Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

  • About
Grilling and broiling cook by means of the intense infrared radiation emitted from burning coals, flames, and glowing electrical elements. This radiation can desiccate, brown, and burn in rapid succession, so it’s important to adjust the distance between heat source and food to make sure that the food can heat through before the surface chars. As in baking, a coating of oil speeds the cooking and improves flavor. Enclosing the food in a wrapper—fresh corn in its husk, plantains in their skin, potatoes in aluminum foil— can give some protection to the surface and essentially steam the food in its own moisture, while allowing in some of the smoky aroma from the heat source and smoldering wrapper. And some foods actually benefit from charring. Large sweet and hot chillis have a thick, tough cuticle or “skin” that is tedious to peel away. Because it’s relatively dry compared to the underlying flesh, and made up in part of flammable waxes, it can be burned to a crisp before the flesh gets soft. Once burned, the skin can be scraped or rinsed off with ease. Similarly, the flesh of eggplants is smokily perfumed and easily scraped from the skin when the whole vegetable is grilled until the flesh softens and the skin dries and toughens.