June 30, 2022

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The science behind why barbecued food tastes so good

5 min read

The sun’s (sorted out) – that means it’s BBQ time (Picture: Getty Images)

The mere thought of barbecue’s smoky aroma and intoxicating taste is enough to make most people’s mouths water. Summer is here, and that means it’s barbecue season.

i a chemists who study compounds found in natureAnd I’m a lover of food too – including barbecue.

Cooking on the grill may sound easy, but there’s a lot of chemistry that sets barbecue apart from other cooking methods and results in such a delicious experience.

cooking with fire

First, it is important to define barbecue, as the term can mean different things in different cultures or geographic locations. In its most basic form, barbecue is cooking food over an open flame. What differentiates barbecue from other cooking methods is how the heat reaches the food.

On the barbecue, hot grill grates heat the food through direct contact through a process known as conduction, Food is also absorbed by heating and cooking radiation directly from the flames below.

Combining heating methods allows you to simultaneously cook the parts of the food that touch the grill, as well as cook the parts that don’t touch the griddle — such as the sides and top — through radiating heat.

The resulting range of temperatures creates a complex mix of flavors and aromas. There is very little radiation when cooking on the stove and most of the cooking is done where the food is in direct contact with the pan.

When barbecuing, you can put the food directly over the flames – what is it called? direct heat – or over indirect heat. The direct cooking method keeps the food at a very high temperature, as the grilling surface may Anywhere from 500 to 700 degrees Fahrenheit (260 to 371 Celsius). The indirect cooking method places the heat source on the side or very bottom of the food, exposing the food to temperatures of 200 to 300 F (93 to 149 C).

cooking is the process of using high temperature to drive chemical reactions which changes the food at the molecular level.

When you cook meat at a high temperature—such as over direct heat on a barbecue—the first thing that happens is that the water near the surface of the meat boils. Once the surface is dry, the heat causes the proteins and sugars on the outside of the meat to undergo a reaction called Maillard reaction,

This reaction produces a complex mixture of molecules that make food taste more savory or ‘meaty’ and add depth to aroma and flavor. The reaction and flavor it produces are affected by many variables, including temperature and acidity, as well as the ingredients in any sauce, rub, or marinade.

The same process happens with vegetables. Barbecuing allows the water to evaporate or drip off without getting trapped in the pan. It prevents wetting of vegetables and promotes Caramelization Reactions,

These reactions convert carbohydrates and sugars into smaller compounds such as maltol – which has a nutty flavor – and furan – which tastes nutty, meaty and caramel-like.

The chemical process of barbecuing is very special (Picture: Getty Images)

four more crisps

Another hallmark of barbecued food is the unique chard it develops. When foods are exposed to heat for long periods of time, the non-carbon atoms in the food break down, leaving behind crisp, dark carbon. This is the process burn or burn,

Almost no one likes a perfectly charred piece of meat, but little sprinkles of crunchy char flavor can add so much depth to foods. Cooking over the direct heat of the barbecue allows you to add just the amount of char to match your taste.

Unfortunately for those who prefer a little extra crunch, some chemicals in the charred meat — molecules called heterocyclic amines and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons — are known to carcinogens, Although the dangers are much less compared to cigarette smoking, for example, limiting the amount of fat on meat. May help reduce the risk of developing cancer,

smoky flavor

The ultimate quintessential barbecue flavor is smoky. There is a lot of smoke involved in cooking over wood or charcoal. Even on a gas grill, the melting fat will drip onto the heat source and produce smoke. As the smoke circulates around the barbecue, the food will absorb its flavors.

Smoke is made up of small solid particles of gases, water vapor and fuel. burning wood breaks down molecules called lignansand they change small organic molecules – including syringole and guaiacol – which are primarily responsible for the quintessential smoky flavor.

When smoke comes into contact with food, the components of the smoke may get absorbed, Food is especially good at taking in smoky flavors because it contains both fat and water. Each binds to different types of molecules. In terms of chemistry, fats are non-polar – meaning they have a weak electrical charge – and readily cling to other non-polar molecules. Water is polar—meaning it has regions of positive charge and a region of negative charge similar to a magnet—and is bound to bind to other polar molecules.

Some foods are better able to absorb smoky flavors than others, depending on their composition. One way to use chemicals to make food more smoky is to spray it with water from time to time during the barbecue process.

There may be hundreds in smoke carcinogens Depending on what you’re burning. Only one small amount of research Much has been done on whether grilled foods absorb enough fumes to pose a significant risk to health. But researchers know that breathing smoke Cancer is closely related.

While the thought of barbecuing your favorite dish may evoke a sense of simple bliss, the science behind it is quite complex.

The next time you enjoy the smoky goodness off the grill, hopefully you’ll appreciate the diverse nature of the compounds and reactions that helped create it.

Christine Nolin, Associate Professor of Chemistry, University of Richmond

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