Can someone please do this experiment?

Hello World! I have an experiment I would like someone to do with a mass spectrometer…

An image of gratuitous steak!

Serve with toasted bread on a bead of roquet and garnish with a couple of small slices of Camembert!

So my flatmate had this idea about ‘Cooking with Alcohol’. He got about 250ml of 99% pure medical alcohol from the chemist, we sprayed it into a pyrex dish on the balcony, added a dash of water and set it on fire! On went the grill from the oven, then a couple of Portugese Chorizos. After about 60 seconds they were sizzling and the heat was incredible. So incredible that they were black on the outside within 2 minutes and the grill had started to melt. So I took them off the heat and extinguished the flames with a damp tea-towel. The sausages tasted great, which made me think about the potential for this kind of ‘instant BBQ’.

A few weeks ago I cooked a steak this way. I used 100ml of 90% pure alcohol (there was some acetone in the mix, probably not the smartest idea…), a dash of water (as any boyscout worth his salt will tell you, adding a small quantity of water to any alcohol based fuel will prevent sooting) mixed and ignited in my trusty pyrex dish. Second time round I used a more substantial grill, the LÄMPLIG trivet from IKEA to prevent any melting. The steak was a faux-fillet, about 300g, served with a big fat flame grilled tomato. After about 5 minutes of intense combustion and a couple of flips using my fondue forks dinner was ready, juicy and delicious!

So my question is this:

How safe is this method of cooking, compared to a pan fried steak or a charcoal BBQ? 

To answer it I’d like some kind scientific minded person with access to a mass-spectrometer to do an analysis of the chemical composition of the cooked steak. I think the experiment should be conducted as follows, though I know precious little about formal chemistry, biochemistry, nutrition or the formation of carcinogenic compounds as a result of combustion, so any suggested improvements are welcome!

1) Buy a steak, I guess it doesn’t even have to be beef.

2) Cut the steak in half

3) Pan fry one half of the steak, grind up a little bit and analyse the composition with a mass-spectrometer.

4) Alcohol BBQ the other half of the steak, taking care to use pure (90%+ concentration, without any added antiseptics or other medical stuff) alcohol, and not to set fire to anything or anyone unintentionally. It can get extremely hot, so every precaution should be taken (I’d do it outside, with a very wet tea-towel ready to use as a fire extinguisher).

5) Analyse the Alcohol BBQ’d steak and compare the results. From my limited understanding of biochemistry and all things nasty to eat, the new cooking method should be fine if:

  • There are less radioactive carbon isotopes inside the Alcohol cooked steak (C14), due to more complete combustion
  • There are no nasty chemicals that might have contaminated the alcohol (which wasn’t supposed to be ingested) that have transfered themselves to the steak. These probably include methanol, ethanol, acetone and things like benzine.
  • The Lampig is designed as a trivet, so there may be coatings on the stainless steel which contaminate the meat with nasties.
  • If a non-stick pan is used for the control sample then it may also be contaminated with derivatives from the teflon pan surface that have broken down due to age, mechanical wear or simply escaped due to the heat of the cooking process.

So if you have access to a mass spectrometer, more of a clue about chemistry than I do and are interested please do my experiment and post the results somewhere for me to read them. Thank you 🙂

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2 thoughts on “Can someone please do this experiment?

  1. Oli says:

    I don’t have the requisite background or a mass spectrometer, but I do cook a lot, so here are a few thoughts:

    1. Grill from the oven melting isn’t that crazy. I melted mine (and got some alarming green flames, despite it presumably not being made of copper) while using it above a gas hob to char some bell peppers.

    2. Food won’t just depend on any crap (acetone or otherwise) that’s in your flame/trivet/pan but also on the chemical transformations in the steak (plus any oil). High temperatures and browning do pretty unhealthy (but tasty) things. Maillard reactions are OK, as far as I know, but charring is not. (For this, I suspect using a frying pan or, even worse, a griddle pan might be worse.)

    3. The flame is not necessarily *that* good at transferring heat to the meat. I’m pretty sure a very hot frying pan and a film of oil between the pan and the steak will transfer heat faster than a flame, even a very hot one. That calculation may well be different for chorizo, which isn’t as flat, and so doesn’t adhere to a frying pan nearly as well.

    4. Side note – chorizo burns easily, steak doesn’t. An impressively cooked/charred chorizo takes a lot less cooking in my experience than an impressively cooked/charred steak.

    5. If my suspicion in point 3 is correct, that the pan is more efficient at conducting heat in (at least for flat items that can make contact with a lot of the pan) then that method will make better steak. Assuming you like it rare (and if you don’t, you are wrong) you really want to be searing the outside while making the middle warm but essentially raw.

  2. Oli says:

    2. should say “food *safety*” of course

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