Bringing the Great Outdoors Inside

Donna Berry, Contributing Editor

November 18, 2009

8 Min Read
Bringing the Great Outdoors Inside

Americans love the flavor of cooking over a charcoal barbecue or fire pit. However, its time-consuming, and often unpredictable in terms of consistent heat, not to mention the clean up. Luckily, advancements in flavor and process technology make it possible to bring the taste and look of outdoor cooking inside.

Flavor without fire

Desirable outdoor grill flavors develop when juices from the food drip down onto the hot coals or wood, says Mark Crass, vice president, sales and marketing, Red Arrow Products Company LLC, Manitowoc, WI. These drippings then are pyrolyzed by the heat, creating fumes, and are reabsorbed into the food, creating the authentic flavor that consumers crave.

The flavors we make simulate this process, where we heat oils under controlled conditions and capture the grilled essence back in an oil-based form, continues Crass. Some grill flavors are also available in spray-dry and water-soluble liquid form. Depending on the concentration of the grill flavor and the application, usage levels can be from 0.05% to 0.50%. Natural smoke flavors also come in all these forms and can be applied topically or added via a marinade or injection system. Natural smoke condensates are typically applied using a sprayer or atomizer, which allows for a consistent and uniform spray pattern without over spraying.

Wood-fired grill flavors provide balanced, restaurant-style flavors reminiscent of open-fire grilling over mesquite, hickory, cherry or apple woods. Ingredient technologies have made great strides over the past years that allow processors to manufacture barbecue products that simulate flavors developed in a traditional smokehouse, says Stephen Williams, director of R&D, Kraft Food Ingredients, Memphis, TN.

Most grill flavors are versatile enough for any number of manufacturing processes, including breadings and batters, vacuum tumbling, injection, baking, retort, and freezing. By adding these flavors directly to the application, food manufacturers reduce equipment requirementsand capital costs. The flavors also save capital related to time, labor and materialseven yield. The heat encountered during real outdoor grilling can lead to yield loss, says Crass.

We have a range of culinary and cooked flavors for meat, poultry and even fish, including outdoor profiles such as grilled and charred, says Dwight Grenawalt, vice president and general manager, Summit Hill Flavors, Middlesex, NJ. For vegetables, you can add toasted, roasted and the outdoor flavors to give the perception that they were barbecued outdoors.

From stovetop to table

Some home cooks and chefs still want to cook their meat, but on the stovetop or even in the oven. Ground meat processors can add 0.75% char-grilled hamburger flavora dry blenddirectly to the raw meat, says Michael Morrison, consulting chef, Summit Hill Flavors, and owner of Flavor Chefs LLC, Palm Beach Gardens, FL. Once the burgers are cookedat home or in foodservice, or even at the manufacturing level for a fully cooked, microwaveable burgerthe burgers taste as if they were charbroiled or grilled.

Char-steak flavor can be used to marinade beef cuts at the processing plant, continues Morrison. For consumers who like their steaks medium-rare, the marinated steak has outdoor grill flavor throughout, even if prepared on a griddle or broiling pan.

Grenawalt notes that our charbroiled-grill flavor enhancer provides the tastes associated with backyard grilling to all types of meat, poultry, seafood and even meat analogues. We combine grilled lipid technology with proprietary, all-natural flavor-extraction technology to capture the true taste of outdoor charbroiled grilling.

Our flavors are derived from real meat and manufactured in a USDA-inspected facility, continues Grenawalt. Most of the flavors come in dry form, but some are available as oils and pastes. We have a mesquite grill flavor that is available as an oil and as a water-soluble oil. This allows for topical application and for blending into sauces and gravies. Many of these outdoor grilling flavors are available organic.

Some grill-flavored marinades bring unique, complementary flavors into play. These flavor fusions accentuate pork and poultry with sweet and smoky flavors with a hint of heat to kick up the taste, says Jerry Moehn, senior meat technologist, Wixon Inc., St. Francis, WI. The new line of marinade-specific flavors includes blackberry chipotle, with sweet, blackberry notes and a lightly smoky chipotle background, and citrus chipotle, with pineapple, orange and lime flavors balanced with the smoky heat of chipotle. Theres also a whiskey marinade, which has a smoky grill flavor with a hint of whiskey for that backyard barbecue flavor.

Soaking it all up

When meat is sold raw for later cooking at home or in foodservice, grill flavors are typically added via a marinade, which is either applied by injection or tumbling.

However, the primary role of a marinade is to tenderize meat. It can be as simple as salt, phosphates and waterand then flavor is added.

Phosphates are considered the most-critical component for achieving succulent flavor and texture in marinated meats, says Gene Brotsky, technical service representative, Innophos, Inc., Cranbury, NJ.

Meat processors use different phosphates to help retain marinade in meats. Choice of phosphate or phosphate blend depends upon the application and processing. USDA restricts phosphate concentration to 0.5% in finished meat products.

Phosphates vary in their solubility and effect on pH. While diphosphates may be somewhat more difficult to solubilize than others, they react with the muscle proteins quickly to help hold juices and flavor in the system.

Phosphates also play a role in heat-and-eat fully cooked meats, adds Brotsky. They help prevent warmed-over flavorsrancid off-flavors that result from lipid oxidationfrom developing during refrigerated or frozen storage.

Formulating for freshness

Flavor systems for precooked, heat-and-eat meats often include components to assist with reducing flavor-damaging oxidation. The flavor systems perform a variety of functionalities, depending on the requirements of the finished product. For example, theres a product that prevents flavor loss in pork, such as smoked pork ribs, as they are subjected to freeze/thaw cycles and storage, says Chris Kelly, director of technical services, Advanced Food Systems, Inc., Somerset, NJ. The ingredient system is an easily hydrated powder that can be applied via the marinade. They contain natural flavors and are clean-label-friendly.

The system includes a component that stabilizes internal moisture and another component that stabilizes surface moisture, reducing or eliminating texture degradation and freezer burn in foods such as meats and seafood, continues Kelly. Purge and shrinkage can be minimized, especially in grilled or roasted individually quick-frozen vegetables. These ingredient systems also improve texture in reheated foods.

All shapes and sizes

Reformed or restructured proteins made from meat and poultry trimmings help keep costs down, while still delivering on flavor, nutrition and texture. Such meats have application in heat-and-eat refrigerated entrées and products like mesquite chicken medallions and barbecue beef kebabs, which are often enhanced with a sauce. They also are well-suited to breaded items, raw or fully cooked, refrigerated or frozen.

Our meat-binder system turns odd-shaped meat pieces and trimmings into high-value items, including whole-muscle medallions and ground meat into burgers or nuggets, says Janelle Crawford, market analyst, culinary, Danisco, New Century, KS. Based on a natural extract of brown algae, the binder secures higher yields, juicier meat products with excellent cooking and freeze/thaw stability, and reduced cooking loss.

Thrill of the grill

Eye appeal is important to food processors and consumers alike, says Ramesh Gunawardena, manager of technology and process development, JBT Food Tech, Sandusky, OH. To add the appearance of open-flame grilling, our char marker was developed to sear in grill marks, with either single- or double-sided marking possible. The design follows product contours and can accommodate varying product heights.

Another approach cooks boneless products between two sets of heated platens that sear the outside of the product, notes Gunawardena. The Teflon belt grill is often used before an oven line to achieve the desired product surface characteristics, such as color and/or texture, but can be used to fully cook select products, including chicken tenders, meat patties and vegetables, he says. The platens are designed to adjust for height to accommodate cooking items of varying thickness.

Breaded foods are typically par-fried and partially cooked before entering a grill. Most whole meat, poultry and fish is raw when it enters the grill, says Frank van Stiphout, product specialist, processing, CFS, Frisco, TX. The grill seals in moisture prior to cooking in the steamer. The grills conveyor has a bounce that allows for random marking, which adds authenticity to the finished product. A non-contact, spray application is also used for creating grill marks.

From a health perspective, using grill flavors and mechanically applied grill marks eliminates the formation of carcinogens like polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and heterocyclic amines (HCAs), which are produced when grilling meat over charcoal or wood.

In the end, not only does bringing the flavor of the great outdoors inside make economical sense, it fits into the health and wellness trend, too.

Donna Berry, president of Chicago-based Dairy & Food Communications, Inc., has been writing about product development and marketing for 13 years. Prior to that, she worked for Kraft Foods in the natural-cheese division. She has a B.S. in Food Science from the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign. She can be reached at [email protected].


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