How to generate "grilling smells?"
July 21, 2013 1:10 PM   Subscribe

So we're opening up a concession stand a local soccer field tomorrow, and we're going to have a grill at which we're going to serve typical grill stuff (burgers, dogs, maybe a few fancier things here and there). What can we throw on the grill (like in a saucepan on a side burner) that can blanket the fields with the smell of home-cooked burgers and generate some serious mouth-watering? The grill's fairly small -- a fairly typical four-burner suburban soccer dad fixture, and the stand will be open for about 2-2.5 hours each night.

My first inclination is a couple of cups of mesquite chips with a cut-up onion stewing in water, but I'd be curious if anyone has any other ideas. Bonus points for answers that involve SCIENCE!
posted by Doofus Magoo to Food & Drink (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I would say onions in butter or bacon grease, not in water. Frying onions is the best scent of all.*

*science not included :(
posted by jetlagaddict at 1:17 PM on July 21, 2013 [9 favorites]

Charcoal and mesquite or hickory chips. When I smell grill-smell in my neighborhood, it's usually when my neighbors are just getting the charcoal going (I know this because the smell is immediately proceeded by lighter fluid smell). Once they start cooking it doesn't carry as far.
posted by Lyn Never at 1:23 PM on July 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

Sawdust makes a pretty aggressive wood-burning smell when it smolders. I think you can buy little cakes of sawdust, there are some kind of electric smokers that use those. I worked somewhere where they used them and it was hard to work sometimes for thoughts of food.
posted by TheRedArmy at 1:23 PM on July 21, 2013

Definitely onions. When I walk past one of those gnarly hot-dog stands in Central London the smell of the onions makes me think - for only a nanosecond - that a hot dog would be a deliciously good idea.
posted by essexjan at 1:37 PM on July 21, 2013

From my purely anecdotal experience running a concession trailer at ball games in my youth, onions and bacon. Together or separately. That's the smell that carries.
posted by jacquilynne at 2:20 PM on July 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Peppers too!
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 2:58 PM on July 21, 2013

I doubt wood chips stewing in water would have much of any scent at all.

When I cold smoke, I put wood chunks in a cast iron mini Dutch (about 3") oven (without lid) on an electric burner. You can do this, but put it outside the cart (perhaps in a "prop" grill) because it generates a lot of smoke. Of course, be sure to use a hardwood for this. You want the smell of BBQ, not sap and pitch.
posted by sourwookie at 3:17 PM on July 21, 2013

Maybe some liquid smoke, diluted in some water, simmering in a heated saucepan?
posted by gnutron at 7:27 PM on July 21, 2013

One of the BBQ joints near where I live douses some of their wood with a couple splashes of liquid smoke, to help scent the works against me every time I drive through that part of town.
posted by AnneShirley at 9:23 PM on July 21, 2013

In LA, the scent of a danger dog (bacon wrapped hot dog grilling on a metal cookie sheet) travels far! The cookie sheet usually has bacon wrapped dogs grilling with onions and peppers on the sides of the pan.
posted by dottiechang at 9:40 PM on July 21, 2013

Onions! Like everybody else has said.

Here's some anecdotal "evidence"...

My boss worked in a butchers in his teens. Come Friday (payday) they'd try and shift steak. They'd throw a load of onions on a pan in the back of the shop and leave it frying unattended for the afternoon. The smell would result in a sell out of steak.
posted by Homemade Interossiter at 4:58 AM on July 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

The cook at the BBQ joint in my old neighborhood in Seattle once told me that the only advetising he did was to put a bunch of cut-up onions and garlic in a pot on his outdoor grill on windy days.
posted by Jacqueline at 1:42 PM on July 22, 2013

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