A Scientific look at BBQ / BAR-B-Q



I know most die hard BBQ cooks like to think and describe BBQ in a more colorful “from the pit” language and have their own ideas and theories of the whole process of the wonderful world of BBQ smoking / cooking.

 With this said and with all the hickory smoke cleared, cold beer put up and the next BBQ cooking excursion still on the schedule let’s take a scientific look at BBQ / Barbecue, the spelling of it is another subject! 

It is often presumed that the small pink ring that often is seen just under the exterior of barbecued meats is caused by the absorption of smoke. The truth of the matter is that a chemical reaction has taken place within the meat during the cooking process. This so-called “smoke-ring” is actually the result of a long slow cooking process.                                            

This low heat, less than 200 degrees F, applied over a long period of time enables the meat to actually cook and heat evenly from the inside to the outside. This causes the myoglobin .

(A meat protein molecule that is primarily responsible for the meat color) to combine with the nitrite dispersion in the muscle when heated to form nitrosohemochrome that results in the bright pink color. The additional presence of salt and seasonings also contributes to the nitrites and will enhance the formation of the nitrosohemochrome. 

Of course the application of meat curing products such as salt or sugar cures (containing Large amounts of salt, saltpeter and nitrates) by dry or wet marinades will affect the same reactions but to a much greater extent. These cures result in the pink color that imbues the entire meat of a cured ham. The wood smoke actually is used for flavor. The properties of wood smoke are also helpful in combating and slowing the growth of bacteria. 

Natural wood smoke is made up of ash and tar, combustion gases and a combination of acids, phenolics, carbonyls, and hydrocarbons. The phenolics, in the smoke are the source of the flavor and aroma. It is very important in the smoking process of barbecuing that the meat remains moist to achieve a good, rich smoke absorption. Heavy fat covers help this process, but probably the most important factor is the use of green (fresh cut) wood. The presence of moisture in the wood will keep the burning temperatures of the wood around 1200 degrees F. This optimizes the production of the aroma (Phenolics) compounds. On the other hand, when dry (sometimes called cured) wood is used for barbecuing, the actual burning temperature of the wood becomes much higher and the solids in the wood, consisting of ash and tar, are released and transferred to the surface of the meats. This ordinarily results in a bitter taste from the tar and an unusually dark color of the meat. 

Recent studies by medical scientists suggest that the consumption of slow cooked foods        (especially red meats) produce less AGE (advanced gyration end products). The lowering of the AGE, which is absorbed into the blood, lessens the possibility of vascular disease.

A chemical reaction in food caused by high temperature creates AGEs. Therefore, it is speculated by certain medical researchers that slow cooked foods will actually reduce the risk of a heart attack or stroke. 

Notes: The information and observations propounded in this essay are the results of years of observation of barbecued and smoked products and mostly an interpretation of information gleaned from the book: “The Meat We Eat” by Romans, Costello, Carson, Greaser & Jones, the fourteenth edition published and copyrighted by Interstate Publishers, Inc. of Danville, IL. & You probably wish you hadn’t slept during science class!