The Science of Barbecue

Those  of you who don’t regularly follow Scientific American’s blog may have missed the June 3 post by Ali Bouzari, the author of Ingredient: Unveiling the Essential Elements of Food.  

ingredient

He also is a founder of Render, a food company that seeks to reinvent the way food lovers eat.  They sell some crunchy grain mixtures and beverages with interesting-sounding combinations of fruits, vegetables, herbs, and either whey or pickle brine.  As I say, they’re interesting.

But back to the science of barbecue.  This is an interesting read, written by someone who clearly delights in writing.

Like other animals, humans have a threshold of detection for volatile compounds generated by fire that is tuned taut as a trip wire to alert about impending danger. When we evolved to conquer fire and bend it toward deliciousness, we turned that primordial paranoia into a lens to help our senses zoom in and parse the rainbow of flavors embedded in wood smoke.

Which is easier than parsing that last sentence.

I won’t go into the science.  I would take longer than Mr. Bouzari and get something really wrong.  The blog post is a quick and fun read, very accessible.  I think you’ll enjoy it, and it will help you understand what you’re doing and why when you cook barbecue — that is, cook meat with wood.

Update:  Well, I will go into the science a little about the proper sauce.   SAs I noted in my review of Central in Memphis,

I grew up among abundant wood-cooked pork and vinegar-based sauces.  Other barbecue sauces reinforced my preference — my bias, if you will — for vinegar-based sauces. …  Dr. Bouzari, the noted biochemist, explains, the goal of a sauce is to add sourness to balance the richness of the meat.  You can get that sourness many ways, from vinegar, as in North Carolina; hamburger dill pickle chips, as in Alabama; mustard, as in South Carolina; or onions, pickles, and pickled jalapeños, as on beef in Texas, NOT from sugar.  The sour element is especially vital with pork, the richest meat.

For more, take a look at this recipe for emergency barbecue sauce.

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