Where Does Grilled Flavour Come From?
What is grilled flavour, and what makes grilling different from any other type of cooking? You can cook a steak in a pan, bake chicken wings in the oven, and “grill” a burger on a flat top griddle. So why do these foods taste so different when you cook them on your grill? This is one of those crucial questions we help answer when training new or experienced grillers on the Broil King advantage and explaining why our grills are made for flavour.
Based on research, when people are asked what they love most about grilling, the flavour of the food is the number one answer. Knowing this, it always surprises us how few people think about the question, why do we grill? So, what makes grilling food different from cooking it any other way? It tastes better when grilled; that’s the perfect starting point for our flavour story.
Here’s the short version of the story…
When food juices meet a hot surface, they vaporize and “infuse” the unmistakable grilled flavour that we love back onto the food being grilled.
Grillers often refer to charcoal flavour. But if you think about it, charcoal is tasteless by nature and odourless (it’s used to filter water). Charcoal wood isn’t completely carbonized. So, where does that smoky grilled flavour come from if it is not the flavour of charcoal?
Vaporization occurs when food juices hit a hot surface. Vaporization creates the flavour we are all looking for from grilled foods because those vapours are sticky, and love wet surfaces like your grilled foods to stick to the surface.
That’s why we put infuse in quotations above because that flavour sticks to the outside it doesn’t penetrate the food surface. Essentially, the more smoky vaporization, the better. Right?
What’s the Maillard Reaction?
Before we go deeper, here’s a brief detour. Let’s take a closer look at the similarities and differences between the griddle and the grill. When you cook a steak in a pan, you get a golden brown exterior from the Maillard reaction; flavour compounds develop and intensify. We get sear marks from both the pan and the cooking grids.
The steak cooks and tenderizes as intermuscular fats break down in both cases for juicy results! The one vital component the pan doesn’t deliver well is vaporization—that smoky flavour from drippings that have come in contact with a ripping hot surface.
That ripping hot surface can be called a lot of things. In our most primitive example, red hot charcoal would be that hot surface. Juices fall onto the charcoal and vaporize into water vapour and smoke packed with flavour, with charcoal wood smoke and its unique burnt wood flavour is present too. Smoke is sticky, and your steak is wet, so we know what happens next.
Where does the vaporization happen?
Grilling has evolved from charcoal through lava rock, ceramic briquettes, and other hot surfaces to capture and vaporize food juices. The prevalent method today is based on using a stainless steel heat medium placed over the burners. These come in various shapes and configurations. When you want to capture juices to create vaporization, the ideal heat plate design fills the entire cook box to contact all of the dripping food juices.
To optimize and maximize vaporization, a grill must have several ripping hot surfaces to vaporize dripping juices before they fall to the grease tray. Take a look at the image below. This is what even heat and maximum vaporization looks like.
The heat from the burners rises to warm up the surfaces of the grill and cycles around the cook box. The cook grates are the first point of vaporization, as they come in direct contact with your food. As the juices from your food sizzle on the surface of the cooking grate, they start the vaporization process. Excess fluids begin to drop down from the cooking grates and come into contact with the Flav-R-Waves, which cover nearly the entire surface of the cook box. Most of your juices will collect and vaporize on the stainless steel Flav-R-Waves. However, a few drops may seep through and come into contact with the bottom of the cook box, which will vaporize nearly all remaining juices. The small amount of liquid that doesn’t end up as grilled flavour will fall into the drop box.
Where does the vaporization happen?
Check your drip pan next time you grill. Is it full of flavour? Check your hot surfaces too. Heavy stainless or cast iron cooking grates get ripping hot and hold the heat for sear and vaporization right at the grilling surface.
When looking for your next grill, ask if it was designed to vaporize drippings or dispose of drippings right into a grease tray. That’s a good start to knowing if you are getting a performance grill or an outdoor oven.
For even more information on how Broil King grills are made for flavour, check out the video below.