Basic Methods of Heating Foods

Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

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The spectrum of electromagnetic radiation. We use both microwave and infrared radiation to cook our foods. (The scale employs a standard scientific abbreviation for large numbers; 105 means a 1 followed by 5 zeroes, or 100,000.)

Pure examples of the three different forms of heat transfer are seldom found in everyday life. All hot utensils radiate heat to some degree, and cooks usually work with combinations of solid containers that conduct and fluids that circulate. As simple an operation as heating a pan of water on the stove involves radiation and conduction from an electrical element (radiation and convection from a gas flame), conduction through the pan, and convection in the water. Still, one kind of heat transfer usually predominates in a given cooking technique and, together with the cooking medium, has a distinctive influence on foods.