FAQs | Maillard! Now, that’s good looking Q.
Ever wondered why grilled meat tastes so much better than boiled meat? The answer is chemistry.
What is the Maillard reaction? The Maillard reaction is arguably the most critical chemical reaction that takes place while grilling. It gives your grilled food that unmistakable flavour and mouth-watering appearance. When amino acids and sugars react at temperatures over 280˚F (140˚C), they produce a golden-brown appearance and unique flavour. What foods go through this process? Nearly everything that browns, from bread to meat, and the tastes vary substantially as hundreds of flavour compounds are created.
As a griller, what you really need to know about the Maillard reaction is its application with different items and why they are better off grilled. Take vegetables, for example. They begin raw and crunchy, their most basic form, picture crisp peppers or carrots. Steam them at around 212˚F (100˚C) until they’re tender, and they have a more appealing texture but a very bland flavour, like steamed broccoli. Exceed 240˚F (116˚C), and the tastes diversify until around 300˚F (149˚C), where caramelization takes over, and the sugars that develop those flavours become dense and rich. Over 400˚F (204˚C), the sugars and flesh of the vegetables burn and char which is visually appealing but not very appetizing. Char is bitter in flavour and overpowering for many.
Luckily the whole vegetable, entire cut of meat, or any grilled item doesn’t experience the full effects of each phase all at once. Heat energy is transferred from the outside to the inside, cell by cell, as your food tries to find a temperature equilibrium. In other words, your meal won’t burn to ash immediately unless your grill is set to an inferno. These intense and incredible flavours will layer upon each other and produce that authentic grilled flavour and look.
To find out more on the science of the Maillard reaction, try this summary from Wikipedia. It covers the subject in depth reasonably well. Otherwise, Meathead, an incredible encyclopedia on grilling by Meathead Goldwyn and Greg Blonder, has layers of tasty information on food science, most of which can also be found on Meathead Goldwyn’s website amazingribs.com.