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Science of Barbecuing

Soon it’s going to be the end of the summer (note to self: stop saying those words out loud!), and we should take advantage of every opportunity to do summer related things while we still can. One of my favorite summer activities is barbecuing, first of all, because the food tastes delicious, and second of all, because usually my spouse is the one in charge of doing the barbecuing so I don’t have to!

How does grilling actually work though, and what makes it so much more delicious than other methods?

1. On the most basic level, grilling is just cooking over a high heat, usually above 500 degrees Fahrenheit. Compared to the temperature used in most ovens of 350 degrees Fahrenheit, this is much hotter! As a result of the high temperature, the outside of your food can burn fairly quickly, and if you aren’t careful, it may mean that the inside of the meat is still raw. Fortunately, investing in a good meat thermometer can help with this.

2. What about the browning of the barbecue sauce on top of the meat? What makes that so delicious? That’s a chemical reaction called the Maillard reaction. What happens in this reaction is the protein in the meat breaks down into its small components, called amino acids. These amino acids react with the sugar in the barbecue sauce to create new, delicious tasting, slightly carmelized sauce.

3. What can you grill? A lot more than you may have thought! Grills are great for standard barbecue food (hot dogs, hamburgers, chicken), but can also be used for other proteins! Check out these fish recipes here: and here: One of my personal favorites is to grill a whole fish by wrapping it in foil and adding salt, pepper, and lemon juice. YUM. Also try fruits (think: pineapple, peaches) and vegetables (think: everything).

4. Finally, the bad news. You know the charred black layer that you often see on things from the grill? That is made of chemicals called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and heterocyclic amines, and forms as a result of the high cooking temperatures of the grills. Many of these chemicals have been correlated with an increased risk in developing cancer, and some of them are proven carcinogens. Would I recommend not eating grilled food because of this issue? Of course not! But I will tell you that in our house, we try to remove visible black char from our grilled foods prior to eating. Then, we eat and enjoy! Bon apetit, readers!

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