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Thermal Conductivity and Heat retention in various types of cookware.

l
laraffinee Jan 25, 2014 11:55 AM

I always enjoy reading the cookware posts because I love good cookware and love using it.

I have to say though, it always surprises me to read comments about Thermal Conductivity and Heat retention of various types of cookware as authoritative statements. I am sure there are some chowhounds that are metallurgists or engineers who may have actually conducted such studies of cookware, but I venture that most are not. It is one thing to talk about how a pan creates a fond or boils in 2 min, etc. but it does get far fetched to read about thermal properties without the data to support it.

Every material used in cookware has advantages and disadvantages, and a great cook knows how to get the most out of the pan at hand.

It really has so much more to do with the skills and innate ability of the cook than with the quality of the pan itself, because a great cook can make any decent pan work.

  1. g
    GH1618 Jan 25, 2014 05:10 PM

    Some of us are engineers, including myself, and the specific heat of (and other properties) metals can be looked up easily. It is not difficult science to understand how these properties can come into play in cooking.

    That being said, I don't obsess about the science of cookware. I am interested in how a pan performs for a particular purpose in actual practice, not in theory.

    8 Replies
    1. re: GH1618
      law_doc89 Jan 25, 2014 08:11 PM

      Of course, it obvious to those who know how to cook. In science it is possible to predict all sorts of things that in reality are impractical or irrelevant.

      1. re: GH1618
        kaleokahu Jan 27, 2014 01:45 PM

        Hi, GH1618:

        Sure, where there is no practical ramification, theory is not so informative. For example, one can usually function quite well with a Ptolemaic view of the heavens or even using Newtonian physics.

        The big "however" in that generality, as it applies to cookware, is that many posters here have used only a smattering of what is available, and are curious about what might be (or they may like) better. The science of materials, theoretical or not, is a part of forming a clear picture of differences--in advance of shelling out the $ for firsthand empirical testing.

        Simply repeating the cliches that differences in materials are marginal (insinuation = of no consequence), and that "true" cooks can cook in anything (insinuation = the speaker is a true cook and some other is not) disserves all Hounds in vacuity and--as we've seen in this thread--condescension.

        The idea that science only informs what is already "obvious" to some self-appointed cognoscenti (insinuation = speaking of the science is useless or is a cover for a poseur who can't cook and uses recipes) is astoundingly shallow. Yet completely unhelpful in the context of helping someone pick a new pan. Nevermind incorrect and wrong.

        Aloha,
        Kaleo

        1. re: kaleokahu
          m
          mikie Jan 27, 2014 02:40 PM

          In keeping with this thread and the suggestion to read the e-gullet article either referenced here or one of the other "hot" topic threads, I did some re-reading of the Understanding of Stovetop Cookware and even read much of the Q&A that followed. There was a lot of good information in the Q&A that wasn't in the article. One that I thought was of particular interest: "There is a huge jump up in performance characteristics from a 15 dollar stainless saute pan and a 65 dollar Sitram Profisserie saute pan. The jump from the Sitram Profisserie saute pan up to a Falk Culinair saute pan at 235 bucks? Not nearly as big." Also interesting is that $65 Sitram is now $120 and the Falk is now $395. The law of diminishing returns.

          I really like one pot meals, but after rereading, that's probably a thing of the past. Oh well, live and learn as they say.

          1. re: mikie
            kaleokahu Jan 27, 2014 03:10 PM

            Hi, mikie:

            That article is one of Sam Kinsey's best, a classic. We don't always agree on every point, but he's extremely knowlegeable and no one's fool. And he's playing to a set of readers at eGullet every bit as skilled as we Hounds.

            The law of diminishing returns absolutely applies to cookware, just as it does to many other things, e.g., cars, clothes, wine, mattresses, etc. Lots of folks either don't cook much or don't particularly care to spend their money at the margin. But for those who do with cookware--especially for those who have experienced a difference--well, considering how much of their lives they spend cooking, it's rarely a bad investment. Extra fort and hotel-grade copper especially tends to hold its value regardless of age, and largely irrespective of condition.

            Aloha,
            Kaleo

            1. re: mikie
              e
              ellabee Jan 27, 2014 03:59 PM

              :: I really like one pot meals, but after rereading, that's probably a thing of the past. Oh well... ::

              Not getting this. Could you clarify?

              1. re: ellabee
                m
                mikie Jan 27, 2014 04:26 PM

                Well it has to do with using the correct tool to do the job. If I were to make Italian Weding Soup for example, I make it with meatballs and I like to brown the meetballs before I put them in the soup. In the past I have browned them first in the Enameled Cast Iron that I intend to make the soup in. This however is not the best vessel for browning a meatball. The last time I made the soup I did the meatballs one day and the soup the next so I used a SS clad frying pan to brown the meat balls as I was going to have to wash twice anyway. It does a better job of browning than the ECI does. I have several dishes I like to make where the food is browned and then cooked in the oven in ECI. There's a better way and so I need to wash an extra pan, that's all.

                1. re: mikie
                  breadchick Jan 27, 2014 06:00 PM

                  Yup, I know there's a lot of folks that brown their meatballs in the oven and then add them to the sauce/gravy. Another pan to wash. I always brown in a skillet and move to the sauce pot, so it's always a two-pan deal for me too. It's not a one-pan dish, ever, in my book.

                  1. re: mikie
                    e
                    ellabee Jan 27, 2014 06:08 PM

                    Thanks for clarifying. I was dismayed to think you were saying you were giving up those meals for lack of the one perfect pot to cook them in!

          2. e
            ellabee Jan 25, 2014 02:46 PM

            There are a few cooking applications where it seems to me that the even-ness and responsiveness of thick copper or aluminum make it easier to have success, assuming that the cook is merely adequately skilled rather than "a great cook": making caramel, making sauces involving a roux, and making things like creme anglaise.

            1 Reply
            1. re: ellabee
              l
              laraffinee Jan 25, 2014 02:57 PM

              Pans do matter, and maybe I pooh-poohed the importance of pans too much, but I do believe that the cook is the most important factor in the equation, not the pan.

            2. wekick Jan 25, 2014 02:16 PM

              I am curious about your first statement, what constitutes a good pan to you?
              A good cook can make about any pan work, but I do notice a difference in pans in how they conduct heat and hold heat. I have a 14 inch thick aluminum skillet that cooks potato pancakes without rotating them. My 12 inch CI won't do that. I need pans to respond quickly at times. I don't think each person needs to recreate the wheel gathering data on their specific pans because the site mentioned above and an article on "cooking for engineers" has done this. The only time might be with plied cookware that could be anything on the inside. It is important that each cook decide if and how these properties matter to them.

              3 Replies
              1. re: wekick
                l
                laraffinee Jan 25, 2014 02:40 PM

                You are right that

                " It is important that each cook decide if and how these properties matter to them."

                Absolutely. For me, a good pan is a pan that gets a specific cooking task done well, and I have different pans for different tasks.

                I am still perfecting my potato pancake technique and am curious about your technique. Mine tend to be a bit crispier than my mother's were. She had a perfect balance of a kind of chewy inside and slightly crisp outside. Do you use high or medium heat for frying? I got an Asian electric skillet thinking that a more accurate temperature control would make a big difference, but it didn't.

                1. re: laraffinee
                  wekick Jan 25, 2014 06:20 PM

                  I like mine smaller crispy and thinner. I am frying a gaziilion at a time so with my 14 inch pan(x2 sometimes) I am cranking the heat. I keep them warm in the oven on a rack over a pan so they don't get soggy. I set it for 160+convection fan. My mom made them with left over mashed potatoes but I like the grated ones. They were one of my sons favorite things growing up until he saw me put onions in them. He would not touch them again until he grew up. They are a favorite again.

                  1. re: wekick
                    l
                    laraffinee Jan 25, 2014 09:05 PM

                    Ah, Yes...high heat is good for thin and crispy. I am impressed that you can get two 14" pans going! I had a stretch where I was making a batch every other day, like a scientific experiment, varying the coarseness of the grated potato, adding differing amounts of potato starch - they were all good, but I honestly have not been able to get that perfect balance that my Mom used to effortlessly get of not too thick or too thin and crispy but not too crispy. My Mom used to fry them on a Sunbeam electric skillet - I don't know if it was made of aluminum or stainless steel. The Zojiroshi electric skillet that I got made no difference. I love my thick Vollrath aluminum omelette pan. I might get a 12-14" version and try that. Ha! That would be funny if that was the "missing link"!

              2. kaleokahu Jan 25, 2014 01:14 PM

                Hi, laraffinee: "It really has so much more to do with the skills and innate ability of the cook than with the quality of the pan itself, because a great cook can make any decent pan work."

                Yes, of course. But it does not follow that the quality of pans does not matter, or that differences in their physical properties are not important. And physical properties, being matters of science, *can* be stated authoritatively.

                "Every material used in cookware has advantages and disadvantages..."

                I'll even agree with this, but it terms of cooking performance, some materials are more equal than others. Some excel in a wide range of applications, others not so much. That there may be pros and cons to all materials is not, IMO, a valid reason to consider all of them to be in the same league.

                "[A] great cook can make any decent pan work."

                I'll go you one better: Even a mediocre cook can make any decent pan work with some practice. That's why the world's kitchens are predominantly populated with merely decent pans. Perhaps there are those who participate in Cookware who believe no one should look beyond "decent" or even a minimum standard for making food edible, but I doubt it.

                Let me suggest to you that just because a PGA Tour professional could beat me 100 rounds out of 100 using his putter as his only club, it's not evidence that this hacker doesn't need 14 clubs in his bag.

                Aloha,
                Kaleo

                7 Replies
                1. re: kaleokahu
                  l
                  laraffinee Jan 25, 2014 02:24 PM

                  I understand you and I agree with you. I have fabulous cookware - I have a full collection of Demeyere Atlantis, a lot of tin lined copper, Staub and Silit for enamel iron and steel, thick aluminum omelette pan, etc. etc.

                  I have a solid background in science and materials science due to my professional training, but when it came to buying cookware, I looked for something that was well made, got one pan, loved cooking with it, got another, etc.

                  My point is that a lot of the comments here in the cookware section go into thermal conductivity, heat capacity etc. from people who seem to be pulling this out of a hat.

                  As far as the cook and the pan go - I started out with a basic Farberware set over 30 years ago and I was a good cook then, and was featured in the newspaper of a major city for my cooking skills. I chose another profession, but I still love to cook and am a really good cook. I have great cookware now, but whether I use these beautiful pans, or an old beat up Farberware set, it comes down to the timing, the tasting, the seasoning, the combining...all these things that have become second nature and are frequently overlooked in the discussions about cookware.

                  1. re: laraffinee
                    m
                    mikie Jan 26, 2014 06:58 PM

                    If you have a science and materials science background you should be familiar with the CRC Handbook of Chemistry and Physics. Values for thermal conductivity of metals can easily be referenced in this book, as well as heat capacity. No one has to make them up, it's published scientific data. Now the guesswork comes in when you start combining materials and no one here really knows the ratios of SS/Al/SS or whatever the combination is, so then it's guesswork, but guesswork with some scientific knowldge.

                    The bigger issue in my mind is how much difference do these numbers actually make when cooking. Chem perhaps stated it best that 20 x better thermal conductivity doesn't mean something cooks 20 x faster, so just how mcuh difference does it really make.

                    1. re: mikie
                      g
                      GH1618 Jan 26, 2014 07:12 PM

                      True. But anyone who has used a plain stainless steel saucepan should know that there will be localized hot spots which can produce scorching. A thick base with good thermal conductivity should even out the distribution of heat in theory, and that seems to work in practice.

                      1. re: GH1618
                        m
                        mikie Jan 26, 2014 07:30 PM

                        No doubt. I just purchased a new Viking frying pan, thick 7 ply SS/Al combo to replace an oldish thin Revere frying pan that somehow I managed to burn whatever I was cooking in it. I think I even burned water once in this thing. I've had much better luck with the Viking.

                        1. re: mikie
                          kaleokahu Jan 26, 2014 07:42 PM

                          Hi, mikie:

                          [Tongue-in-Kaleo-cheek] Well since the differences in pans are only marginal, and true cooks can make exquisite meals every time (without a recipe of any kind) in anything, then you obviously should take lessons until you understand technique...

                          ...and become a true cook

                          ...and then buy some cast iron saucepans

                          ...to replace your nonstick saucepans.

                          Aloha,
                          Kaleo

                          1. re: kaleokahu
                            m
                            mikie Jan 27, 2014 04:40 AM

                            Hi Kaleo
                            I'm sure a true cook could do better than me if all they had was an aluminum disposable pie pan. I'm a work in progress. I've learned a hell of a lot in a relatively short time, but I have a long way to go!

                            Well I'm off to get some cast iron nonstick saucepans to continue my journey.

                            Take care,

                            1. re: mikie
                              law_doc89 Jan 27, 2014 09:30 AM

                              Before you buy try to remember that conductivity is only one aspect, capacity, thickness, surfaces, so much more than one aspect. People do some really dumb things, such as buying an all matched sets then finding after spending maybe thousands, they get poor results as they find different pans do better than others, but that almost any pan will do if you know technique and can vary your practice accordingly.

                2. b
                  bkultra Jan 25, 2014 01:02 PM

                  It has been posted many times before but here is a great write up on the differences of each material and construction type of cookware.

                  http://forums.egullet.org/topic/25717...

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: bkultra
                    l
                    laraffinee Jan 25, 2014 02:27 PM

                    Wow - Thanks, bkultra! What a great overview! That is a great article to keep as a reference!

                  2. Chemicalkinetics Jan 25, 2014 12:18 PM

                    <Thermal Conductivity and Heat retention of various types of cookware as authoritative statements>

                    It isn't, but it is a first order estimation. As I have mentioned before, some of these estimations are completely taken out of context by some people. However, the "order" does not change.

                    Let me give you a very simply example. Let's use glass and aluminum.

                    Glass has a thermal conductivity of 1 W/(m.K). Aluminum is 200 W/(m.K).

                    It would be absolutely wrong to say that a glass cookware will take 200 times longer to heat up than an aluminum. Absolutely wrong. If it takes me to 2 min to boil a pot of water in an aluminum pot, then it certainly won't take 400 min (7 hours) to boil the same water in a glass pot. That would be a ridiculous statement.

                    However, the "order" won't change. The same water will get boiled faster in an aluminum pot than a glass pot.

                    <Every material used in cookware has advantages and disadvantages, and a great cook knows how to get the most out of the pan at hand. >

                    This is true, and I believe most people on CHOWHOUND have repeated this many times. This is why many people say "It is a bad idea to buy a cookware set" Why? Exactly what you said -- different materials are good for different tasks. A cookware set is almost always made of the same material.

                    <It really has so much more to do with the skills and innate ability of the cook than with the quality of the pan itself>

                    Very true. This point has also been repeated many times by us. As long as you are approximately close to the ball park, anything you chose will work. To fry an egg? You can use a nonstick aluminum pan, a copper tinned pan, a plain aluminum pan, a cast iron pan, a carbon steel pan, a stainless steel cladded pan.....etc. Now, you probably don't want to use your glass mixing bowl to fry the egg or your plastic salad spinner or anything too crazy.

                    51 Replies
                    1. re: Chemicalkinetics
                      l
                      laraffinee Jan 25, 2014 02:31 PM

                      Well said, Chem!

                      You hit the nail on the head with this statement and really got the essence of these metallurgy statements:

                      "Let me give you a very simply example. Let's use glass and aluminum.

                      Glass has a thermal conductivity of 1 W/(m.K). Aluminum is 200 W/(m.K).

                      It would be absolutely wrong to say that a glass cookware will take 200 times longer to heat up than an aluminum. Absolutely wrong. If it takes me to 2 min to boil a pot of water in an aluminum pot, then it certainly won't take 400 min (7 hours) to boil the same water in a glass pot. That would be a ridiculous statement.

                      However, the "order" won't change. The same water will get boiled faster in an aluminum pot than a glass pot"

                      1. re: laraffinee
                        Chemicalkinetics Jan 25, 2014 02:45 PM

                        I do agree with you that few people overly rely on these numbers (like thermal conductivity). It is nice to have you to bring these conversations back down a notch.

                        1. re: Chemicalkinetics
                          law_doc89 Jan 25, 2014 05:03 PM

                          Yes, and they follow recipes rather than learning to cook, so don't really understand that cooking is a mix or science and art.

                          BTW, if you watch the pot, the water will never boil.

                          1. re: law_doc89
                            c oliver Jan 25, 2014 05:09 PM

                            I don't think recipe following and learning to cook are mutually exclusive. And if you lurk a bit on some COTM threads you'll see that many fine cooks here feel the same way.

                            1. re: c oliver
                              breadchick Jan 25, 2014 06:35 PM

                              COTM? Please people, if it hasn't been referenced upthread, please spell it out for the first time.

                              1. re: breadchick
                                law_doc89 Jan 25, 2014 08:07 PM

                                Cookbook of the month. Recipe followers are slave to information that is often fraught with omitted data. Recipe followers are not true cooks. Think paint by numbers verss artists.

                                1. re: law_doc89
                                  DuffyH Jan 26, 2014 06:09 AM

                                  <Recipe followers are not true cooks. Think paint by numbers verss artists. >

                                  I disagree. A "true cook" is one who cooks tasty food. Does following a recipe alter the taste of the finished dish? I haven't found it to be so.

                                  Why not think copy v. original? I think that's an accurate and kinder analogy, lacking the unnecessary value judgement associated with "paint by numbers".

                                  1. re: DuffyH
                                    Chemicalkinetics Jan 26, 2014 09:01 AM

                                    I like to follow up with law_doc comments. He did say: "follow recipes rather than learning to cook". This can be interpreted differently depending how you read the second part.

                                    For me, there is nothing wrong with following a recipe. Maybe I am in the beginning stage of learning how to make a certain dish, or maybe the recipe is very much "perfected" by an expert that there is very little space to improve, or it is my on-going recipe for creation. For example, I am trying to improve/perfect my egg waffle recipe. Every time I make it, I change one ingredient portion to observe the end result, thus I am following my own recipe.

                                    There is nothing wrong with working with a recipe.

                                    However, people who "only" follow recipe without learning are not good cooks. Duffy, I think you said you are a scientist or engineer, so I will use this example. A person who can only follow a Chem1A lab note procedure but do not learn the concepts is not a true scientist.

                                    Otherwise, they are great chefs/cooks:

                                    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CNSKMG...

                                    1. re: Chemicalkinetics
                                      DuffyH Jan 26, 2014 10:24 AM

                                      I still disagree, Chem. IME, most cooks are somewhere between 100% recipe use and 100% no recipes. Where is the line drawn?

                                      For example, I have recipes for spice blends, rubs, dressings, sauces and the like that I make by the book, each and every time. Some of them are my own creations, others are not. But if I want the food I cook with them to taste the way it should, I've found it's best to use the amounts specified in the recipe.

                                      Additionally, I always use the recipe that is my own creation for stuffed shells, because when I don't, the results can be inconsistent. My meatloaf is the same, my recipe, and I use it every time. If I don't, it can be too wet or dry, etc...

                                      There are countless other examples, and it shouldn't matter if none of the recipes were my own creations. I don't know anyone who hasn't altered a published or family recipe to their taste.

                                      It appears that by law_doc89's definition, I'm a slave to recipes and no true cook at all. What I'm trying to say is that I find the addition of the word "true" very judgmental, because it's opposite is "false", thereby implying that cooks like me who use recipes (our own or someone else's) to insure consistent success are false cooks, or fakes. Frankly, it's insulting.

                                      1. re: DuffyH
                                        cowboyardee Jan 26, 2014 10:55 AM

                                        "Where is the line drawn?"
                                        ________
                                        Can you cook well without consulting a recipe or not? (that's the line - I'm not asking about you personally)

                                        I won't presume to speak for law_doc in terms of exactly what he or she meant by the above post.

                                        But surely you must admit there is a difference in skill level between a cook who is fully capable of making a wide variety of well-executed delicious meals without consulting a recipe (even if that cook prefers to use a recipe when not improvising in order to make for more consistent results) and one who is dependent on a recipe in order to pull off almost anything at all. Right?

                                        When it comes down to it, some people learn all about how to cook; and some people follow directions without ever coming to really understand what they're doing, and thus stay dependent on an external set of directions. The former might still prefer to use recipes, but there's a big difference between the two (and many shades of gray in between them as well).

                                        1. re: cowboyardee
                                          breadchick Jan 26, 2014 11:45 AM

                                          In my humble opinion, it's a good idea to master techniques. This is what I tell my son. If you can practice and learn the basics to the point you can cook without needing a cookbook - you can take any ingredient and work with it to create something good to eat.

                                          Cookbooks are great to learn how to make something outside one's comfort zone, or authentic regional recipes, etc. I like to read them for fun. I don't need them, however. I've packed away nearly all of them, and just have my recipes in a binder. (In case I ever get hit by a bus, I tell my husband.)

                                          Which must be why I never knew what COTM meant!

                                          1. re: breadchick
                                            law_doc89 Jan 26, 2014 12:03 PM

                                            Absolutely, recipes are for beginners, whether as beginner cooks, or beginning a type of cuisine. If one learns techniques, one can cook anything. At a certain point, cook books get in the way just as training wheels impede learning to ride a bike.

                                            I just learned about skirlie from a Chow poster and used the recipe once to learn the technique. Now making all sorts of variations and doubt I will ever look at the recipe again.

                                            1. re: breadchick
                                              DuffyH Jan 26, 2014 05:41 PM

                                              I agree that learning techniques are important, the bedrock of knowing how to cook, even with recipes. Recipes commonly use words like sauté, simmer and deglaze. We need to know what those mean and how to execute them. I think, for me, that's what separates a cook from a non-cook, no matter if they're following recipes or not.

                                              I think, in the end, cowboyardee said it best: "When it comes down to it, some people learn all about how to cook; and some people follow directions without ever coming to really understand what they're doing, and thus stay dependent on an external set of directions. The former might still prefer to use recipes, but there's a big difference between the two (and many shades of gray in between them as well)."

                                              But I'm still not a fan or the word "true". To say someone is not a true cook is so judgmental and pejorative. There must be a kinder phrase.

                                              1. re: DuffyH
                                                c oliver Jan 26, 2014 05:49 PM

                                                I agree with the "judgmental and pejorative." There are lots of ways to cook and to learn to cook. IMO, one isn't more "true" than another. A CH who no longer posts taught herself to cook using Julia Child's The Way To Cook. And she's one helluva a cook. I'm a recipe follower simply because I 'follow' VERY competent authors and have known, in my heart of hearts, that I'd never come up with some of the subtle (and not!) things that they do.

                                              2. re: breadchick
                                                breadchick Jan 26, 2014 05:58 PM

                                                Edit: I didn't mean "read them for fun" to mean I'm not taking them seriously. I enjoy reading them for food porn, and a lot of my older cookbooks for understanding food customs from earlier decades. Anyone for terrapin stew?

                                      2. re: law_doc89
                                        Gio Jan 26, 2014 06:09 AM

                                        One of the reasons COTM has been so successful and is a major draw here at CH is precisely because the cookbooks chosen hold recipes written by validated award winning chefs and cooks. Spending a month cooking from one great cookbook is a lesson in culinary history, a nation's cultural history, technique, and skill. A true artist is one who masters technique and skill then applies that learning to the art. It frees one to then create on one's own

                                        1. re: law_doc89
                                          breadchick Jan 26, 2014 09:12 AM

                                          Aha, thank you for the clarification!

                                          1. re: law_doc89
                                            wekick Jan 26, 2014 09:13 AM

                                            I view recipes as communication one cook to another. They provide the footstones of knowledge. For me it is freedom to not have to spend all my time developing every cake recipe I want to make. Can I throw something together using basic ratios? Yes but I can go to Dorie Greenspan's book on baking and have my pick of recipes that have been tested 30 times and perfected.

                                            I love reading the little book of recipes that my grandmother wrote for me. All things she taught me to make so that even if it has been a few years since I made something, it is there --a constant on the written page.

                                            I love having recipes from friends. I can dig out a recipe shared and remember the occasion where we first had the dish and the occasions since that it has been on my table.

                                            I love reading ethnic/regional recipes. There are things I have never heard of and the only way I know to learn about them is through recipes.

                                            I love reading what the great cooks have to say in our times and in the past. I might learn about a unique method of preparation or unusual ingredients that would not normally come spontaneously into my field of vision.

                                            I learn even from the bad recipes.

                                            I have rarely come across omitted data but I am sure it happens from time to time. That would not make me eliminate all recipes.

                                            By your definition I know of no true cooks. I know of not one person who has not used recipes. Not one person has just spontaneously learned to cook in a vacuum.

                                            I cook most of the time without a recipe "in hand" but my knowledge is still based on assimilating others successful methods into my own. I treasure the passing on of great recipes and the generosity of cooks who do so. The greats almost always give a nod to where their recipes have come from. I like the connection of one cook to another.

                                            In the end the term "artist" is a value judgement bestowed by others based on their own subjective criteria. Not all originals are art and many of the greats were influenced and learned from others. Techniques and styles were shared.

                                            1. re: law_doc89
                                              d
                                              danlind3 Jan 26, 2014 12:15 PM

                                              I often like using several cookbooks at once so I can see options, get ideas, etc. As for the 'true cooks' discussion, I'm happy for those who enjoy cooking, but some have better instincts and/or are more creative, etc. That's true for many fields of endeavor. I think it takes quite some level of knowledge and feel to follow some recipes, too.

                                              1. re: law_doc89
                                                m
                                                mikie Jan 26, 2014 06:28 PM

                                                I'm an engineer and have worked in the chemical/plastic industry for over 40 years, you can bet if I want to make the same product over and over, I follow a recipe (formulation) and I reduce the number of variables (heat, time, ingredients) to the greatest extent possible. You don't have to follow a recipe to cook good food, but you do if you want to make the same food over and over again.

                                                Now I have a lot of respect for people who can just take a refrigerator full of food and turn it into a fantastic meal with no recipe, but the practacality of that is not existant, they will never be able to repeat that meal.

                                                I took a BBQ class from the Midwest BBQ Instatute taught by an American Cullinary Institute trained chef. When it was time to make our BBQ rub, the very first thing he said was to write all the ingredients and the amounts down. Why, so we would have a starting point for improvement and just in case it was good we could make it again for our friends. He was aslo an American Royal BBQ grand champion, he didn't get there by having to guess how he got that really great BBQ last time.

                                                It's obsurd to think that a true cook doesn't follow a recipe.

                                                1. re: mikie
                                                  c oliver Jan 26, 2014 06:31 PM

                                                  VERY well said. In addition, I'll propose that MOST of those people who say they never use recipes are PERHAPS not as good cooks as they think they are :)

                                                  1. re: mikie
                                                    breadchick Jan 26, 2014 06:51 PM

                                                    That is true for the most part, but the thing is, I rarely follow recipes. I do create my own, and when they work out well I will write them down so I can repeat it. Which serves two purposes - I can improve it the next time or leave as is. So I am following a recipe, but it's mine.

                                                    I'm too restless, I guess. Even my own recipes I tinker with forever. My problem lies with folks that want my recipe. Which is why I started to write them down - especially for my children.

                                                    1. re: breadchick
                                                      m
                                                      mikie Jan 26, 2014 07:12 PM

                                                      For me a recipe is like a sheet of music. A good singer can sing without sheet music, but if they want to sing the same song at different venues, they need to practice with sheet music. Sure you can cook without a recipe, but you have a recipe in you head. If you do anything enough you learn how to do it over and over agian so that it comes out the same way each time, without the aid of "instructions that are written". Athletes call this practice. If it's only in your head is it a recipe?

                                                      1. re: mikie
                                                        c oliver Jan 26, 2014 07:13 PM

                                                        Wow, you're really good :)

                                                    2. re: mikie
                                                      DuffyH Jan 26, 2014 09:45 PM

                                                      Last summer Dude threw together a terrific steak rub. Imagine how ticked I was when he admitted he had no idea which spices he'd used. Luckily, he made about 4 cups of it, so it'll last a bit longer.

                                                      Then it's back to square one. (sigh)

                                                      1. re: DuffyH
                                                        m
                                                        mikie Jan 27, 2014 08:21 AM

                                                        Hi DuffyH, The chef that tought the BBQ class told the story of a woman that took the class a couple of years ago and made the best rub he had ever tasted. She didn't take notes and had no idea of what was in it and how much of anything was in it. Thus, the recipe for the best rub he had tasted was lost.

                                                        During the class he has two tables with spices lined up on them, you pick and choose what and how much goes into your rub. The instructional part of the class includes, what I will call, basic guidelines, for making a dry rub. He refers to these as flavor stages; Stage 1: Sweet/Salt, Stage 2: Color, Stage 3: Heat, and Stage 4: Flavorings. He broke down a basic ratio of these stages, 5-3-1-1. After that you were on your own. Son-in-law and I won best ribs!

                                                        In case you're interested here's a link: http://www.ribstarsbbq.com/

                                                        1. re: mikie
                                                          DuffyH Jan 27, 2014 09:29 AM

                                                          Conga-Rats, mikie! Your rub must have been the bomb. :)

                                                  2. re: breadchick
                                                    Gio Jan 26, 2014 06:00 AM

                                                    COTM has been part of CH since September 2006. Surprised you haven't encountered that acronym before this.

                                                    1. re: Gio
                                                      breadchick Jan 26, 2014 09:48 AM

                                                      Nope, this is the first. I follow just a few boards, so somehow missed it.

                                                      Ha, I guess I'm still a newbie since I've joined the community around 2010! :)

                                                2. re: law_doc89
                                                  wekick Jan 26, 2014 08:32 AM

                                                  If you have never follow any recipes(http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictio...), please describe your learning process.

                                                  1. re: wekick
                                                    cowboyardee Jan 26, 2014 11:01 AM

                                                    FWIW, I learn a lot more from cooking with other people than I do from following printed recipes. Recipes leave out so much compared to what you learn in person.

                                                    1. re: cowboyardee
                                                      wekick Jan 26, 2014 11:43 AM

                                                      A recipe by the definition linked above

                                                      -a set of instructions for making food

                                                      -a way of doing something that will produce a particular result

                                                      Although many are on paper, this certainly is not limited to writing. Person to person is a great way to convey a recipe especially if that person is a "teacher" by nature. It would come down to the writer of the recipe verses the particular person teaching. I am more of a visual person so I tend to learn better by watching and being able to ask questions.

                                                      1. re: wekick
                                                        cowboyardee Jan 26, 2014 11:53 AM

                                                        That's not the common usage, regardless of what a dictionary says.

                                                        If your grandmother taught you how to make her amazing latkes first hand, standing over her stove, would you later say you learned by following a recipe? No, you learned from watching grandma.

                                                        If you went to culinary school, do you come away from it saying you learned to cook by 'following a bunch of recipes?' Or if you learned to cook working your way up through a professional kitchen? I mean, technically, you did get plenty of cooking instructions ['recipes' per the dictionary] at culinary school or at work... so what's the difference between that and just reading a ton of books all by your lonesome?

                                                        We make this distinction because the two methods of learning are qualitatively different. And it's a good distinction to make. Lets not bury it in semantics.

                                                        1. re: cowboyardee
                                                          wekick Jan 27, 2014 06:57 AM

                                                          "That's not the common usage, regardless of what a dictionary says."

                                                          If you personally use a word in a more restrictive way only, it does not change the meaning of the word or how others use it.

                                                          "If your grandmother taught you how to make her amazing latkes first hand, standing over her stove, would you later say you learned by following a recipe? No, you learned from watching grandma."

                                                          I would say, serving my potatoes, "This is my grandmother's recipe." (Not just"a"recipe). How I learned her recipe is a separate issue.

                                                          "If you went to culinary school, do you come away from it saying you learned to cook by 'following a bunch of recipes?' Or if you learned to cook working your way up through a professional kitchen? I mean, technically, you did get plenty of cooking instructions ['recipes' per the dictionary] at culinary school or at work... so what's the difference between that and just reading a ton of books all by your lonesome?"

                                                          This is the recipe from the "Ak-cod-amee". The chef taught me all of his recipes. Yes they are all recipes whether I learned at home with books, school or in the trenches. The difference is in learning methods and teachers.

                                                          "We make this distinction because the two methods of learning are qualitatively different. And it's a good distinction to make. "

                                                          Part if my last job was assessing how people learn individually. It would be a mistake to assume that something that is the highest quality learning experience for you would be the same for everyone else. I have had many instances in my own life where I have learned more from reading than from a live teacher. The quality of the learning experience depends on the learner, the information conveyed, the teacher and the way the information is conveyed in relation to the way the student learns.

                                                          "Lets not bury it in semantics."

                                                          You are the one that proposes a definition for recipe that is much more restrictive and different than the dictionary and presuming that there is no other use of the word other than how you use it. I think is important to know what other people think and how they might use a word especially on a discussion forum like this where people from all over the world participate and there might be regional differences in how a word is used.

                                                          1. re: wekick
                                                            c oliver Jan 27, 2014 07:59 AM

                                                            Some really good points here and I especially like the comment about how different people learn. I'd not thought of that regarding cooking but I DEFINITELY learn best by reading.

                                                            1. re: wekick
                                                              cowboyardee Jan 27, 2014 08:47 AM

                                                              on semantics....
                                                              You and I and anyone else reading this already has a perfectly good understanding of what 'recipe' means and how it's being used in this thread. If 'recipe' was 100% synonymous with 'instructions about cooking,' then your original question (how can one learn to cook without [instructions about cooking]?) was neither controversial nor particularly worth posting. You are injecting a far-too-credulous reading of a single, short, dictionary entry onto a word that has been used with more specific connotations, correctly, in this very thread.

                                                              No doubt, I could find another dictionary entry that more closely approximates common usage... but I don't have to bother. We all understand what 'recipe' means, and we know that 'instructions about cooking' doesn't fully explain it. The point is moot*

                                                              *interestingly, most dictionaries have the first definition of 'moot' listed as "open to debate," even though modern usage typically uses 'moot' to mean "irrelevant, not worth debating." Should I use the more archaic definition then, ensuring that no one understands wtf I'm talking about? Dictionaries attempt to describe and document how language is used... and they often fall short (understandably).

                                                              1. re: cowboyardee
                                                                Chemicalkinetics Jan 27, 2014 09:14 AM

                                                                <most dictionaries have the first definition of 'moot' listed as "open to debate," even though modern usage typically uses 'moot' to mean "irrelevant, not worth debating.">

                                                                Yeah.

                                                                1. re: cowboyardee
                                                                  DuffyH Jan 27, 2014 09:27 AM

                                                                  <*interestingly, most dictionaries have the first definition of 'moot' listed as "open to debate,>

                                                                  Another odd entry is "factoid" which used to only mean an untrue, invented claim, but now is used to mean a trivial item which is true.

                                                                  So the info about moot is a factoid. Modern life has certainly taken us right down the rabbit hole.

                                                                2. re: wekick
                                                                  cowboyardee Jan 27, 2014 12:50 PM

                                                                  On learning to cook...

                                                                  "This is the recipe from the "Ak-cod-amee". The chef taught me all of his recipes."
                                                                  _______
                                                                  This quote betrays a misunderstanding of the different ways people learn to cook. A scenario: a CIA graduate makes a stir-fry... did he learn the recipe at his school? It's possible, but unlikely. Here's what really happened...

                                                                  The school taught him the techniques involved in stir-frying, the common flavorings, etc. The graduate went to the market, bought whatever looked good and goes well together, and cooked a stir-fry based not on any pre-existing recipe but on making the best use of the ingredients at hand, built on a foundation of technique. The chef did not teach the culinary grad all of his recipes. Instead, he taught the grad how to cook without a recipe at all. There are of course some exceptions - said grad will likely use a specific recipe for choux pastry, candy-making, various other things - but he didn't go to culinary school in order to memorize a bunch of ingredient lists and measurements that he could just look up without taking on student loans. Culinary school taught him something else.

                                                                  "It would be a mistake to assume that something that is the highest quality learning experience for you would be the same for everyone else."
                                                                  _______
                                                                  This is certainly true, and it's a good point. But that doesn't mean that all methods of learning are equal. Regardless of the proclivities of the student, some methods of learning do indeed have inherent advantages over others. An extreme example: say I learn best by reading. So I read and read and read about cooking... but I never actually pick up a spatula and practice it. I just read more. Meanwhile you learn at the hands of various great chefs, cooking alongside them, executing dish after dish, over and over again until it meets their approval. After 10 years of us each putting the same number of hours into our study, is it possible that I am a better cook than you? Theoretically, yes. Is it likely? No. Snowball's chance in hell. I'm about to stand over a stove for the first time; you've repeatedly won the approval of renowned masters of the craft. Would you agree?

                                                                  Also, you can see my response to GH1618 below:
                                                                  http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/9612...
                                                                  The point is that cooking is inherently a sensory experience involving a great deal of sensory feedback, and how you or I normally learn best doesn't change that. By all means, learn by whichever way is more comfortable to you and however keeps you motivated to continue learning. But some methods are just more efficient than others; some methods give better feedback than others; some methods are just quicker than others.

                                                                  *Sorry mods - if you prefer I will start a new thread so as not to further derail this one. And at any rate, I'm done with the semantics discussion - it wasn't clear to me if that was what you were objecting to, mainly.

                                                                  1. re: cowboyardee
                                                                    The Chowhound Team Jan 27, 2014 01:07 PM

                                                                    We really do think the cooking with/without recipes sidebar is getting pretty far afield, too, though at least it's on topic for Chowhound, if not this board or this particular discussion thread.

                                                                    If you'd like to start a different thread about that, over on General Topics, that'd be fine.

                                                                    1. re: The Chowhound Team
                                                                      law_doc89 Jan 27, 2014 01:35 PM

                                                                      Done!

                                                                      http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/961504

                                                              2. re: wekick
                                                                kaleokahu Jan 26, 2014 05:04 PM

                                                                Hi, wekick:

                                                                Yes, you are 100% right that recipes do not have to be written. In fact, to the extent that an intentionally illiterate graduate of L'Academie ever repeats a prep s/he was shown, they are still following a recipe. As they would be by repeating a dish of their own invention.

                                                                Turns out the "true cook" is also a slave (and with no clothes!). We are all beginners.

                                                                Aloha,
                                                                Kaleo

                                                                1. re: wekick
                                                                  g
                                                                  GH1618 Jan 27, 2014 09:05 AM

                                                                  I think I'm with you on this. A "recipe" is a prescription of ingredients and methods for achieving a particular result (Oxford). Whether it is written or oral has nothing to do with it. Oral instruction may be only principles which can be applied to achieve a general result (not a recipe), but if the instructions are to take these ingredients in such proportion and do that with them to make a particular sauce, for example, that's a recipe. I don't understand what all the argument is about, frankly.

                                                                  1. re: GH1618
                                                                    cowboyardee Jan 27, 2014 09:28 AM

                                                                    "Oral instruction may be only principles which can be applied to achieve a general result (not a recipe),"
                                                                    ______
                                                                    If wekick agrees with you here, it would contradict much of his/her argument.

                                                                    There is also a subtler point I made above. When you learn grandma's 'recipe' for latkes by standing with her as you're making them, you're learning more than can really be distilled into a set of instructions, no matter how detailed (and most aren't particularly, anyway).

                                                                    You're learning:
                                                                    - This is how the mix feels when it's ready to go into the pan
                                                                    - This is how they smell when they're ready
                                                                    - This is how they look when they're browned just right
                                                                    - This is how they crunch when you get em right and you bite into em
                                                                    - This is how they taste when the balance is right

                                                              3. re: wekick
                                                                law_doc89 Jan 26, 2014 12:04 PM

                                                                Take cooking classes in technique.

                                                                1. re: law_doc89
                                                                  wekick Jan 27, 2014 07:09 AM

                                                                  You mean you learn a way of doing something that will produce a particular result?

                                                                  1. re: wekick
                                                                    cowboyardee Jan 27, 2014 08:56 AM

                                                                    Do share your recipe for sauteing.

                                                                    1. re: cowboyardee
                                                                      law_doc89 Jan 27, 2014 09:23 AM

                                                                      Saute is a technique!

                                                                      1. re: law_doc89
                                                                        c oliver Jan 27, 2014 09:25 AM

                                                                        At the very least, "saute" is a noun, a verb and an adjective. So it's not necessarily a technique. It can be a recipe also.

                                                                        1. re: c oliver
                                                                          cowboyardee Jan 27, 2014 09:57 AM

                                                                          A specific dish that is sauteed can have a recipe.

                                                                          To talk about a 'recipe' for sauteing in general is to torture the definition of 'recipe,' or to use it at least as loosely as I'm using 'torture' in this sentence.

                                                                          1. re: cowboyardee
                                                                            The Chowhound Team Jan 27, 2014 10:09 AM

                                                                            Folks, this debate about whether you can cook without recipes and what 'recipe' means is getting awfully close to a discussion of what meaning means. Since the original topic of discussion is Thermal Conductivity and Heat Retention in cookware, it might be getting a tad off-topic. Can we let it go, please?

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