Heat and its Transmission

Appears in

Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

  • About

Heat and its Transmission are fundamental to cookery. In the most substantial, and most readable, modern treatise on the scientific aspects of cookery, McGee (1984) puts the point thus:

Cooking can be defined in a general way as the transfer of energy from a heat source to the food. Our various cooking methods—boiling, broiling, baking, frying and so on—achieve their various effects by employing very different materials—water, air, oil—and by drawing on different principles of heat transfer.

An assumption that the cook will have access to fuel, devices for generating and controlling heat, and supports or containers for the food during cooking is implicit in the concept of a recipe. Geography and technology dictate availability of fuels; in turn, these have intrinsic characteristics which have influenced the development of cuisines. They may burn fast (dead wood) or slowly (dried cow dung); hot (charcoal) or cooler (peat); be easily controlled (a gas flame) or require skill in their management (coal and other solid fuels). Electricity is one step removed from fuel, but is also important for generating heat for cooking. Fireplaces, ovens, and stoves have evolved in different traditions to deliver optimum heat using available fuels.