In the eternal debate of gas vs charcoal grilling, Joe Brown, the New York Editor of Wired, comes down decidedly on the side of using glowing hot coals. His rationale involves the unique aroma that he says that charcoal imparts to the meat. In other words, heat is just not enough. There is a chemical process that changes the nature of the meat and makes it better when charcoal is involved. It involves something called guaiacol.
Gualacol results when lignin, the resin that holds together strands of cellulose that form wood. This in turn imparts a bacon-like taste to the meat that is being grilled. The smoky, bacony aroma that is imparted by using charcoal grills enhances the taste of anything that is cooked on them.
This is the key to what Brown says is the superiority of charcoal over gas grilling. Food is cooked the same way no matter what the heat, whether it is gas, charcoal, or whatever. But taste is only one of our five senses. That is one reason why executive chefs put an emphasis on presentation so that a dish is visually appealing, which actually enhances the taste.
We east with more than just our senses of taste. We use our sense of smell as well, so that if a dish smells pleasing then it tastes better as well. If charcoal imparts a pleasing, smoky, bacony flavor, then it follows that a cut of meat cooked on a charcoal grill is better than the equivalent meat cooked on a gas grill.
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