Am I smelling pot roast?
June 7, 2006 12:09 AM   Subscribe

Why does the odor of a neighbor's pot roast make it all the way into my apartment, but never anything yummy?

I've lived in several different apartment buildings, and occasionally there is an all-pervading stink (sorry, I'm a vegetarian who has never liked pot roast) throughout our apartment that for a while I thought was bad pipes or sewage problems. But the fact that it only lasts for an afternoon or evening, then goes away, only happens every few months, happened at the last couple of places I lived too, etc made me realize it's probably a cooking smell. What I don't understand is, why do I never smell any other (better) cooking smells?

We cook all the time, are there any other dishes that I should be aware of which have odors that would be reaching my neighbors?
posted by overanxious ducksqueezer to Home & Garden (13 answers total)
One large apartment building that I sometimes visited always reeked of boiled cabbage.

I was told that that eastern-european little old ladies were to blame.

My current house has an exhust fan over the stove. Brunch visitors can tell from outside if I'm cooking bacon but the smell does not permeate the indoors.

The smelliest thing I cook is deep fried squid. Tastes good but leaves a nasty smell without an exhaust hood.
posted by MonkeySaltedNuts at 12:29 AM on June 7, 2006

"Better" is a subjective term. So the question, why does cooked meat permeate more than other things might be simple evolution/chemistry.

Assume your statement is even true- perhaps it's more that the unfamiliar smell seems to permeate- I'd imagine that the smell of meat is one of those key smells we are biologically well-designed to pick up on quickly and particularly from a distance. Comparatively, why would we as creatures be especially sensitive to the smell of vegetables, since those are things we'd tend to pick out by look (in the evolutionary sense)? I'd say, as a haphazard guess, that this is the reason you smell the meat more easily than other smells which are permeating as much.
posted by hincandenza at 12:39 AM on June 7, 2006

Your brain combines the complex scent signals from your olfactory epithelium with taste signals from your tongue, it then assigns a flavor to what's in your mouth, and decides if it's something you want to eat. Since you are a vegetarian (like myself), this "stink" prevents your brain from enjoying, and craving this food. Raised to eat meat, most crave it and enoy the aroma.
posted by peglam at 2:44 AM on June 7, 2006

But it's not like I ever smell turkey roasting on Thanksgiving, for example. Even though I'm vegetarian, I consider that a pleasant smell, if only for bringing back memories of family holidays. And our previous next-door neighbors were Asian, and when we were on the landing, with their front door ajar, we could tell they were cooking yummy food. But when we went inside our apartment we couldn't smell it at all. It's all so confusing. :)
posted by overanxious ducksqueezer at 4:30 AM on June 7, 2006

When I make a pot roast, I sear it first, which no doubt releases oils, then I put it in a deep pan, cover it with water, and cook it on a fairly low temperature for four or more hours. As the water condenses and turns into gravy, the scent of the roast gets stronger.

My guess is, you smell pot roast and not vegetables because there are no vegetables that take 6 hours to cook, and even if you condensed vegetable broth, it wouldn't smell that strong because it has little to no fat.

I vote you fry some nice green peppers and onions in olive oil. That delicious, vegetable-y scent permeates the house for hours and I bet it would block out the pot roast!
posted by headspace at 5:29 AM on June 7, 2006

Are you sure it's a food smell? I get very weird smells out of my heating/air-conditioning system in my apartment. I think it's got something to do with the gas. Because there's no WAY the lady below me is constantly boiling some kind of savory broth. And she doesn't smoke either, but I get an odor reminiscent of stale cigarette smoke sometimes. It's bizarre. Other times it's a more gas-like smell. Can't imagine what any of it is, but it drives me nuts. I'm thinking my nose is picking up stuff and trying to associate it with known smells. But they're sort of off a bit. And it's off an on, which makes me think it has something to do with the heat kicking on and off.
posted by kookoobirdz at 6:46 AM on June 7, 2006

You may have become attenuated to the smell, and notice it more. Put some pumkin pie spices - cinammon, allspice, ginger, in a small pan with an inch of water, and some orange peel if you have any. Simmer for a bit to mask other smells without nasty air freshener stink.
posted by theora55 at 7:06 AM on June 7, 2006 [1 favorite]

I don't think we have evolved to be sensitive to the smell of roast meat. Fried onions permeate pretty well and I also don't think we have evolved to be sensitive to frying onions.

1) Pot roast has a stronger odor than turkey and 2) does take a long time to cook so the odor is around a long time, and 3) you may indeed become sensitive to that particular odor so pick up on it quicker.

Do the places you live have duct work? That might transfer long term odors effectively.
posted by edgeways at 9:24 AM on June 7, 2006

Argh. I can't smell anything from my neighbours' flats except the cigarette smoke that somehow filters through my ceiling and stinks up my bathroom. I'd love to know how to stop that coming through.
posted by TheDonF at 11:11 AM on June 7, 2006

You know, I have the exact same problem, except it's in the hallway in front of my bathroom and bedroom and sometimes seeps in. Also definitely a food smell and not even any of the odor absorber sprays makes it go away, and it's also the same smell every time, a few times a week. I have no idea why. I'm sorry I can't help answer your question, but I sympathize!!!
posted by echo0720 at 1:33 PM on June 7, 2006

It could be that when they normally cook they use the stove's exhaust fan, but when cooking a roast that takes 5 hours they turn it off because of the noise.
posted by Rhomboid at 2:33 PM on June 7, 2006

Do you mean "pot roast" or sauerbraten?

I rember one time my mother prepared this. I hung out in the kitchen, ate it, and then went out. Several people commented on my aroma.
posted by MonkeySaltedNuts at 3:44 PM on June 8, 2006

Hmmm, it could be sauerbraten, or corned beef and cabbage. If only the aroma of fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies could travel like that...

Also definitely a food smell and not even any of the odor absorber sprays makes it go away, and it's also the same smell every time, a few times a week.

I guess I'm lucky my neighbors don't cook this stuff very often. Maybe your neighbor is on a cabbage soup diet? Ick. If it was happening that often I'd probably have to move. You have my sympathies.

Thanks everybody!
posted by overanxious ducksqueezer at 7:05 PM on June 8, 2006

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