Any cook will tell you, charred food is delicious, but burned food is disgusting. The challenge is knowing when charred becomes burned. Knowing the fine line between char and burn is the key.

Char Enhances Flavors

Fruits, vegetables, and proteins that are slightly “burned” on the outside are considered “charred”. Chefs achieve char to enhance flavor, not kill it, that’s burning. The key is to intentionally take the cooking process, past the point of no return, but only slightly.

According to Bon Appétit, foods with a lot of natural sugars are enhanced when slightly charred on the outside, such as:

  • Sweet potatoes
  • Corn
  • Beets
  • Peppers
  • Onions

The slight hint of bitterness from the char heightens the overall flavor. In fact, some foods are inherently better when charred including:

  • BBQ chicken
  • Marshmallows
  • Pizza crust
  • Steak
  • Poblano peppers
  • Grilled cheese sandwichs

The key to successful charring and not burning is to be an attentive cook. Do not leave the item unattended, constantly keep your eye on it. The point of no return happens quickly, so be ready to protect the food from by-passing delicious cuisine straight to inedible garbage. Burned foods snuff out any lingering flavors, after all, so all that is left to do is throw it out and start over.

When achieved, charring is a flavor enhancer, without a doubt. However, charring food should be an enhancement only and not incorporated into every dish.

Char in Moderation

Medical professionals warn that charred foods can be linked to cancer, but this is only true when the food is meat. Charred/ burned meat produces a chemical by-product that should not be consumed on a regular basis.  When you do grill meats, there are techniques to use to minimize the health risks (e.g. marinating meat 30 minutes before cooking, minimizing exposure to direct flames).

As any wood fired cook will tell you, charring food is a wonderful way to add depth of flavor and a little bit of “something special” to a dish. After all, who doesn’t love a crispy pizza cooked charred in a wood fired oven or a Latin dish with charred peppers? Without a doubt, char provides the wow factor, to any dish!

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