You take any cooking device. If you are unfamiliar with the way it works, especially in the way its cooking temperature can alter the taste of food, you’re in deep trouble. Knowing the thermodynamics of cooking is essential to consistently cook good food with minimum effort and in very little time. Cooking is a science often neglected by individuals who believe it comes naturally to some and cannot be mastered with the help of technology.
The Principles and Mechanics of Cooking
If you were to define cooking, the principles and mechanics of cooking must be taken into consideration. Food in any form consists of water, minerals, and other essential components that generate energy in the body.
Cooking transforms a difficult-to-digest raw food into a cooked item by changing its chemistry with the help of heat. At the same time, it must retain flavor, doneness, nutrition value, tenderness, and juiciness inherent in foods like beef, pork, fish, and other meats.
Food is cooked in three basic ways.
This is a process where food comes in direct contact with the source of heat. For example, heating meat in a pan is conduction. A gas burner transfers heat to the whole pan, then to the meat cooking over it.
As the burner flame increases or decreases, generated heat also increases or decreases allowing users to cook the meat faster or slower. Another example is the transfer of heat from the infrared source to the grilling surface through direct contact. Heat generated by the source actually touches the grill grates and transfers it to the meat placed on top.
This is where heat is transferred to the food in a cooking medium like air, water, or oil. A convection oven is a typical example of a cooking medium utilizing convection currents. It generates hot air within an enclosed space with the help of electric coils or burners.
Food items are kept inside this convection oven, then cooked on all sides by the circulating hot air. Another example is convection grilling or smoking. Food is kept in an enclosed space. The grill contains grates aligned over the source of heat. It is also covered by a hood made of metal that helps transfer heat to the food through trapped convection currents.
The basic transfer of heat energy through electromagnetic radiation is also known as radiation. For example, the sun’s rays transfers light as well as heat to the earth. This heat is transferred in the form of electromagnetic radiation.
Similarly, hot coal radiates heat directly to the food placed over it. If grill grates are placed over the coal, heat is first transferred to these grill grates, which then transfer the heat to food items placed over them via conduction.
Heat generated by agitating particles of food is known as excitation. A microwave oven works with this principle. When food is spun on a rotating platform within the microwave oven, it vibrates the food particles at great speed, generates heat through this excitation process, then cooks the food from the inside.
This is the most energy-efficient way of cooking food. The process involves sending alternating current through a copper coil generating an electromagnetic field that changes rapidly. The copper coil stays below a smooth cooktop.
When an induction vessel conducive to this alternating current is placed over the cooktop, the electromagnetic field within it is altered. A rapidly changing magnetic field is created generating immense heat which is transferred to the food. You will find cast iron and steel are conducive to induction. The bottom of the cooking vessel that comes in direct contact with the cooktop is likely to be hotter than the top of the vessel. Food cooks faster in an induction vessel.
If you understand the thermodynamics of cooking, you’ll realize that your chosen method to generate heat may alter the taste of food to some extent. The temperature at which food is cooked, however, may make the food taste differently to a larger extent. No one likes undercooked or overcooked food.
With the help of technology, grills and smokers are now able to cook food at precise temperatures. Churn out your medium rare or well done steak from the same smoker with the help of a reliable digital meat thermometer. You begin to enjoy the cooking process. Press a few buttons, control the temperature on remote, then relish the flavorful food that comes out of your smoker or grill.