will conduct through the pores filled with oil faster than with air. So now you too can wow your friends with beautiful sear lines.

Another example: beautiful golden brown fried turkey. Do you want to wait 4 hours for your bird? Deep frying transfers heat much faster than baking, so your bird will be done in under an hour. And, the moderate temperatures of frying (compared to roasting) mean it will stay golden brown, not burned, on the outside.

How about that shrimp? If you want delicate, sweet, tender shrimp, nothing beats a slow poach (like boiling, but lower temperature). The low temperature and high transfer rate (high transfer rate means faster cooking time) are just want you want. Conversely, if you want to char the shell slightly on the outside to develop a smoky, spicy taste, rub 'em with salt and pepper and throw 'em under the broiler!

In order to achieve the results you want, you have to consider both temperature *and* rate of heat transfer. From potatoes lyonnaise to broiled asparagus tips, your food demands a full range of temperatures and heat transfer rates. Since no method can do it all - and since no one likes burned or undercooked food - it helps to know a little about each of them.

Armed with some fundamental understanding of cooking and heat transfer, anyone can select the perfect cooking method for the dish they want to make. By taking into account the temperature and the rate of heat transfer, you can achieve the exact brownness and doneness you desire!

Burr Zimmerman has 11 years of (amateur) cooking experience, 9 years of chemical engineering experience, and 7 of trying to combine them.

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PostPosted: Mon Jun 04, 2007 11:36 pm    Post subject: Temperature IS a Property of Radiation Reply with quote

Yes, radiation has a temperature, too. The radiation in your oven is actually in thermal equilibrium with the walls of the oven.

Just look up a black body spectrum - it comes from assuming that the radiation of a black body in an oven is in thermal equilibrium with the radiation in the oven.

The thing about the microwave is that the radiation being used isn't from a thermal source, like the walls of an oven. So it's not that it doesn't have a temperature, it's just that the temperature of the microwaves themselves is actually pretty low. Kind of like how a fast enough blender can boil water.
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PostPosted: Tue Jun 05, 2007 8:00 pm    Post subject: blackbody radiation Reply with quote

I thought the spectrum of blackbody radiation was a function of the temperature of the *blackbody* -- not the radiation itself.
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PostPosted: Tue Jun 05, 2007 10:32 pm    Post subject: Re: blackbody radiation Reply with quote

GrimmyTea wrote:
I thought the spectrum of blackbody radiation was a function of the temperature of the *blackbody* -- not the radiation itself.

I thought the same thing. The black body radiation exists because of the temperature of the object.

Furthermore, the radiation of the "black body" walls of an oven is due to the fact that the oven walls have been heated by radiation, conduction and convection from the heat source of the oven, (gas, electric, wood or nuclear [just kidding about the nuclear]) and the walls are then radiating it back into the oven. That's why when you want to brown something, you should put it in a preheated oven-so the walls can radiate heat all the way around what you want browned.

A radiation in and of itself does not have a temperature. It has energy capable of heating other objects. DON'T confuse the heat of a flame with radiation. A flame has a temperature, and depending on the type of flame, a certain amount of heat that is also radiated.

Microwave radiation isn't a black body radiation in a microwave oven. It is a radiation at a frequency that is absorbed by molecules of water and to a lesser degree, fats and sugars, so they heat up. A microwave oven is simply a 2.45-2.50 GHz radio transmitter with its broadcasting antenna inside the box you place your food into to heat it up.
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PostPosted: Wed Jun 06, 2007 6:36 pm    Post subject: combination Reply with quote

I think what everyone is posting here is basically correct; maybe just the way it's being phrased is at issue.

Every body acts like a black body in the sense that the body's temperature results in a characteristic emission spectrum. So there are definitely certain bands of radiation associated with materials of a given temperature. That said, "Temperature" is a measure of molecular vibrations, and so it doesn't really make sense to say radiation has a temperature itself. I prefer the way GaryProtein wrote it.

To say that radiation is 'in thermal equilibrium' with a warm body is somewhat correct in the sense that there is a relationship between temperature and radiation, but it is probably not strictly accurate in a thermodynamics sense.

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PostPosted: Mon Jun 11, 2007 11:07 pm    Post subject: Temp Not Just About Molecular Vibrations Reply with quote

Temperature is not just about molecular vibrations. There are two characteristics of any system that determine its temperature- the energy it stores internally at rest and the number of ways it can store that energy (this is tied in to the entropy). So, beyond vibrations temperature also ties in to rotations and unfettered random movement.

The simplest way to see that radiation has temperature is to think of it as a photon gas. The temperature is related to the random movement of the photons in the gas. This makes it, in fact, an ideal gas that happens to be ultra relativistic. It even obeys PV = nRT, if I recall correctly.

Even without quantum mechanics, though, if you get in to the nitty gritty of temperature's definition you'll find that radiation does have temperature because it presents another way for a system to store energy.

So, bottom line, radiation has a temperature like all other things. The cosmic microwave background, for instance, which does not have any known molecular origin in sight, has a temperature of 2.3 K. Not to mention the fact that you can derive the temperature of the black body spectrum by finding the temperature of a body in thermal equilibrium with it without regards to any walls or cavity containing the photon gas.

Now, back to the article. The radiation in a microwave is fairly cold because the photons aren't really moving about very randomly, so they don't have a lot of different ways to store their energy. So, why does a microwave heat up food? Same reason the blade of a blender can boil water - friction, in a broad sense. Basically, when you use a microwave you're forcing the molecules to vibrate harder and they, by bouncing against each other and whatnot, turn that energy in to thermal energy.
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Burr Zimmerman

PostPosted: Tue Jun 12, 2007 3:54 pm    Post subject: post an article? Reply with quote

I guess there's a lot about temperature -- especially regarding radiation and quantum effects -- that I don't know. Maybe Black Griffen would be willing to post an article about this -- or maybe you have a good link? This site requires authors to simplify somewhat so that articles are accessible to a broad range of readers, so maybe such an article isn't appropriate for this site. In any event, can you suggest some more reading on temperature?

Regarding radiation, there's some debate about microwaves and the back-and-forth motion and viscous heat generation versus excitation of vibrational modes. I have read from many sources what you have written, but others contradict it as well. Perhaps for this subject also you could suggest an authoritative source and post a link here? I'm not sure if there would be any peer-reviewed article on this, but that would be best if it existed.

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PostPosted: Wed Jun 13, 2007 6:52 am    Post subject: Temperature Reply with quote

Lesse, I don't know that a more detailed picture of temperature than what you give is necessary - I only provided more detail to justify what I felt was a necessary, but small, correction.

I would have liked to be able to link wikipedia's temperature article, but it contains the same error. I could recommend a few statistical mechanics/thermodynamics textbooks - on the undergrad level the only book I've ever used is Bowley and Sanchez (p 166) and at the graduate level the two main standbys, Reif (p 373 and following) and Landau & Lifshitz (p 183 and following) have both served me well. This site has a pretty good summary and mentions the phenomenon of negative absolute temperature, too. Having actually looked at these books, I have to retract a photon gas obeying PV = nRT - it obeys P = 4sigma * T^4 / 3 / c. Landau also shows that a gas of extremely fast moving electrons obeys the same law.

No need for quantum effects, actually, I chose to describe it as a photon gas because I figured that would be the fastest way to make my point apparent. This can all be done completely classically as long as one doesn't mind a few infinities popping up in the energy stored in short wavelength radiation.

Perhaps the best way to explain temperature is the classical equipartition theorem - the thermal energy stored in a body is equal to kT/2 times the number of places it can store energy (strictly speaking, this is only true for "harmonic degrees of freedom" but just about everything is to some approximation). This includes random vibrations, movement in each dimension, energy stored in atomic and molecular bonds, etc. Reversed, temperature is a measure of how much random energy is available to each way a thing can store it. The definition of heat follows naturally from that - it is just a transfer of thermal energy. And heat is driven from hot things to cold things for no other reason than that the random movements inside of a thermal body tend to equalize the energy shared by the different energy stores, on average. Perhaps that's more technical than this site really needs... I dunno.

Re: the way microwaves heat things up. I haven't read any peer reviewed articles on the matter. Honestly, I can't rule out microwaves coupling to any particular degree of freedom over another, and I would guess it probably just depends on which molecule you're talking about. Regardless, when I talked about "friction" (I put in the scare quotes intentionally) I was just talking about how the molecules turn otherwise cold radiation into heat. The details could have included bumping, rubbing, or just good old fashioned re-emitting the radiation at a lower wavelength.
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PostPosted: Wed Jun 13, 2007 10:12 am    Post subject: Sorry for the Lengthy Post Reply with quote

I went back to reread and potentially correct the wikipedia article. On closer examination, it seems to be fine. The entropy stuff under the second law definition of temperature is a little off, but overall it seems to be fine. Temperature

We now return you to your regularly scheduled cooking blog. Smile
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PostPosted: Fri Jul 13, 2007 10:50 am    Post subject: Heat transfer 99 (=even less than 101) Reply with quote

Both articles, the original Heat Transfer and Browning Foods and this one, omit one important thing. Something every American says every year in his Porsche dealership when buying 6 litre SUV for this year: "I only want something to get me from A to B".
In heat transfer, the heat must be also transferred from somewhere ("A") to somewhere else ("B"). For example, in the oven the "A" may be its walls for the radiation to the bun but the air surrounding the bun for the convection to it. And as regards the bun, "B" will be firstly just the bun surface where all those nice browning reactions are taking place. But in the moment we are curious about setting of the dough in the middle of the bun, the "B" shifts into the middle of the bun and the path of the heat gets one more step which works somehow in combination with the preceding ones. Etc. etc.
So, in my opinion matters are a bit more complicated (and different) than presented in both articles. Even the nice comparison to the baglayers crew can not help much. It definitely did not help me.
I have also enjoyed the stubbornness of second author about the "conduction by convection" or "convection being just conduction anyway" as if the convection was not the long decades accepted term for the heat transfer combined from the flow of the fluid in the vicinity of the wall and conduction from the fluid through the boundary layer to the wall.
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PostPosted: Sat Jul 21, 2007 4:43 am    Post subject: Pressure Cookers Reply with quote

Not to nitpick, but the point of a pressure cooker is to NOT steam food - or, rather, to not boil your water off. By increasing the pressure, water can be maintained in a liquid state at higher temperature than would be possible at atmospheric pressure. This means that you can cook things more quickly - higher temperature and greater heat transfer between your fluid and your food. If you've ever noted the high-altitude directions on some food packages, it's because water boils at less than 212 deg F, due to the low pressure. Of course, as a flatlander, it's only something I've read about...
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Chef Harry Otto

PostPosted: Mon Aug 27, 2007 2:13 pm    Post subject: Steam 2* 0.02 212°F / **100°C** Gentle, low temp? Reply with quote

Just stumbled upon your writing doing some research for a lecture.

Steam temperature effective range to 212F?

Your standard pressure cooker at 15psi uses a steam temp of 257F. In commercial units, I've cooked with steam at over 300F.

With regard to your simplified definition of cooking. Cooking does not have to use heat. It can also rely on an enzymatic process, or such of that with ceviche (acid).

All in all though, nice article.

Harry Otto, New York
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PostPosted: Mon Aug 27, 2007 5:59 pm    Post subject: Re: Steam 2* 0.02 212°F / **100°C** Gentle, low temp? Reply with quote

Chef Harry Otto wrote:
Just stumbled upon your writing doing some research for a lecture.

Steam temperature effective range to 212F?

Your standard pressure cooker at 15psi uses a steam temp of 257F. In commercial units, I've cooked with steam at over 300F.

With regard to your simplified definition of cooking. Cooking does not have to use heat. It can also rely on an enzymatic process, or such of that with ceviche (acid).

Burr put the ** after the 212F to signify that the temperature is higher when pressure cooking. Sorry that this wasn't clear.

Clearly Burr doesn't think it's cooking if no heat is applied. I tend to agree with him on this as well. I've always referred to ceviche as "cooking" (always with quotes) because you're enzymatically tightening the proteins to produce a texture similar to that if you cooked it. Not the same thing. Now, since the scope of the website definitely includes food such as ceviche, sushi, and whipped cream toppings (I haven't written these articles yet, but I might!) we'll have to say there are at least two definitions to the word cooking that I use - 1. the act or preparing food for consumption, and 2. the act of physically altering the properties of food through the introduction of heat.
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PostPosted: Thu Jun 12, 2008 8:09 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I rather liked both of these articles, though I think that the "Cooking Materials of Cookware" article did a bit better job of explaining thermal transfer, at least as it pertains to cookware.

Personally I think the sandbags analogy got stretched a bit thin and seemed to lose consistency as the article went on. I will admit that it's not the easiest thing to describe as an analogy. Most of the ones I can think of break down at some point.

The one I like best is to picture an object as a pool. The water in the pool is heat and the level of the water in the pool is temperature. The pool's width defines it's heat capacity. The wider the pool the more water it takes to fill it to a certain temperature. Radiation is easily described as simply shooting water into the pool from a hose, or even the pool filling from rain. Conduction requires connecting two pools adjacent to each other with pipes at the bottom of each pool. The thermal conductivity of a pool is basically how big the holes are to the pipes. Bigger holes allow water (heat) to travel at a faster rate into and out of a given pool (object). When two pools are connected if they are filled to different levels (temperature) water will flow from the higher pool to the lower pool until they are the same level (equilibrium). The water pressure is also higher depending on how much higher the high pool is, and thus will push water through the pipes even faster, slowing down as the two near equilibrium. In thermal conduction the mechanism is not the same but more heat is definitely transferred from a hotter object.

Experiment: Get two identical pans. Leave one pan at room temperature and heat another one. Place an identical ice cube in each pan and measure how long each one takes to melt. Intuitively the hotter pan will melt the ice faster even though both pans are significantly warmer than the ice. Conclusion, heat was able to transfer more quickly into the ice from the heated pan by conduction. Note: This experiment depends on neither pan actually reaching equilibrium with the ice before the end of the experiment. It would be more scientific to expose the ice cubes for exactly the same amount of time and then measure how much each melted by measuring either the cube (by weight) or melted water (weight or volume), but that also complicates it. heh

Obviously I'm not trying to describe a perfect mathematical analog, just making an analogy to explain the concepts.

BTW all the pools technically have the same depth... Absolute zero. I should also note that the width of the pool can be different at different levels as the properties of materials can change greatly depending on temperature (and pressure, which is not represented in this analogy along with many other things). Doing so is pushing the limits of this analogy, though.

That takes care of radiation and conduction. Convection is a bit more difficult and where the analogy tends to lose cohesion. To describe convection here you have to put lots of small "pools" on wheels. heh These pools can then move around in groups, transporting their contained water (heat) with them. That's a hell of an image... ;-/


I actually did like the author's stubbornly pointing out that the final stage of heat transfer into the food does not happen by convection.

It's theoretically possible... but it requires a food where your definition of what is the food and what is not are overlapped by an amorphous medium. Something like a stew where most of the liquid is actually strained off and not considered part of the food, maybe. Though I suppose some of this inevitably happens in deep frying or boiling anyway unless you keep a significant portion of the medium as your food the effect becomes negligible.

The author did make the point that he was referring to the final heat transfer into the food, not the entire system. Obviously a convection oven does use convection to heat food since convection is the mechanism of the oven it-self. I can also kinda see the other point of view, since convection as a mechanism for delivering heat to be conducted into the food does represent a different mode of cooking at the macro level, and as such that entire mode is generally referred to as "convection".

I think it boils down to point of view. Basically it’s the difference between asking how did the heat get to the food and how did the heat get into the food. To illustrate what I mean by that let me use a small analogy. Let’s say like millions of Americans you commute to work in a car. If I ask you, “How did you get to your home?” you would probably tell me you drove there. But if I ask, “How did you get into your home?” then you would probably tell me you opened the front door and walked in. In the very same sense convection can be the main mechanism that transports heat to your food, while it is conduction that gets the heat into your food.

The author alludes several times to a low Heat Capacity being a limiting factor on thermal transfer, which I think is partly in error. Heat Capacity is definitely part of the picture, but a low heat capacity doesn't equate to slow heat transfer. In fact a pan with high heat capacity takes longer to heat up, but it will also stay hot longer and maintain a more even temperature over time. High or low heat capacity may be desirable, depending upon what you are cooking. Heat transfer depends upon the heat conductivity of both your heating medium and the food as well as the difference in temperature. The quicker your heating medium heats up the sooner it will be heating your food. In fact aluminum is used in a lot of cookware specifically for this purpose.

Keep in mind that the purpose of putting heat into the food is to raise the temperature of the food it-self. The various chemical reactions we're trying to trigger happen at certain temperatures. The importance of controlling the rate of transfer is about controlling the distribution of temperature in your food over time. Time of course is the essential ingredient. Those chemical reactions take time. Increasing temperature generally increases the speed of those reactions, but also causes additional reactions, and can change the food in other ways. Also there are times when you want very uniform temperature gradients and times when you want very uneven ones, as noted.

The heat alone won't cook your food; you need to raise its temperature. If you cool the food at the same rate you heat it, simply passing the heat through the food without raising its temperature, you will achieve nothing.

I thought I'd mention a couple of points not really covered in any of these articles.

The first is surface area. This is somewhat covered, but not really directly. Surface area defines the size of the boundary we have to heat the food. Generally speaking the larger the surface area the faster the heating and thus cooking can occur. When you cut up a piece of meat you are increasing its surface area, at least relative to the air. This can greatly increase heat transfer, particularly from boiling, steaming, or baking. It also can expose more area to infrared radiation. It may or may not increase surface area relative to a pan, however. Here it depends partly on technique. If you cut up your meat and leave it sitting in the pan more is exposed to the hot air rising off the pan, but depending on how you cut it, you may not have exposed any more to the surface of the pan it-self. If you simply cut it but don't turn any of the chunks then the same surface area is in contact with the pan. Similarly if you bake cookies you should already be very familiar with the fact that smaller cookies will cook faster. As the author’s mentioned, cooking with oil fills in the gaps normally filled with air between your food and an otherwise dry pan. The oil acts like an extension of your pan, adhering to the contours of your food and creating a larger surface area through which to transmit heat.

I also wanted to bring up induction. It’s not really entirely within the scope of these articles. (I don’t know of any dishes that even could be cooked directly by induction…) But I thought I’d bring it up, mainly to refer to induction ranges that heat pans directly by induction instead of using a flame or heat coil. These ranges induce a current in the pan that converts directly to heat within the metal of the pan it-self instead of absorbing the head by conduction. The process results in less waste heat since there’s no burner or coil heating the air as well as your pan. (In fact the stovetop it-self generally stays cool to the touch until you put a pan on it and even then it’s only heated by conduction from the pan back to the stovetop.) Induction heating can also be very fast.

And now my disclaimer… All of this is just off the top of my head, so please don’t be too critical. I’ve done zero research since I’m merely posting this as a comment rather than writing an article. I believe it is reasonably accurate, though I’m sure that I’ve glossed over several things, and may even have a flat out error or few for all I know.


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PostPosted: Mon Apr 27, 2009 12:06 am    Post subject: mass Reply with quote

It is true that gravity moves mass, but, more generally, it is force that moves mass. It can be the force of gravity, but it can also be a number of other forces.
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