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Charcoal Grills are (Scientifically) Better than Gas Grills - Framingham, Marlborough, Sudbury

Thursday, July 18, 2013

True fact: A gas grill is more convenient. But it also creates less flavorful food.

It’s a beautiful day. The family’s in attendance, side dishes and beer in tow. It’s BBQ time. Time to kick back and fire up the…stove?

That doesn’t sound terribly exciting. But that’s basically what you’re doing when you cook out on a gas grill.

True fact: Cooking on a gas grill is more convenient than cooking with charcoal grills.

It’s also a lot less special. And, scientifically speaking, it creates less flavorful food.

To understand why, you first need to understand that flavor and taste are not the same thing. “Within flavor, we have taste compounds and we have aroma compounds,” says Gavin Sacks, associate professor of food science at Cornell University. “Our brains just aren’t designed to decouple them.”

In other words, a burger is more than the sum of its ingredients. Sure, there are chemical processes occurring in your food that alter its flavors as it heats but this delicious chemistry happens whether you cook on gas, charcoal, an electric burner, even an engine block.

What charcoal grills bring to the party is a healthy heaping of aroma compounds, the other half of the power couple that is flavor. “There are only five taste receptors that are well-agreed-upon to exist within your taste buds,” says Sacks. He’s referring to sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and the new kid: umami.

Anything else you perceive while eating — that smoky deliciousness, for example — is courtesy of aroma.

Aromas are released when you bite into your food. They light up your olfactory receptors. That neurological signal mixes with whatever your taste buds are saying and tells your brain what’s going on in your mouth.

Of course, even food cooked on a gas grill gives off aromas — all food does. But food grilled over a charcoal flame has a special one: guaiacol.

Translation: Cooking over charcoal makes your food taste like bacon. Let me repeat that: blah blah charcoal blah blah BACON.

So if you have two identical steaks, cooked at identical temperatures, for the same amount of time, where the only difference is that one is cooked over charcoal and one is cooked over gas, what will be the end result? The charcoal-cooked steak will taste more like bacon.

Case closed. For more information on charcoal grills, contact West Sport.

Wired.com