With the rising temperature in the hot summer, I can’t hold back the inexplicable loneliness in my mouth. Thinking back to the roadside barbecue, drinking beer, teasing each other with friends, passing by passers-by, without lamenting that time is fleeting. Of course, mutton skewers, grilled gluten, grilled chicken wings, grilled leeks, seafood oysters, stir-fried clams and razor clams, a plate of edamame and peanuts, are all indispensable.

Just thinking about the smoky and intoxicating flavors of barbecue is enough to make most people salivate, but why is barbecue so obsessive? Kristin Norling, an associate professor of chemistry at the University of Richmond, has the answer.

Archaeologists believe that barbecue is the earliest meat-eating method since the use of fire, and humans have become accustomed to barbecue in the wild at least 700,000 years ago.

Because it can be roasted with fire, this method is simple and easy to implement, and it has become the original cooking method of ancient humans. Cooked meat is rich in protein and easier to digest than raw meat. Therefore, this natural selection determines the changes in human physique and also changes the historical destiny of human beings. Today, we still maintain the eating habits of primitive humans, and we can’t get rid of the temptation of barbecue.

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Grilling refers to cooking food on an open flame. The hot grill grates are in direct contact with the food through efficient heat conduction, and the food is also heated by direct absorption of radiation from the flame below. This unique heating method creates a complex mix of flavors and aromas in the baked food.

When meat is heated directly on the grill, the surface of the meat dries rapidly due to the boiling of moisture, which in turn heats proteins and sugars to undergo a Maillard reaction. This reaction can be affected by variables such as temperature, acidity, sauce, etc., resulting in multiple layers of flavor in the food.

When the vegetables are subjected to the high temperature of the barbecue, the water evaporates a lot and promotes the Caramelization reaction. These reactions convert carbohydrates and sugars into smaller compounds such as Maltol (which has a toasty taste) and oxole (which taste nutty and meaty).

When food is exposed to high temperatures for extended periods of time, the non-carbon atoms in the food break down, leaving a crispy black carbon, which is called burning or charring. Grilling a small amount of charring can add layers of flavor and texture to your food, but charred meat contains heterocyclic amines and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, which are known carcinogens, so prevent the meat from charring.

The smoky taste is also typical of barbecue. When grilling on a charcoal grill, melted meat fat drips onto the heat source and creates smoke. When the smoke surrounds the roast, the food absorbs its flavor.

While eating barbecue may evoke feelings of simple pleasure, the science behind it is rather complex, the researchers said. Hopefully the next time you enjoy the smoky flavors of grilled food, you’ll appreciate the variety of compounds and reactions that contribute to this food.