Kitchen Tips: How Grills Heat

Ah, the wonders of summer and the great weather it brings. This weekend is looking pretty good and with good weather comes grilling. But did you ever stop to wonder how grilling works? How it cooks your food? (No? Well, see you Monday then!) How your delicious burger is born in fire?!?!?! Well, wonder no more!

Whether it be charcoal or gas, a grill cooks your food with three kinds of heat transference: conduction, convection and radiant heat. Conduction is your most straight forward. Science 101 states that heat makes molecules move faster. The faster they move, the more often they bump into other molecules, transferring heat to them. This is called conduction. Your metal grating in your grill that you rest the food on is a great conductor; heat transfers through it all very quickly. Your food, however, is not such a great conductor. This is why you always preheat you grill. That initial contact of meat with metal is a burst of energy, forcing heat in deeply and quickly. The outside of the meat continues to receive most of the heat, passing it slowly inside. This is why you can have a steak with a thick crust and a rare interior (mmmm).

Convection is the transfer of heat through the air, but in a special way. The heating of he air molecules in a closed girl causes air circulation. As the molecules heat, they rise, cooking the meat and forcing the colder molecules down to be heated by the fire. This rotation of air is not a primary method of cooking, but it does account for part of it; especially in indirect grilling.

Radiant heat is your tricky one. This heat actually never touches the food. (crazy, right?) It’s infrared energy. Think about the sun and how it can still warm you on a cold day. It’s not heating you through conduction because the air around you is still cold, and yet warmth it’s providing.

So in short, the flow of heat from the the fire to the meat is radiant heat, the heating of the grating (and then the direct heating of the meat) is conduction and the heating of the surface of the meat is a combination of conduction, radiant heat and convection. Got it? Happy grilling!

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