Cooler Master’s MasterMeal Maker reviewed
We’ve all seen it before: an established company enters a new market, looking to expand their business. It usually works out great for us enthusiasts by affording more options and more competition. Maybe it’s your favorite memory manufacturer launching a line of input devices. Or maybe it’s a graphics card heavyweight throwing its hat into the laptop ring. Heck, we’ve even seen the leap from making cases to making motherboards. It should come as no surprise then that Cooler Master has set its sights on the lucrative cooking accessory market by launching the MasterMeal Maker, a gigantic heat sink for your kitchen. Wait, what?
THAT’s a heat sink
If you’re immediately skeptical, don’t be. Our household has been using the MasterMeal Maker (MMM) for over a month and it’s no joke. More on that later, though. The MMM actually comes in two versions, a standard 100% aluminum model and a souped-up “Cu Edition” upgrade kit that comes with a 1/4″ thick high-purity 101 copper plate and a pair of USB-powered fans to knock performance up a notch. We’ll be testing multiple configurations in today’s review.
A closer inspection of the MMM’s surface reveals an assortment of tapped holes. These holes appear in the copper plate of the Cu Edition as well. Four of the holes are used to secure the copper plate to the rest of the heat sink while the rest are reserved for future modular accessories that will work on both models of the MMM. What exactly those accessories may be is anyone’s guess, but Cooler Master clearly has big plans for its big heat sink.
The device itself is very simple. The aluminum piece appears to be a section from a massive extrusion, the only signs of tooling or cutting marks are on the ends of the heat sink. The are no heat pipes or dozens of vanishingly thin fins here, the MMM is a tank, obviously built for a hard life inside of a busy kitchen. Weighing in at over 15 lbs, I don’t use the word tank lightly either. Do not drop the MMM, it will definitely damage your floor or your foot—whatever comes first. Thankfully, Cooler Master had the foresight to elevate the sides that you pick it up from so that there’s no risk to your fingers as you move it about.
Strangely enough, despite its inherent novelty, the MMM actually blends right in with the rest of the inhabitants of our kitchen counter. Our kitchen is heavy on the stainless steel so the bare copper and aluminum combo of the MMM melds with the overall aesthetic quite naturally. I don’t see anything objectionable about leaving the MMM out and at the ready all the time. Far from an eyesore, it looks cool and is sure to be a conversation piece if you casually employ it while entertaining guests.
Before we delve into our performance testing, I want to share a video of the process for attaching the copper plate to the top of the stock MMM. The Cu Edition is a kit after all, so this is something all future owners will need to be familiar with. Let’s check it out.
Now, let me stop right there and interject a few things. I’m not proud of the results above but they felt like the best I was going to get. I appreciate the thoughtfulness of Cooler Master including both the extra wide spreader tool and a large syringe of MasterGel with the kit, but they weren’t quite up for the task. I never thought I’d say this, but I think this kitchen heat sink needs two syringes of thermal compound and perhaps a slightly beefier spreading tool. That said, I felt obligated to test the performance of the out of the box product. Hardcore food cooling enthusiasts will probably see fit to use their own paste anyway. In fact, given the less than perfect finish, I wouldn’t be surprised if some folks lapped this monster for better contact with the bottom of their pots and pans, but I’m getting ahead of myself… Let’s watch the rest of the process.
I didn’t notice it at the time, but I almost misaligned the holes in the copper plate with the ones in the heat sink itself. Luckily, I noticed a slight overhang after I put the plate down and rotated it before tightening the screws. I’m not sure what future accessories are coming for the MMM, but it would have been a pretty significant bother to flip the plate back around in order to use them. Maybe the primary mounting holes should have a bit of asymmetry, like a CPU socket.
Speaking of improvements, I’m a little disappointed that the Cu Edition doesn’t come setup for up a push/pull configuration of the fans. It also would have been nice if the copper plate extended over the edge of the aluminum enough to protect the fans from kitchen accidents. Just food for thought…
Now we’re not-cooking
Finally, let’s talk numbers, or at least number collection. For some reason, I continue to find myself reviewing products for which there are not standard performance metrics. I hope you can tolerate my improvised test method, I was unable to find an ASTM test that was suitable, and my makeshift lab is surely short on the necessary equipment anyhow. I did however have an immersion circulator and a cooking pot.
Call it a synthetic benchmark if you wish, but what I’m about to describe minimized variables, was easy to repeat, and produced remarkably consistent results over multiple test runs. I started by using my immersion circulator to bring the temperature of a pot of water up to 180ºF. Then I connected to the immersion circulator via an app on my phone and used the app to set the temperature to 70ºF. That meant the heating element would turn off, but the circulation would continue. From there, I immediately moved the pot of water on to the room temperature MasterMeal Maker and started my timer.
All I had to do after that was sit in my chair and record the temperature as displayed on my phone every minute for 15 minutes. I made sure that the volume of the water in the pot was at the same level before each test and that the ambient temperature of the house and heat sink were consistent as well.
I only snagged photos during my last run of tests, but I tested the MMM in six different configurations. I also did one extra run as a control where the pot of water cooled without being placed on the MMM first. Of all my tests, only two are considered official configurations by Cooler Master, the standalone bare aluminum MMM and the copper-topped Cu Edition with its pair of fans. This is The Tech Report though, so I dove a bit deeper by additionally testing the plain aluminum model with the Cu’s fans as well as the Cu Edition without its fans.
Fish, you idiot, that only adds up to five different test runs. Yeah, yeah, I’ll get to the last two in a bit. They were a product of an accidental discovery and I want you to see the numbers first before I explain the circumstances that produced them.
My apologies for the non-zero origin of the y-axis in the graph below. I’m not trying to fool anyone, it just makes it easier to visualize the small amount of separation between some of the configurations. Also, yeah, these measurements are in Fahrenheit, not exactly the preferred unit of measure for heat sink testing, or you know, the rest of the planet, sorry about that. It’s all relative anyway.
Surprising no one, our control, the hot pot than never got placed on the heat sink, cooled the least amount during the 15-minute time limit. Its rate of cooling isn’t linear, but it’s as close to linear as we see. This all makes sense, the greater the temperature differential, the more readily energy transfers. The rate of cooling slows as the temperature drops.
Let’s talk about those two lines that start out dropping way faster than the rest. I noticed a strange result in one of my normal tests, before I had added the copper plate to the MMM. The initial drop was extremely quick compared to my previous test and I didn’t believe the fans I’d just added were enough to explain it. Sure enough, I had spilled some water on top of the MMM when I moved the pot over to it. That water filled the tiny air gaps between the pot and the heat sink, vastly improving thermal transfer. I threw out those initial results, but I knew two additional test runs would be required to tell the whole story. That’s what those two lowest lines are.
I’m posting my raw data below to further help with breaking down the graph above. Some of the results are just too close to call without seeing the actual measurements. Check out the race between the MMM and the MMM Cu without fans. They are never more than about a degree apart. I found that pretty surprising given the extra mass of the copper sheet, but it appears that advantage was canceled out by the heat’s need to transfer though the MasterGel and into the main body of the heat sink from there.
With the thermal dissipation of the fans added to the equation, both configurations of the MMM perform better. However, the Cu Edition actually performs slightly worse than the stock MMM. At this point, I couldn’t help but think about the rather poor job I did applying the MasterGel and the impact that might be having on performance. I also started wishing that that copper plate was soldered to the aluminum body. There was nothing I could do about it, though, and it’s likely to be representative of other real-world assemblies, so I didn’t sweat it too much. Technically, the stock MMM isn’t even intended to be used with fans, so the Cu Edition beating the fanless MMM is performing as intended.
The most interesting results are the ones I stumbled upon by accident, though. To formalize that test, I used 5ml of water from the heated-up pot to draw an X on the surface of the MMM Cu before moving the pot over to the heat sink. Obviously, the test that included the fans was the best performer, with the airflow allowing for steady dissipation of the energy building up in the heat sink as it was removed from the water. The test without the fans saturated the heat sink so quickly that at the end of 15 minutes its curve had leveled off enough that the non-Cu MMM with fans actually caught up to it. Physics!
I wanted a simpler way to summarize this data. You know, a method that could just glaze over all the pesky details and not worry about how we arrived at them. Since my pot of hot water was kind of an analog for soup anyway, I decided to go by the time it took to cool to the ideal temperature for perfect soup—which I defined as 140ºF.
At an impressive 7 FPS, the MMM Cu handily beats all the other configurations with help from nothing more than a little water on top of the heat sink. This is how I would use the MasterMeal Maker under the most time critical of circumstances. Day to day though, I think the second-place finisher makes the most sense. I’m not sure it’s always worth it to mess with the fans for that extra boost. All the configurations are able to hit 140ºF within 15 minutes, leaving the control as the only “soup” that’s too hot to eat.
If we rejigger the test results a bit, we can view the data in a quasi-derivative form. I think that sheds some interesting light on the MMM’s overall performance. It’s clear from this data that the extreme thermal load of over a gallon of 180ºF water is exposing a bottleneck in the MMM’s ability to shed energy. Call it the 4K-only version of kitchen benchmarking, but less demanding workloads barely warmed the MMM.
Indeed, when you look at the 15-minute mark, the difference between the configuration that is shedding the most heat and the one that is shedding the least is less than one degree per minute. I’m no expert on thermodynamics, but I assume that Cooler Master has done its research and found this design to be the best compromise of mass to surface area considering the range of uses the MMM will see and the kitchen environment in which it will see them. Still, I’m left wondering if thinner fins, thicker copper, or higher CFM fans will work their way into future versions of this product.
What, you want to know what you can actually do with a giant kitchen heat sink? I suppose I did get a bit distracted by all my charts and graphs. Read on…
In my experience, foods have an annoying habit of needing to be too hot to eat in order to be safe to eat. Ironically, making them hot enough to be “safe” creates a whole new danger. What a pain. The MasterMeal Maker was primarily created to make hot food safe to eat in less time. However, the nature of its design inherently means it can warm up cold or frozen foods effectively as well. It’s kind of the opposite of a vacuum flask.
Take a look at some unscripted real-world usage of the MMM.
But wait… There’s more! I haven’t run across any meals that the MMM can’t be applied to. It’s especially useful for cooling our two-year old daughter’s meals. Since people seem to like pictures of food, here’s a small taste of some of the other ways the MMM has been used around our house over the course of this review.
Not shown in the images above was one of my favorite uses: cooling the massive cast iron dutch oven we use for braising. That sucker is all about heat retention, but the MasterMeal Maker shows no mercy and zaps the heat right out of it, making it safe to handle again in no time.
I ran out of time to freeze thermometers into steaks and measure how fast they could be thawed, but I did want to show a quick demo of how well the MasterMeal Maker works at thawing food as well. For this demo, we’ll be using identical fresh-from-the-ice-maker “cubes” and simply watching what happens when one is placed on a room temperature plate and the other is placed on a room temperature MMM.
Pretty cool, huh?
I feel like we’ve just scratched the surface on the utility of the MasterMeal Maker. For one, we barely touched on its thawing prowess. I also didn’t get to test its “overclocking” options, which simply require chilling or heating it before use, depending on the application (anti-griddle anyone?). Furthermore, without a second MMM, I wasn’t able to test it in its Sandwiched Lunch Interlock mode. That’s a shame, but I’m confident that two MMMs in SLI would churn out temperate food incredibly quickly. I was able to use the MMM to rapidly cool down hot burners on my stove so I could clean the stovetop sooner, though. That was quite handy, but it was not an officially supported use. Any way you slice it, it’s a time saver—which is always welcome.
If you’re not picking up on the vibe I’m laying down, I’m a huge fan of the MasterMeal Maker. It’s a simple and yet innovative offering that takes a Thanksgiving-sized helping of courage for a PC component manufacturer to offer up to the culinary world for judgment. I’m very happy that Cooler Master took a chance with it, though. It both works as advertised and is ripe for all manner of experimentation. It’s the kind of tool that I could see being lauded by Alton Brown and Ron Popeil alike. That’s no mean feat.
Cooler Master has not yet announced the release date or pricing of the MasterMeal Maker, but I was told that it “will not be cheap.” That’s understandable for such a hefty product, though. In the kitchen, as in most arenas, weight often equates with quality, and the MasterMeal Maker has both in spades.