Cooking Processes

A pair of microwave conveyor units has been used in the cooking of poultry parts. They operated at a frequency of 2,450 MHz: one with 80 kW of microwave power, the other with 50 kW of power. Cut-up breasts and thighs were processed in the 80 kW unit, while wings and legs were processed in the 50 kW unit. Saturated steam was introduced from a manifold of nozzles along the back walls of the microwave tunnels. As the cooked parts passed out of the ovens they were conveyed through several water chillers to lower their temperature. After the batter and breading operations the parts were blast frozen and packaged for the commercial food service trade. The processing rate was 2,500 lb/h.

Although in use for more than a decade in supplying precooked bacon to the institutional food service trade, there was a major escalation a few years ago in the requirement for precooked bacon by the fast-food business that now absorbs almost the entire production of this product. The major systems in use today are microwave-only systems, which operate at power levels up to 400 kW, and hybrid systems, which combine microwave energy (150 kW) and hot air.

An advantage of the microwave process is in the evenness of cooking such that the difference between microwave-cooked bacon 22-24 slices/lb and 16-18 slices/lb cannot be discerned. The microwave product is more tender and shrinks much less than the conventionally cooked product. To one fast-food firm, the greater number of slices per pound translates into substantial savings in shipping costs because 38% less raw bacon is required to meet their needs. Based on a monthly consumption of 600,000 lb of raw bacon, a 38% reduction amounts to a savings of almost $164,000 in raw bacon costs. In addition, the high quality of the rendered fat by-product commands a good price.

There are approximately fifty systems installed worldwide with an annual production of 8 billion slices of precooked bacon. Systems average 500 kW; however, some systems are 600 kW and at least one is 1,000 kW. Microwave cooking has the advantage over other methods in that nitrosamines are essentially absent.

A process was developed in Sweden for the cooking of meat patties; 30-45 kW, 2,450 MHz systems are typical. In practice, meat patties are formed by automated patty-making equipment at a rate of 1,000 kg/h (16,000 patties/ h) and deposited on a conveyor belt. A few grams of margarine are deposited on each patty to improve heat transfer and surface browning as the patties are carried between Teflon belts that move between heated aluminum platens. The browned patties then pass through the microwave unit where in little more than a minute they are cooked to the proper degree. Typically, the temperature is raised from 40 to 70°C.

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