I’ve written about how kitchens are hot. I’ve also written about some of the things that stand in the way of an enthusiastic and skilled home cook being able to match restaurant-style results in their home kitchen. For whatever reason, in that post I didn’t talk about the importance of heat in cooking. Most people might read this and think “Yeah, Glenn. No shit you need heat to cook!” and perhaps rightly so. But I’m not just talking about heat, I’m talking about fucking heat!

As my wife and I were in the process of looking for a house, we really each only had one thing that was important to us: for her, it was the master bathroom; for me, it was the kitchen. This also might seem like an obvious statement, as I’m a professional cook so of course I’ll want a nice kitchen. But I really didn’t need a “nice” kitchen. The main thing(s) I’d identified that were important for my kitchen to have included among other things, a gas range with a legit hood vent. It’s the first of these two things that I want to focus on: I was sick of not being able to have the control over the heat I had on my pots and pans that you can only get with gas. And then when it came to the hood vent, I was sick of not being able to properly pan-cook a steak without setting off the smoke alarm.

The proper cooking of many things depends on very high heat for very short periods of time. One night I was going to be preparing a lovely tuna steak we bought from our local seafood store for dinner. My wife asked if I could sear it, and I had to say no. Not because I don’t like seared tuna, and not because I didn’t know how to do it properly. I had to say no, because it was a thinner piece (no more than 1/2″ thick), and the heat necessary to give it a good Maillard sear without cooking it through, was simply not an option in our kitchen at the time. We had an electric, glass-top stove, and above it was the microwave with that crappy little vent, that just sucks up the heat and grease, and spits it out over the cook’s head and into the kitchen space. (I ultimately just sliced the tuna and seasoned it sashimi-style, for anyone who’s curious)

If I can take a moment to vent from what was an exhaustive house search (see what I did there?), this is a setup that I’ve observed is incredibly common — and I can’t for the life of me figure out why: glass-top electric stove under a microwave, that also features a vent that just redistributes smoke, steam and grease residue from the stove back into the room. A proper hood sucks up whatever is aggressively spewed into the air directly above the cooking processes, and spits it directly outside. This is what every professional commercial kitchen is required to have to be allowed to operate. Can you imagine if a restaurant hood took all the heat, grease and smoke it inhaled from the grill, range, and fryer and spat it into the dining room? Gross and uncomfortable! But I digress…

As I just mentioned, every commercial foodservice establishment is required to have an industrial ventilation system over any cooking appliance. Even just a room with an oven in it is required to have a fan that directs heat outdoors. Professional cooking — especially in restaurant kitchens — is typically done with very high levels of heat. You’ll usually only see restaurant grill and burner knobs turned all the way up, and the only time I’ve ever turned the knobs on a stove-top down, were times when I was ahead on pickup times, and needed to slow down the cooking process a little bit. Despite what you might think, even if you’re doing it right, high-heat cooking produces loads of smoke and steam, and that’s not going to end well without a properly functioning hood vent. That’s why the only thing (other than the fire-suppression system being deployed) that will shut down a restaurant’s meal service is the kitchen’s hood vent breaking down.

Bringing it back to heat and the home kitchen, most home cooks shy away from cranking up the heat on their stove, and I understand. Despite the part about how it can be dangerous heating the oil in a pan to temperatures that approach 400ºF, accelerating the cooking process this much also leaves very little margin for error. It produces a lot of smoke, steam, and oil vapor. While an industrial hood vent will suck that stuff right up and take it outside, your standard home kitchen fan does little to keep the smoke detector from going off, and making the whole house hazy.

Through all of this, it’s been brought to my attention that proper cooking tends to produce all kinds of things that are not kindly accepted in the home kitchen: smoke/steam in the air, loud noises from hissing pans, and (both of which are the result of) excessive heat from stove-tops and ovens. A hood vent helps mitigate these things (the noises not withstanding), which again are inevitable when cooking with the proper, sometimes inescapably high levels of heat.

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