Sometimes a fairly small yet unique innovation can make a very big difference — think of fishing line to make the Weed Wacker possible — and we marvel that no one thought of it before.
Well aware that chefs like to cook on gas ranges but that this is not necessarily an energy efficient method, West Coast inventor Lee Huang determined to come up with a “simple” solution to improve oven top efficiency. Applying his knowledge of physics and engineering, about three-and-a-half years ago he designed a prototype of what is now on the market as the Turbo Pot.
Custom-designed fins he constructed for the bottom of the pot became his “secret ingredient.”
“A major reason why cooking on a gas top is not so efficient is because heat has to transfer from the gas burner to release heat to the frame, then transfer to the cookware, then transfer to the food. This form of convection heat transfer is very slow — it's the weakest link,” he explains.
Huang, now the owner of Eneron in Palo Alto, CA, aimed to improve the process. He knew that in computers, high power lasers, and even in motorcycles, so-called “heat sinks” are integrated into the designs where heat buildup is a problem and used to facilitate heat transfer away from the critical component area.
They are usually designed with fins and strategically placed mass. In a computer, for example, a heat sink absorbs the heat generated by microprocessors and then carries it away via the larger surface area of the fins.
“In cooking, it is the other way around,” he explains. “We wanted to use a heat sink to absorb heat from the flame and more efficiently transfer it to the metal frame of the pot. By building the heat sink into the bottom of the pot, we increased the efficiency of cooking on a gas stove.”
By 2008, Huang's Turbo Pot was in test with FSTC (it's listed under “Range Top” on www.fishnick.com) and the Carrabba's Restaurant Grill chain (part of the Outback Restaurant Group) has been testing the pots throughout its 240 locations for more than a year; other major chain locations are also reportedly on board.
“Operators save energy in two ways,” Huang explains. “They can operate the Turbo Pot in speed mode or savings mode. For speed mode, you use the burner on high power and cut the cooking time 30% to 50%. In savings mode, you cook at a normal pace but dim down the burner by 30% to 50%.
For example, Carrabba's — which is using 81½ quart-size pots for cooking pasta — asked its range manufacturer to change the burner orifice on its stoves so the BTU rating is down from 30,000 BTUs to 15,000 BTUs, and that's saving energy.”
Huang is also pleased to note that the pot is “green” in the carbon footprint reduction sense: “The energy used to make the fins [the actual construction] can be offset by eight to ten hours of commercial use, so it's a very green thing. Carrabba's also estimates it is saving millions of pounds of CO2 [emissions] annually throughout the chain.”
OSI/Carrabba's v.p. of R&D and Kitchen Operations Joel Barker has had time to take the measure of the pot: “I've been in R&D for Carrabba's Italian Grill for over 10 years and with the company for over 19. In this time I've seen many products that claim to be the best thing since sliced bread. Well, the Turbo Pot is the best thing since sliced bread!”