|MLA Citation:||Bloomfield, Louis A. "Question 632"|
How Everything Works 20 Jan 2018. 20 Jan 2018 <http://howeverythingworks.org/print1.php?QNum=632>.
There are three main mechanisms for heat transfer: conduction, convection, and radiation. Heat that flows via conduction is being passed from atom to atom inside a solid or liquid. In metals, conduction is greatly assisted by mobile electrons (the same electrons that allow metals to carry electricity) that carry heat between atoms far away from one another. Conduction is important on the stovetop, where the food touches the pot and the pot touches the hot stovetop. Heat that flows via convection is carried by a moving gas or liquid. Convection is important in an oven that's heated from below so that hot air rises to touch the food. Heat that flows via radiation is carried by electromagnetic waves (forms of light). Radiation is important in an oven that's heated from above (as in a broiler) so that thermal radiation travels downward to the food's surface.
Once the heat arrives at the food, it raises the food's temperature. As the food becomes hotter, chemical reactions begin to occur and molecules begin to change shape. Thermal energy makes it possible for chemical bonds within and between the molecules to come apart so that new bonds and new molecules can form. Water and other small molecules evaporate more and more rapidly until the water begins to boil. Sugar molecules rearrange to form caramels and carbon. Protein molecules rearrange and stiffen. These molecular changes, together with the increased temperature of the food, are what we associate with cooking.