Why does food taste much better on a grill with indirect heat, than an electric oven?
I have a pellet grill which can be used to cook with indirect heat. There is a big metal plate that covers the flame completely. Basically the food cooks with hot air coming up around the sides of the plate and filling the grill barrel, and perhaps with radiant heat coming from the heated metal plate itself. There are some holes on top where the hot air exits, so there is continuous turn over of heated air. There is almost no smoke because the burner is very efficient. The food itself gets placed on a grille.
I have noticed that the meat I cook on this comes out tasting much better, without any particular care on my part. Chicken is always succulent and I can taste most of the flavors in the marinade. Steaks come out perfect - juicy and with fat enhancing the flavor as it should. Basically, stuff tastes like it does at the best restaurants. Shockingly, even if I make mistakes like cooking too long/too little, not getting the marinade just right, use cheaper meats, it still barely tastes any worse.
I usually have the pellet grill at about 400F, and my electric kitchen oven can also do the same temperature. I would expect that in both cases, there is ~400F hot air and heated metal cooking the food, so it should taste the same. But with the oven the food comes out tasting much worse. Chicken often ends up dry, and flavors in the marinade disappear (other than "salty" and maybe "sour", sometimes "burnt"). Gashing the meat while marinading, doing it overnight, varying the recipe, using different types of chicken, none of it really helps much. Steaks also come out mediocre. Vegetables often end up half slightly burnt and half undercooked.
What is special about cooking with a wood pellet grill, on indirect heat, that makes certain foods taste much better? Is it:
- The smoke from the pellets? (I do buy the "competition blend" but it's very cheap so it can't be that special)
- The fact that there's better air flow? Maybe related to food being on trays in the oven?
- Something about burning fuel that is superior to electrically heated air?
Or is it something else?
Not an advertisement for pellet grills, I swear :) I actually had similar observations with a traditional charcoal grill, but that's hard to compare because the temperature is less stable, it's harder to do indirect, there's smoke, etc. The pellet grill, being automated, has little smoke and maintains temperature perfectly, so it's not obvious to me how it's different.