Geometry of BBQ

There seemed to be a lot of geometry involved in my grilling this weekend.  The circular grill, the cylindrical chimney starter, the pyramid of coals.  The charcoal briquettes themselves look like solids with mirrored parabolas as vertical cross-sections and squares as horizontal cross-sections.

As I cooked a few times over different coal arrangements, I wondered about the heat distribution on the grill over the perfect pyramid of charcoal.  Obviously the hottest point is the center (nearest the peak of the pyramid), and the temperature drops as you move toward the edge along a radius.  Does it drop linearly?  Like a parabola?  Like a log function?

My guess is it looks like the image below.  I don’t have any evidence for this speculation, but this is a representation of a Gaussian distribution, and when in doubt, go with Gauss.  Gauss seems to have a hand in everything.  Maybe I’ll bring the meat thermometer next time and take some readings.

patrick honner

Math teacher in Brooklyn, New York

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