Chemical flavor from grilling?

I’m trying to figure out the identity of a flavor I’ve encountered in grilled dishes at Chinese skewer places and now at an Italian/seafood restaurant.

My initial thought when eating Chinese skewers was lighter fluid, but that doesn’t make sense at a restaurant. My second thought was an unknown seasoning (cumin, chili flakes, msg are used ). Now that I’ve tasted it on grilled zucchini, a vegetable side paired with grilled petrale sole and sautéed sand dabs at an Italian/seafood restaurant, I’m stumped. Any ideas? It doesn’t taste smokey, so I don’t think it’s a type of wood.

Any idea what kind of grill they use? Gas?

And which restaurants are they?

Too much smoke. With no venting. The taste of a smothered fire with acrid smoke.

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Ima gonna guess it’s either a dirty grill or a clean grill which wasn’t properly cleaned of its chemical cleaning agents.

Either way, it should be brought to the attention of the manager.


I’ve tasted it more often than not when I’ve had shao kao / skewers— TLT BBQ (San Mateo, Closed) and chef Yang’s BBQ come to mind.

I tasted it last night at Frutti di mar grille in Monterey. Given other responses in this thread, I’ll call and ask about their set up and mention the taste to them.

If home ec class is still a thing, they should have a lesson in smells that shouldn’t be there – it took a few years of shopping at Grocery Outlet before I learned what rancidity smells like, and it surprises me now how often I encounter it in friends pantries who are unaware of it.

Hmm… The flavor is closer to kerosene than burnt.

The restaurant said they cook over charcoal (I don’t have much experience grilling). Is charcoal supposed to impart a unique flavor, or does that come from instant light kinds of additives?

It could be from unburnt charcoal

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Huh, I’ve learned that charcoal is typically used in the SFBA for Shaokao and I’ve searched some Yelp reviews for commentary. People complain of a lighter fluid flavor or praise the charcoal flavor. Different strokes … I mean, I’ve never understood the appeal of kerosene like notes on old rieslings.

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I can’t stand that acrid smoke flavor.

It could be from the oil used in marinades. I’ve noticed this happening on my gas grill when I put something marinated in oil over a very hot flame. The oil drips off the food and flares up producing nasty, acrid black smoke (like soot)that can negatively affect the flavor of the food.

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