The Big Easy, Explained
Char-Broil was nice enough to send me The Big Easy infrared Turkey Fryer to try out last month, and it sure has created a lot of buzz. Not only have I been approached by people in my neighborhood, wondering what kind of contraption it is, the FedEx delivery guy grilled (ha!) me about it when he dropped it off.
Common questions I get are "How does it work?" or "How can you fry if there's no oil?" or "Does it taste the same?"
At the Char-Broil 2008 product launch in New York last month, I watched CB try to explain the technology and physics to some media people. He used some great geek terminology like Maillard Reaction. I'm so proud. But there is a good way to explain this, and to do so, we have to understand two things: thermodynamics and frying.
According to thermodynamics there are three ways of heat transfer: convection, conduction, and radiation. Imagine a piece of meat sitting on a hot grill. Convection is the act of air heating and rising and circulating around the grill. Conduction is the direct transfer of heat from the hot grill grate onto the meat. And radiation is the transfer of electomagnetic waves through the space of the grill from off of the diffusers, sides of the grill, or the grill grates themselves.
This act of radiation is the way that infrared cookers work. They transfer radiant energy from radiant conducters directly to the food you are cooking. Since there is little or no convection in this process, the food does not dry out from the circulation of hot air.
And now on to frying. To understand how The Big Easy works and why it is called a fryer, despite the lack of cooking oil, you must understand the act of frying itself. Deep frying food is a way to cook food fast and at a very high temperature. Immersing food into rocket-hot oil attacks the food on all surface areas. It is one-hudred percent conduction cooking. Heat is transferred directly from the oil onto the surface of the food. And since it cooks fast and hot, juices and flavors are sealed in and a nice golden-brown color is created. Perfect.
If you think about The Big Easy, the method and results are the same. The Big Easy heats the meat in the container by using radiant energy, attacking the food on all surfaces areas at a very high temperature. The result is is a nicely cooked piece of meat, with juices sealed in and a golden brown exterior (see picture below).
For more information about heat transfer, all you geeks can check out this great photo essay.