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.  


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.   As 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.


And while you’re at it, click “follow” on our front page to receive blog posts in your email box.  Or bookmark us and check in from time to time.  If you’re planning a trip, you can “Search” the name of the city, state or country for good restaurants (in Europe, usually close to sites, like the Louvre or the Van Gogh Museum, that you’ll want to visit in any event).  Comments, questions, and suggestions of places to eat or stories to cover are very welcome.  And check out our Instagram page, johntannerbbq.

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