The science of fire-grilled flavor

by Donna Berry
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Home Market Foods uses a premium cooking process to lock-in outdoor grill flavor for restaurant-quality chicken at home.
 
Americans love the flavor profile developed during outdoor cooking, real outdoor grilling. That’s using a charcoal barbecue or a wood-burning fire pit, not the modern gas grill that has become a standard feature of most homes. However, cooking over charcoal or wood is time consuming, as well as unpredictable in terms of consistent heat, not to mention the cleanup. Consumers want the outdoor grill flavor, but don’t want to do it themselves.

These desirable outdoor grill flavors develop when juices from meat drip onto hot charcoal or wood. These drippings are pyrolyzed by the heat, creating fumes that are absorbed by the food. The end result is cooked meat with flavors consumers crave.

Processors are responding with heat-and-eat options that bring the taste and look of outdoor cooking inside. Home Market Foods, Norwood, Massachusetts, for example, now offers an extensive line of Cooked Perfect Fired Grilled Chicken. The innovative range of juicy, tender and uniquely bold fully cooked frozen chicken uses a premium cooking process to lock-in flavor for restaurant-quality chicken at home.

Marinated and seasoned with savory spices, the line includes center-of-plate and appetizer solutions, in a variety of convenient cuts (wings, drumsticks, boneless and bone-in thighs, tenders and chunks) and flavors (bourbon barbecue, buffalo ranch, wildflower honey barbecue, lemon herb and Korean barbecue).

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Diners experiencing real fire-grilled meats at a restaurant have inflated expectations for what packaged retail products will taste and look like. Ingredient and process technologies help add authenticity to commercially prepared foods. 
 
To assist with including outdoor grilling flavor in commercial manufacturing, ingredient suppliers have developed technologies to create flavor systems that deliver authentic flavor. Some charcoal flavors are made by heating oils under controlled conditions and capturing the grilled essence. This can be made into an oil- or water-soluble solution for marinades or topical application. The solution can also be spray-dried for use in dried mixes. Some outdoor grill flavors are derived from real meat and manufactured in USDA-inspected facilities.

Some of these systems include smokehouse flavors, which can be liquid smoke or flavor extract. There’s also wood-fired grill flavors that are reminiscent of open-fire grilling over mesquite, hickory, cherry or apple woods.

Using these flavors in meat analogs has helped plant-based products gain traction with carnivores. These flavors, however, also work well in fully cooked meats, such as the increasingly popular individually wrapped frozen microwavable pub-style burger on bun. Once warmed and served, the commercially cooked burger tastes as if it was charbroiled or grilled.

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Outdoor grill flavors develop when juices from meat drip onto hot charcoal or wood. These drippings are pyrolyzed by the heat, creating fumes that are absorbed by the food. The end result is cooked meat with flavors consumers crave.
 
These outdoor cooking flavors can be added to meat and poultry products in a number of ways. This includes through a marinade, in a batter of breading, or even through topical adhesion binding systems.

When flavors, instead of an open-flame grill, are used in commercial manufacturing, it is helpful to add grill marks to suggest authenticity. Fully cooked and seasoned product may travel through a single- or double-sided conveyor that sears the meat with grill marks. Such machines enable processors to precisely and consistently mark products. Some conveyors include a bounce that allows for random markings. This adds an element of home-made to the finished product. Depending on the meat and poultry product, a non-contact, spray application may also be used to create grill marks.

 

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