Oh, it’s on now between charcoal and gas, my friends.
Wired.com today explains the science of why food grilled over charcoal is better than food grilled over gas.
Aromas are released when you bite into your food. They travel up your retronasal cavity, and light up your olfactory receptors. That neurological signal mixes with whatever your taste buds are saying and tells your brain what’s going on in your mouth.
Of course, even food cooked on a gas grill gives off aromas — all food does. But food grilled over a charcoal flame has a special one: guaiacol.
Guaiacol is an aroma compound produced when you use heat to break down lignin, the resin responsible for holding strands of cellulose together to form wood. “It has a smoky, spicy, bacony aroma,” says Sacks. “In fact, the flavor that most people associate with bacon is largely degraded lignin.”
Translation: Cooking over charcoal makes your food taste like bacon. Let me repeat that: blah blah charcoal blah blah BACON.
Gas, no doubt, is not taking this lying down. Three little letters: H-C-A.
The Seattle Post-Intelligencer notes:
…when meat products are cooked over high temperatures or touched by flames and smoke, they form certain chemical compounds, specifically Heterocyclic Amines (HCA) and Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAH), which are deemed to be carcinogenic.
HCAs, also found in cigarette smoke, have been reported to cause cancer in a number of inner organs, including the stomach and liver, and also the skin. PAHs, the second type, form when meat juices drip onto coals or other hot surfaces, creating smoke. The carcinogens in the smoke then attach themselves to the outside of the foods they come in contact with.
Barbecuing, especially when using a charcoal grill, produces the highest amount of HCAs, according to researchers at the University of California, Davis, Cancer Center, who conducted studies on the subject. Using a gas grill instead, or pan-frying and broiling are somewhat safer but not by much. Baking, poaching, stir-frying and stewing, they say, are considerably less harmful.