The Washington Post reports that most of what we perceive as the taste of meat is actually its aroma, and a combination of the smell of cooking meat, fat and umami is what makes meat so delicious.
The Maillard reaction occurs when carbohydrates and amino acids interact in a slightly moist, hot environment, like when meat sizzles on a hot grill. The reaction creates many chemical compounds, ranging in smell from fruity to musty, that together create the aroma of cooking meat. This reaction also occurs with other foods like baked goods and roasted coffee.
This explains why a recent taste-test with lab-grown beef smelled good as it cooked, even though it fell short in the flavor department. From an evolutionary standpoint, humans seek the aroma of the Mallaird reaction to signify that meat is safe to eat, according to one expert.
In combination with fat, which adds creamy texture and a desirable mouthfeel, and umami, a fifth taste that we naturally seek out, meat becomes a delicious and hard-to-resist food.
Image Credit: Richard Eskite Photography
Check out these top burgers found across the nation.
We've singled out the best burger spots around the country.
Image Credit: William Brinson Photography
New York City: Minetta Tavern
Signature Burger: Black Label Burger (topped with caramelized onions).
Minetta Tavern's excellent burgers use a beef blend—dry-aged rib eye, skirt steak, brisket and short rib—from famed purveyor Pat LaFrieda, and buns from Balthazar Bakery. minettatavernny.com
Image Credit: Sylvia Paret
Atlanta, GA: Holeman & Finch
Signature Burger: Burger (two cheeseburgers on a house-made bun).
Star chef Linton Hopkins announces "burger time"—10 p.m.—with the ringing of two bull horns; that's when two dozen grass-fed beef burgers are up for grabs and consistently sold out within minutes. The burgers are also available on the Sunday brunch menu. holeman-finch.com
Image Credit: Jeff Moore
California: In-N-Out Burger
Signature Burger: Cheeseburger.
Even superstar chef Thomas Keller is a fan of the West Coast chain—and with good reason. The cooked-to-order burgers are made with beef from Southwest ranches and served with hand-cut fries. For a messier, more indulgent experience, order your burger "Animal Style" for extra sauce and chopped grilled onions. in-n-out.com
Image Credit: Jess Lander
San Francisco: Zuni Café
Signature Burger: House-ground hamburger (served in a grilled rosemary focaccia).
Instead of traditional cucumber pickles, legendary chef-owner Judy Rodgers accents her burgers with thin-cut zucchini strips pickled in apple cider vinegar, mustard seeds and turmeric. zunicafe.com
Image Credit: Bill Holmes
Buffalo Gap, TX: Perini Ranch Steakhouse
Signature Burger: Ranch Burger (topped with mushrooms, onions, green chiles and choice of cheddar or provolone cheese).
Self-taught cowboy cook Tom Perini masters the art of open-flame cooking using mesquite coals at his hay barn turned steakhouse, smack in the middle of the state. periniranch.com
Image Credit: Perini Ranch Steakhouse
Boston, MA: Green Street Grill
Signature Burger: Bacon Double Cheeseburger (two four-ounce beef patties with white American cheese, smoked bacon and Russian dressing in a white bun).
A superb accompaniment to the burgers: house-made kettle chips. greenstreetgrill.com
Image Credit: Jared Razzano
Chicago: David Burke Primehouse
40 Day Dry Aged Prime Steak Burger
In its simplest incarnation, this juicy burger is topped with sautéed garlic spinach, crispy fried shallots and bacon mayonnaise. Additional toppings include fried pickles, a fried egg, superspicy “angry” shrimp and crab-and-asparagus hollandaise sauce. davidburkesprimehouse.com
Image Credit: David Burke Primehouse
Napa: Gott's Roadside
Signature Burger: Ahi Burger (seared Ahi tuna burger topped with ginger-wasabi mayonnaise and Asian slaw, served in a toasted egg bun).
Brothers Joel and Duncan Gott's witty, reimagined '50s diner used to be named Taylor's Refresher, but it's still a Napa-area favorite for comfort cravings—especially burgers. gottsroadside.com
Image Credit: Michael Lamotte
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