The Chemistry Of BBQ

One of the great things about ACS national meetings, in addition to the buffet of chemistry research, is the actual buffets. On Monday night, the ACS Press Office hosted an evening dedicated to the myths and facts, dos and don'ts of grilling and barbecuing. Food (and drink) is always a popular topic, and scientific summer barbecue tips are sure to get some attention.
BBQ at the ACS National Meeting

BBQ at the ACS National Meeting

Our speakers for the evening were food scientist Sara Risch, and her co presenter Shirley Corriher, author of Cookwise and an upcoming book about the science of baking. Although Sara and Shirley insist that there is no scientific basis for choosing between sweet tomato-y sauces and tangy vinegar ones, they did point out that taste science would direct you to pair sweet sauces with light wines. In contrast, the vinegar in your typical Carolina-style barbecue will assist in wiping the bitterness away from a wine with tannins or a hoppy beer.
Corriher (left) and Risch

Corriher (left) and Risch

While attendees gnawed on ribs and slurped coleslaw, the talk turned to the more serious topic of grilling your meats in ways least likely to cause cancer. Rookie grillers are often impatient and thrill to the sights and sounds of a high flame, thus charring their meat and leaving the inside raw. A Ph.D. in grilling requires mature coals and a slow cook. Less high heat and charring mean less of the possibly cancer-causing heterocyclic amines. In addition to cooking "slow and low," the experts now advise marinating meats in red wine and garlic, or rubbing on herbs and spices, all tasty additions that also help stop formation of dreaded carcinogens. Carnivores who eat their meat well done increase their risk of stomach cancer, so it's key to avoid the gray-throughout look. "Don't cremate your hamburgers in the backyard," quipped Corriher.

Author: Melody Bomgardner

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  1. Another fun fact learned from the evening: In speaking further about taste, Corriher said that putting salt in things suppresses bitterness. For this reason, Starbucks always adds a pinch of salt to their coffee because it tends to be overroasted, she said. I’ve always suspected the baristas put some sort of addictive compound in there (besides caffeine). I guess maybe it was just the salt.

  2. I’ve heard the pinch of salt is the secret to coffee brewed in the US Navy (according to Tom Clancy novels, anyway.)

  3. My guess is that it’s not so secret … my French Canadian husband taught me to add salt to the grounds when brewing coffee and he learned it from his mom.


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