The Science of BBQ!!!


“Barbecue”!! The word derives from the word
“barabicu”, which to the Taíno people in the Caribbean islands meant “sacred fire pit”.
We are definitely on sacred ground today. If we can get in. [MUSIC] I’m here to learn a little about the science
of BBQ, so I came to a man who knows a little bit about that, Aaron Franklin… Well that’s debatable. How’s it going? So what is BBQ? I think BBQ is something that’s cooked over
a live fire, so that could encompass grilling, slow offset cooking, cooking in the ground,
cooking whole hogs over coals, any of those kinds of things I call BBQ, but for me on
a personal level, it’s a German/Czech style, offset cooking.” I experiment all the time, at the end of the
day feel trumps black and white number or equation you could possibly have. If something’s
not tender, it’s just not tender, if something’s dry, it’s just too dry. BUT, the science behind
these things how wood burns, how airflow works, if you start thinking about fluid dynamics
inside of a cooker, then science has a pretty huge part of it. I think good BBQ is a balance
between science and natural gut instinct. Cooking is really just thermodynamics and
chemistry, but tastier. Inside the smoker, air molecules are moving around really rapidly
thanks to that fire, they’re vibrating all crazy, and when they smack into the brisket,
they transfer that energy to the meat, either contributing chemical reactions or raising
the temperature. Meat browns when it cooks, whether it’s direct
heat like a steak or slow like BBQ. Heat breaks proteins down into amino acids, which then
react with sugars to create molecular deliciousness, which happens to be brown. It’s not caramelization,
it’s something called the Maillard reaction. King of BBQ here in Texas is brisket. It started
out with whole animals, you would sell what you could and then whatever was left, as a
method of preservation, you would BBQ stuff on Sundays For us to fully understand the science of
BBQ, we need to know a little about the hunk of meat we’re cooking. Meat in general is
muscle, which is primarily protein, fat, some vitamins and minerals, and whole lot of water. Brisket comes from across chest area of cow,
right here, and since cattle don’t have collarbones like us, this muscle has to support more than
half their body weight. That means it’s got a lot of three things: hard-working muscle,
fat, and connective tissue. It’s basically the opposite of filet mignon. But if we apply
the right kind of science, those three things can come together like Voltron to make something
very tasty. So at the end of the day you want it to be
tender, juicy, good bark, with good fat render. Some of you might not want to hear this, but
making good BBQ is like making Jell-O. Ribs, brisket, pork shoulder, all cuts of meat that
have tons of connective tissue, the molecular glue that supports all those muscle fibers.
Collagen, one of the proteins in connective tissue, can make up a quarter of all the protein
in a mammal’s body. Cook ’em fast, and those proteins snap up
tight like rubber bands, they have the texture of them too. If you cook them slow, they melt.
When collagen is heated slowly and held there for hours (and hours), its long protein chains
break down and water works its way in. That collagen turns to gelatin, exactly the same
stuff that’s in this box. That’s what makes good BBQ so tender inside. It’s meat Jell-O. BBQ cuts also have a good amount of fat. Animal
fats are made of triglycerides which have mostly saturated fatty acids. These have much
higher melting points than unsaturated fats like, say, vegetable or olive oil you have
in your kitchen, because those straight triglyceride tails are stable, packed nice and close. As
we heat these saturated fats up, slowly, we can disrupt those hydrogen bonds and turn
to liquid, called rendering. Which is delicious. Together, melting collagen to gelatin and
liquefying fat make the meat OH SO TENDER. You need no teeth to eat dis beef. What’s fun about an oven? There’s nothing
fun about ovens. Did they have ovens back in the early days, coming up through Mexico?
No you dug a hole in the ground, you buried a head, on coals, you cooked on a fire. And
that’s where I’m coming from more on the traditional side of it. I’m not gonna use electricity,
not gonna use gas no assisted heat source of any kind.We have light bulbs, and I don’t
even like that so much. And it tastes good. That gets into a whole
other thing too, how you’re using wood, green wood, dry wood, post oak, hickory, mesquite,
pecan, any of these different kinds of woods they all taste different, they all cook different. The hardwoods used in BBQ smoke have lots
of cellulose and lignin. When burnt slowly, cellulose caramelizes into sugar molecules
that flavor the meat. And lignin is converted into all kinds of aromatic chemicals that
flavor the meat, and can even act as chemical preservatives.
You just can’t have brisket, or any BBQ, without that beautiful smoke ring. Now THIS is some
cool chemistry! Or hot chemistry. Meat starts out pink because it’s full of oxygen-carrying
molecule called myoglobin. That iron-containing myoglobin starts out red, but as it heats
up the iron in its heme group oxidizes and it turns this brown color. So why is the ring still red? Well, BBQ smoke
contains gases like carbon monoxide and nitric oxide, made by burning wood. That gas diffuse
into the edges of the meat, bind to the myoglobin in place of oxygen. And those nitric oxide-myoglobin
compounds just so happen to be pink. The edge stays nice and red while the interior gets
brown like normal. Kinda the art of working a fire is to control
those things and get certain flavors out of a piece of wood. It’s not just heat, it’s not just the temperature
on a gauge, it’s how the smoke is coming out of the smokestack, it’s how a piece of wood
if it flames up and dies out real quick, it’s about a heat curve, how long is it gonna last,
are you forcing a piece of wood to do something it doesn’t want to do? You can’t really make a piece of meat do what
you want it to do, you can only guide it to do what you think you want it to do. So, kind
of go with that, it’s all about trial and error, don’t give up, keep working on it.
And if you really wanted to you could watch the BBQ With Franklin videos. Out here we might have beer cans and aprons
instead of test tubes and lab coats, but BBQ is SCIENCE, y’all. It’s chemistry, it’s physics,
and the best part is you get to eat your experiments. Stay curious. And hungry. I’m gonna go get
some food. Special thanks to Aaron Franklin and the whole
crew at Franklin BBQ. If you’re ever in Austin, Texas, line up early, because this is the
best BBQ joint in the US. Seriously, you can look it up.