In an interview about the Austin Food + Wine Festival’s Fire Pit, Master Oven-builder Dave Eberhardt said that a wood-fired oven “is capable of taking the leading role in any menu.” Dave doesn’t say this just because he builds ovens. He’s also a great cook who loves to entertain. He’s serious about making things taste good, and he speaks from experience.
The current discussion about the taste of food and the heat source used to cook it has definitely tipped toward wood. The Food + Wine Festival’s Fire Pit is an homage to food cooked with wood. Taste is the determining factor. Wood-fired food tastes better than food cooked over charcoal, gas and electric sources. As pointed out in Mother Earth News, “cooking over a wood fire can produce the finest quality food in the world” (Conway, Dec. 1999/Jan. 2000).
Can this be proved? Yes, it can. Scientists state that “taste” is complex and involves not only the taste buds on the tongue but the receptors of smell in the nasal passages. The experience of a something being flavorful is a combination of taste and smell. Here’s where a wood source for cooking (and to a lesser extent charcoal made from wood) trumps gas and electric sources. The burning of wood breaks down its cellulose and releases two chemical compounds (guaiacol and syringol) that excite the nose receptors to detect a unique taste and a unique smell. These specific aromatic compounds are not released when a food is cooked over gas or electricity because…obviously wood is not burning.
As Dave points out, the delicious taste of food prepared in a wood-fired oven is not just nostalgia, not just appearances, not just presentation, it has to do with chemical compounds released when wood, especially property cut, seasoned and aged, is the source of fuel.
Just ask an experienced chef about cooking meat, vegetables, bread, fish and pizza over a wood source and cooking the same items over gas/electricity. Food cooked over wood, or in a wood-fired oven, always triumphs in taste because flavor enters the equation.
Read the full article on the Food & Wine website: “To showcase Texas’s live fire cooking obsession, this year’s Austin Food & Wine Festival featured four fire pits where a roster of star chefs collaborated on incredible dishes.” (Meewes, May 2015).