The Science Behind Your Grill

Every American loves a good grill, especially in the event of a good old fashioned barbecue. But how exactly do they transform raw chunks of meat into delicious dinners that fill you up for a week? This article will lay it out for you from start to finish.

grillinGas and charcoal grills are the most common types of grills available to the standard bbq’er. Gas grills can use liquid-propane and natural-gas. We’ll talk about the difference between the two in just a moment: for now, let’s talk about charcoal grills.

These can be incredibly simple or adorned with an absurd amount of bells and whistles. In the simplest case, a charcoal burner is going to be equipped with a cooking surface, a charcoal container, and grill support. The most common grill design is the round container set on a metal tripod. Some have hoods to allow for the grill to be covered and others have tiered cooking surfaces.

Charcoal has actually been around for at least 5,000 years, though no one is sure of which civilization is responsible for discovering it. Apparently it was even used in the embalming process for Egyptian mummies. So what is it? Charcoal is created by heating wood to high temperatures in the absence of oxygen. If you put wood in a sealed box made out of steel or clay and heat it to about 1000 F, you’ll turn it into charcoal.

So why use charcoal instead of normal wood? Charcoal is really convenient because it is already dried out and converted into pure carbon and ash. When you light charcoal on fire, you’re burning pure carbon as opposed to sap and the other minerals found in wood. With charcoal, you can create very intense heat without creating a lot of smoke, allowing for you to cook food without overwhelming its flavor with passing smoke. It does leave behind a certain distinctive flavor, but pro-charcoal grill-enthusiasts love it and believe it’s one of the key reasons that charcoal grilling is better than gas grilling.

Gas grilling is also more complex. The simplest gas grills contain a gas source, hoses, valve regulators, burners, a starter, a cooking surface, a grill body and a grill hood. The grill body houses everything but the hood, and the hood covers the cooking surface to allow for heat to be trapped inside.

bbq2The gas source is linked to the valve regulators by the main hose. The regulators receive feedback from knobs which the user turns in order to control how much gas is supplied to the burners. There’s generally a regulator for each burner that a grill has. The gas exists the burners through a series of tiny holes and the streams are ignited by a spark created by the grill’s starter or igniter.

The igniter uses piezoelectricity to generate a spark that lights the grill. Piezoelectricity is electricity created by converting mechanical force into electrical power. When you here a popping sound in a grill starter, it’s actually a spring-loaded hammer hitting a crystal, which generates thousands of volts that flow across the crystal’s face.

The burner then mixes the gas with oxygen and spreads it across a large surface area to burn.

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