Backyard barbecue: The chemistry of why your meat browns on the grill, or not. - The Washington Post

 July 7

You’ve probably been doing some barbecuing lately. Approximately 80 percent of U.S. households own a grill or smoker, and the Fourth of July is the most popular occasion to use it, according to a 2013 survey by theHearth, Patio & Barbecue Association, a trade group. Very few barbecue enthusiasts, however, understand the science behind the char.

When you apply high heat to the surface of meats, vegetables or even dough, a series of fascinating chemical reactions occurs. Understanding them will definitely enhance your street cred at the next neighborhood cookout, and it just might make you a better cook.

The best place to start is not with grilling meats or vegetables, but with the caramelization of sugar — a simpler form of browning reaction.

Anyone who has made a flan has put simple table sugar, or sucrose, over the stove and watched the magic happen. First, it foams, as white granulated sugar melts into a viscous liquid. The liquid goes from relatively colorless, to yellow, to brown. What’s happening? The heat adds energy to the sucrose molecules, breaking them up. Sucrose turns to fructose and glucose. As more energy is added, those molecules break apart further and form new bonds. The result is literally hundreds of different molecules, all from simple sucrose. This molecular variety is why table sugar is a one-note flavor — sweetness — while caramel is an enchanting mixture. Diacetyl adds a buttery flavor. Esters lend a rummy quality. Furans are nutty and maltol is toasty.via Backyard barbecue: The chemistry of why your meat browns on the grill, or not. - The Washington Post.