When the microwave oven started to gain popularity in the 60s and 70s, supporters and critics alike predicted that it would usher in the end of cooking as we knew it. Obviously that never quite happened, but not because the technology didn’t work as intended. Even today, this versatile kitchen appliance seems to employ some magic to caffeinate or feed a growing hacker in no time flat. So, how exactly does this modern marvel work?
Maybe you have no idea, or have heard something vague about the water in the food wiggling in response to the microwaves. Do you know why microwaves and not some other part of the electromagnetic spectrum? Why the food spins on a platter? How the size of the oven relative to the wavelength affects the efficiency of its cooking? We didn’t, and think the video is a great primer on all of this and more.
Once upon a time, USB was still hip, cool, and easy to understand. You could get up to 500 mA out of a port, which wasn’t much, but some companies produced USB cup warmers anyway which were a bit of a joke. However, one enterprising hacker took things further back in 2004, whipping up a potent USB hot plate powered by a cavalcade of ports.
The project was spawned after a USB cup warmer sadly failed to cook a decent fried egg. To rectify this, a souped-up version was built. The cup warmer was stripped of its original hardware, and fitted with six 2-ohm resistors instead. At 5 volts, each would draw 2.5 amps and the total power draw would be on the order of 75 watts. Each resistor would thus need five USB ports to power it to stay under the 500 mA limit, for a total of 30 USB ports in total. Six PCI-to-USB cards were installed in a motherboard for this purpose, providing the requisite ports. A 500 watt power supply meant the computer had plenty of juice to run the hot plate.
Cooking proved successful, generating a decent amount of heat to brown up some beef. Served with some white rice, it proved an adequate meal, though apparently with a noted taste of electronic components.
This wouldn’t be such a challenge today. USB-C is capable of delivering 100 watts through a single port at 20 volts and 5 amps. However, there’s something joyous and charming about cooking on a ridiculous hotplate running off 30 USB 1.1 ports. The ingenuity is to be applauded, and it is truly a project of its time.
There seem to be two camps when it comes to recipes: those based on volume-based measurements, and those based on the weight of ingredients. Gravimetric measurements have the advantage of better accuracy, but at the price of not being able to quickly scoop out a bit of this and a dash of that. It would be nice to get the convenience of volumetric measurements with the accuracy of weighing your ingredients, wouldn’t it?
It would, and that’s just what [Penguin DIY] did with this digital kitchen spoon scale. The build started with, perhaps not surprisingly, a large mixing spoon and a very small kitchen scale. The bowl of the spoon got lopped off the handle and attached to the strain gauge, which was removed from the scale along with its LCD display and circuit board. To hold everything, a somewhat stocky handle was fabricated from epoxy resin sandwiched between aluminum bolsters. Compartments for the original electronics parts, as well as a LiPo battery and USB charger module, were carved out of the resin block, and the electronics were mounted so that the display and controls are easily accessible. The video below shows the build as well as the spoon-scale in action in the kitchen.
We think this is not only a great idea but a fantastic execution. The black epoxy and aluminum look amazing together on the handle, almost like a commercial product. And sure, it would have been easy enough to build a scale from scratch — heck, you might even be able to do away with the strain gauge — but tearing apart an existing scale seems like the right move here.
Cooking pasta is perhaps one of the easiest things you can do in the kitchen, second only to watching a pot of water boil. But as pasta maker Barilla points out on their website, you can reduce your meal’s CO₂ emissions by up to 80% if you simply let the pasta sit in the hot water rather than actively boil it the whole time — a technique known as passive cooking.
The trick is getting the timing right, so in a fairly surprising move, Barilla has released the design for an open source device that will help you master this energy-saving technique. Granted it’s not a terribly complex piece of hardware, consisting of little more than an Arduino Nano 33 BLE, an NTC probe, and a handful of passive components wrapped up in a 3D-printed case. But the documentation is great, and we’ve got to give Barilla credit for going way outside of their comfort zone with this one.
Magnets in the 3D printed case let it stick to the lid of your pot, and when it detects the water is boiling, the gadget alerts your phone (at least for this version of the device, an Android or iOS application is required) that it’s time to put in the pasta. A few minutes later it will tell you when you can turn off the burner, after which it’s just a matter of waiting for the notification that your passively-cooked pasta is ready to get pulled out.
Like the prop making video Sony put out after the release of Ghostbusters: Afterlife, we recognize that on some level this is an advertisement for Barilla pasta. But if developing useful open source gadgets that can be built by the public is what a company wants to spend their advertising dollars on, you won’t catch us complaining. Hell, we might even spring for a box of Barilla next time we’re in the store.
[shoobs] relocated from Australia to Luxembourg, and was really missing the whole outdoor cooking scene that is apparently very common in those parts. Now living in a modest apartment building in the city, he had no easy way to recreate some of his favorite cooking methods — specifically that of Wok Hei (breath of a wok) — the art of Cantonese stir-frying which uses searing heat and a lot of flinging around of the food to mix it up with the burning oil. This results in a complex set of reactions utilizing smoking, caramelization, and Maillard reactions to produce the classic Cantonese smoky flavor. Not wanting an off-the-shelf solution [shoobs] took it on himself to build a balcony cooking station capable of the temperatures needed for Wok Hei, and documented it for our viewing pleasure.
The build started with sourcing a free-standing burner unit from Alibaba, which proved to be a little less powerful (at 30 kW) than ideal, but still sufficient. After locating a matching regulator and pressure gauge capable of the needed flow rate to feed the hungry burner, the next task was to construct a sturdy enough bench to mount it all. This was constructed from Douglas fir slabs, butt-jointed using a 3D printed drilling jig for ease of construction.
Using a flatbed scanner, the existing burner base was digitized in order to make a model suitable for laser-cutting a new mounting plate from steel. [Shoobs] isn’t lucky enough to have access to a metal-capable laser cutter — he sent his cad files off to a cutting service.
A second plate was mounted below with a sufficient gap above the bench to act as a heat shield. This keeps the wooden worktop safe from the heat. Whilst he was laser cutting steel, [shoobs] took the opportunity to design a few other custom parts to mount the regulator and other bits, because, why wouldn’t you? We reckon the end result is pretty nice, in a minimalist and understated way.
Preparing food is the fourth most energy-intensive activity in a household. While there has been a lot of effort on the first three — space heating, water heating, and electrical appliances — most houses still use stoves and ovens that are not too dissimilar to those from half a century ago.
More recent technologies that make cooking more efficient and pleasant have been developed, such as induction heating. Other well-known and common appliances are secretly power savers: microwaves and electric kettles. In addition, pressure cookers enable the shortening of cooking times, and for those who like dishes that take hours to simmer, vacuum-insulated pans can be a real energy-saver.
Induction cook tops are among the most efficient ways of cooking in the home that are commercially available to the average person. Since the cook surface uses magnetic fields to generate heat in the cookware itself, there is essentially no heat wasted. There are some other perks too, such as faster cooking times and more fine control, not to mention that it’s possible to build your own induction stove. All you need is some iron, wire, and a power source, and you can have something like this homemade induction cooker.
This induction heater has a trick up its sleeve, too. Instead of using an air coil to generate heat in the cookware, this one uses an iron core instead. The project’s creator [mircemk] built an air core induction stove in the past, and this new one is nearly identical with the exception of the addition of the iron core. This allows for the use of less wire, and uses a driver circuit called a Mazzilli ZVS driver running through some power MOSFETs to power the device. A couple inductors limit the current to 20A, but it appears to work just as well as the previous stove.
This build puts a homemade induction stove well within reach of anyone with an appropriate power supply and enough wire and inductors to build the coils. [mircemk] has made somewhat of a name for himself involving project that use various coils of wire, too, like this project we featured recently which uses two overlapping air-core coils to build an effective metal detector.