Thermodynamic Analysis of Skillet Materials to Maximize Sustainability and Home-cooking Habits

By: Carla Ramsdell   Jeff Ramsdell  

Research indicates that home cooking habits have diminished in the United States. Any strategy charting a path to a sustainable food future requires that individuals are knowledgeable and confident with simple cooking techniques. This allows individuals to take control of food sourcing, maximizing biodiversity and minimizing transportation, storage, packaging and disposal. Additionally, families and communities are strengthened when these skills are developed and used regularly. One of the simplest and most energy efficient ways to cook is on a stove-top with a skillet, but the material choices of skillets available to consumers make this decision difficult. This research focuses on the thermodynamics and sustainability of skillet materials. From an expensive solid copper to an affordable traditional solid cast iron skillet, the material properties, including conductivity, specific heat and emissivity make a difference in the sustainability, success and enjoyment of these basic tools. Using infrared thermography and other diagnostic techniques, these thermal properties are compared. These results are combined with other non-thermal considerations such as cost, longevity and ease of use to develop guidelines for successful skillet selection. These results can be applied to commercial and residential kitchens to encourage the selection of skillets that will result in the optimal final results with minimal environmental impact. Using the results of this research, outreach efforts are under way to encourage resurgence in traditional home cooking. This is intended to revitalize the cultural importance of cooking and the family and community resiliency that evolves from the re-establishing these critical skills.

Culinary Arts, Self-sufficiency
Food, Politics, and Cultures
Paper Presentation in a Themed Session

Carla Ramsdell

Senior Lecturer and Sustainability Liaison, Physics and Astronomy, Appalachian State University, United States
NC, United States

Carla Ramsdell is a physicist and mechanical engineer who teaches in the physics and astronomy department at Appalachian State University. She is passionate about bridging the gap between scientific research and the general public in areas of energy, climate change and efficient cooking strategies. Prior to her work in higher education, she spent 17 years in the energy industry performing thermodynamic calculations and designs for energy generation equipment. Her research, coursework and outreach are focused on sustainability and how our habits are affecting the earth's energy balance, particularly our cooking methods and the food system.

Dr. Jeff Ramsdell

-, -, Appalachian State University, United States
United States