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The Science of BBQ

By January 27, 2017No Comments

To become Denver’s BBQ expert and Westminster’s BBQ catering service of choice, GQue BBQ had to do decades of homework (and even more BBQing). BBQing isn’t just cooking—it’s equal parts art and science. We’ll cover the science portion of BBQ today, with the basics of thermodynamics related to BBQ, as well as a few key chemical reactions that make BBQ taste truly spectacular.

Types of Cooking


Conduction is when meat is cooked through direct contact with a heat source. Cooking anything in a pan is a great example of conduction cooking. Conduction on a flat-top range is a two-step process: first, heat is transferred from the hot coils of the range burner to the pan, then the heat from the pan is transferred to the food in the pan—all due to the direct contact between the food, pan, and range.

Pan-seared steak, breakfast skillets, and traditional quesadillas are all great examples of conduction cooking. (Hungry yet?)


Convection is when heat is carried to your meat via a third party substance, such as air, water, oil, or grease. Everything cooked in a standard oven, boiled in a pot of water, or deep-fried in a pool of oil is cooked with convection. Even thawing your meat in the kitchen sink is considered convection, as your icy meat is surrounded by relatively warmer water that transfers its heat energy, causing your melt to thaw.

Classic examples of convection cooking include many of the universally tasty food favorites: fried chicken, pasta, mashed potatoes, meatloaf, baked pastries, and of course, the highly addictive french fry.


Radiation is the act of heat transferring to your meat by exposure to a light energy source, such as hot charcoal coals or a pit fire. Heat radiates from the energy source to your meat, causing it to cook without direct contact with the energy source. This is same transfer of energy that happens when you’re soaking up the sun on the beach (or perhaps getting a sunburn), or warming your hands by the fireplace.

Nothing is a more classic example of radiation cooking than a good ole’ weenie roasting on a campfire—that is, if you don’t set your weenie on fire in the process.

How does BBQ use these heating methods?

World-class championship BBQ uses all three of these cooking methods for different purposes, as each cooking method has different effects on the flavor and texture of the BBQ being cooked. There’s no better way to cook a chicken breast that’s juicy and flavorful on the inside and crispy and crunchy on the outside than roasting it on an open fire (radiation), and there’s nothing more spectacular in the seafood world than searing some BBQ seafood in a hot pan (conduction).

Some BBQ dishes use more than one kind of cooking. For example, cooking meat on a covered BBQ grill uses convection by trapping heat inside the grill to cook the meat evenly, and conduction via the direct contact of the meat on the grill grates (which provides added texture and aesthetically pleasing grill marks).

The Maillard Effect

The Maillard Effect is one of the most beautiful (and tasty) consequences of BBQ cooking and cooking in general. Simply put, the Maillard Effect is what makes all of your favorite foods golden brown, crispy, and complex in flavor. It’s the crust to your bread, the outer crunch to your steak, and crisp to your favorite french fries.

When foods are exposed to a dry heat (frying is considered a dry heat), amino acids and sugars on the outer surface of the food change in chemical composition, creating a brown, crunchy surface. The Maillard is perfectly exemplified in plain toast, as a dull slice of bread turns into a crunchy, brown, and delicious snack.

In BBQ, the Maillard Effect is critical to the unique flavor of BBQ chicken, steak, and any meat with brown, crunchy grill marks.


Which term sounds more appetizing: “burnt sugar” or “caramelization?” Chances are you voted for the latter term, but both terms mean the exact same thing! Caramelization is the burning of sugars in any food due to exposure to heat, which creates rich caramel and butterscotch-like flavors.

BBQ sauces are begging to be caramelized, as burning the sugars from the sauce’s honey or brown sugar bases releases complex flavors into the meat and adds smokiness and sweetness.  

The Art and Science of GQue BBQ

All of this scientific knowledge of food and cooking isn’t just for kicks—it’s the key to great cooking, and it’s what separates decent BBQ from championship BBQ. For Denver’s best BBQ, choose the BBQ champions at GQue BBQ. Our BBQ has won multiple regional and national awards, and uses the best thermodynamics r to create mouth-watering BBQ dishes every time you visit. After reading this blog, we know you’re feeling hungry. Don’t wait—check out our menu, and place an order today!

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