Cooking with Lava
January 12, 2006 1:30 PM   Subscribe

Home heating prices getting you down? Turn off your oven and cook with lava instead. Sure, try this at home, what the hell.
posted by Saucy Intruder (12 comments total)
A person who is presumably the author of the website asked Alton Brown about the practice in a slashdot interview:

Cooking In Lava by MrIcee
Mr. Brown. First, thank you for a wonderful television show and an excellent book. I enjoy both continually and look forward to all your new work.

Now... on to, perhaps, one of the more unusual questions you might receive. This question deals directly with how heat affects food.

Specifically... I live on the slopes of an active volcano. One of the things we like to do for fun is cook game hen and pork loins in the hot lava itself. First, let me describe our process, and then our question.

To cook a game hen we first season and then wrap the hen in about 10 Ti (or banana) leaves. These protect the hen from actually burning.

Next we find an active surface breakout of lava. We use a shovel (we also are wearing kevlar gloves that can withstand 2000 degrees of heat) and get a good shovel full of red lava. We place this on the ground a distance from the flow. We then position the Ti-wrapped hen in the middle of the blob of lava and cover it with another shovel full of lava. We try to leave a small opening to the Ti leaves, for steam to escape (or we can potentially have a steam explosion).

Now, the question. The lava is initially at 2000 degrees when we start cooking. After about 15 minutes it has cooled to around 850 degrees (outside of the rock - we read this using an infrared pyrometer). After about 45 minutes the outside is about 450 degrees. At that point we hit the rock with the shovel to open it. Only a few of the Ti leaves will remain uncharred. We remove those and the hen is then very moist and delicious.

How is it possible, using a heat source at 2000 degrees (that granted, gets cooler over time) that it still takes 45 minutes to cook the game hen? We would have thought that the cooking would have been near instantaneous - but repeated experiments at various lengths of time reveal that it takes exactly as long in the lava, as in an oven.

Alton: It's not possible. I can cook a game hen under a broiler in 15 minutes. Tell me, are there any small brown mushrooms growing around your property, and if so have you been using them in salads or pasta dishes?

posted by Saucy Intruder at 1:34 PM on January 12, 2006

Cooking on Lava takes about as much time as cooking in an oven, even though we're using such high heat.

Sorry, it's just not worth the trouble.
posted by NationalKato at 1:35 PM on January 12, 2006

The guy likes overcooked poultry.
posted by rxrfrx at 1:40 PM on January 12, 2006

Northern Oregon and Southern Washington mefites: anyone game for a game hen party meet at Mount Saint Helens? Could pine needles be used instead of ti leaves?
posted by Cranberry at 1:44 PM on January 12, 2006

I’d rather surf it than cook on it. I suppose you could do both. Ride and then have a nice lava cooked Crème brûlée
posted by Smedleyman at 1:52 PM on January 12, 2006

Cook with SOAP? Are you people MAD?
posted by Astro Zombie at 1:59 PM on January 12, 2006

Warning: Don't use lighter fluid! I know you are used to this when cooking out, but you have to trust me on this!
posted by rolypolyman at 2:47 PM on January 12, 2006

i remember a class trip we took to the lava fields.. we were allowed to walk right up to the lava flow. i quickly became the most popular kid because i had with me a bag of skittles which i traded one at a time for almost anything. the thrill came from throwing the skittles into the lava, which would burst into flames before landing in the molten rock. i ofcourse proceeded to throw what ever else i was given into the heat. pennies, as i recall.. held the most beautiful flames.
posted by nearo at 3:45 PM on January 12, 2006

Jeez, I thought Alton Brown was supposed to know something about physics. The answer is, I think, that when you cook the bird in the oven it is cooked by convective heat and when you cook it in the lava it is conductive heat. The wet leaves slow down the transfer of heat to balance out the difference in temps.

Then in his glib answer Alton says he can cook a bird in fifteen minutes under a broiler which is neither convection or conduction but radiant heat. Nice way to dismiss an interesting problem jerkwad. Fits right in on Slashdot I guess.
posted by Mr T at 4:05 PM on January 12, 2006

Not sure at all if it's the same thing but I had a lava grilled hamburger at a fancy-pants restaurant in Prague. All other burgers taste like ash.
posted by stratastar at 5:22 PM on January 12, 2006

Next up: how to deep fry your turkey in a pit of molten lava.
posted by Zinger at 5:49 PM on January 12, 2006

Alton Brown totally called that guy a liar. Jerk!

If I were anywhere near a lava field and I happened to have a chicken or some other kind of poultry, or maybe a fish, I would try this. But then I used to make solar ovens out of cardboard boxes and tinfoil when I was a kid.
posted by cilantro at 10:33 PM on January 12, 2006

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