Ever wondered how food becomes hot when you prepare it in your restaurant kitchen equipment? While this is something that is often taken for granted, the science behind how our food becomes hot and safe to eat – known as heat transfer – is fascinating. Heat transfer is the process of an item or substance coming into contact with a heat source and becoming hot and one such method of this is through radiation cooking.
To put simply, radiation cooking is the process where heat and light waves strike and penetrate your food. Although there is no direct contact between the heat source and the cooking food, these waves, when absorbed, cause matter to vibrate faster, increasing its temperature. There are two main radiation cooking methods – infrared and microwave radiation.
- Infrared Radiation
Infrared cooking technology has its own unique mechanism. It utilizes an electric or ceramic heating element that gives off electromagnetic energy waves. These waves travel in any direction at the speed of light to quickly heat food, and are mainly absorbed at the surface of whatever you are cooking. Examples of things that create infrared radiation are glowing coals in a fire, toaster ovens, and broilers.
- Microwave Radiation
Microwave radiation, on the other hand, utilizes short, high-frequency waves that penetrate food, which agitates its water molecules to create friction and transfer heat. If you are heating a solid substance, this heat energy is transferred throughout the food through conduction, while liquids do so through convection. Microwave heat transfer usually cooks food faster than infrared radiation, as it is able to penetrate foods several inches deep. Keep in mind that microwave radiation works best when cooking small batches of food.
Whether you use a convection oven or a heavy-duty microwave, conduction, convection, and radiation are all around us. If you are in the foodservice business, understanding the process behind heat transfer will help you make your dishes even better.
As we talk about heat transfer, let’s also consider the newest addition – a combi oven. Most combi ovens have three functions – steam, convection, and combination cooking. In the convection modes, combi ovens circulate dry heat, either by manual or automatic humidity control. In the steam mode, the combi oven injects water into the oven to keep food moist. Depending on what the need of your restaurant is, a combi oven definitely offers the best of both worlds.