BBQ isn’t a new concept. Man has been cooking delicious meats over open fires probably since they lived in caves. The word “barbecue” itself dates back to the 1500’s. While cooking technology has advanced, BBQ has stayed true to its roots.
Because it just tastes better, especially if you’re doing it right with woodchips (or coals). Gas grills are obviously faster and simpler, and yet, over half of the US population owns a charcoal grills.
The difference is in the taste. But do you know why that is? There’s actually a reason or two for BBQ tasting the way it does. It starts with how you cook it.
Wood, Coal, and Flavor to Spare
To get a true BBQ taste, you need wood or charcoal. Ask any pro, and they’ll tell you there’s no substitute, and they’re right.
Wood contains a chemical called lignin. When placed under fire, lignin gets broken down into guaiacol which gives the smoky flavor BBQ is known for. Guaiacol also gives flavor to things like roasted coffee and even whisky.
In case you didn’t know, charcoal is actually made from cooking wood in a low oxygen environment, which leaves behind a nearly pure form of carbon called char. So yes, guaiacol is present there as well.
In other words, on a chemical level, BBQ made with wood or coal has flavor to it that gas grilled and pan fried meat doesn’t.
Of Course, There’s the Meat Too
The cooking process doesn’t just add external flavor to the meat. It also brings out flavor in the meat. As we mentioned in a post about the science of BBQ, there’s multiple chemical reactions that take place when cooking meat.
It’s called the Maillard reaction, and it happens in many foods. Amino acids react with sugars, bringing out the flavors and smells we know from cooked meat. It’s also partially responsible for change in color cooked food undergoes.
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